Along with our bumper Whaleshark February we have also been fortunate enough to be visited by a fair number of leopard sharks over the last few weeks at the lovely Ko Haa. Ordinarily we advise our divers that the sites we are most likely to see leopard sharks are the Phi Phi sites, but this February Ko Haa seems to have it all!
In a similar fashion to the identification of Whalesharks via the DOTs photo method, there is currently an identification project for the leopard shark also. Started in August 2013, Chris Dudgeon, along with Australian researchers (The University of Queensland), the Australia-Thailand Institute, and Thai researchers (Phuket Marine Biological Center) set up the “Spot the Leopard Shark Thailand” joint initiative. This is a community-based monitoring program aimed at allowing scientists to monitor individual leopard sharks, estimate the size of the population, the distances they travel, their life span and sex.
Photographs are taken of the entire left side of the shark, and right side where possible. The most useful areas for identification are again the patterns on the side of the sharks below the dorsal fin. Where possible we try to determine the sex of the shark, date, location and depth of the sighting and share this directly with Chris, or to the Spot the Leopard Shark Facebook Page.
Whenever a new shark is identified following analysis against the current database, that contributor gets to name the shark. Two of our Liquid Lense photographers are fortunate enough to have named 6 separate sharks to this date, Kim named 3 females (Beryl, Mekhala and Jemima) and a further shark of undetermined sex (Nigella/Nigel), and Magnus has also named 2 sharks of undetermined sex (Gnidee and Pigge).
We have been happily adding more photos from the recent Ko Haa sightings, and hope to continue contributing to this great program (and naming more sharks!)
Individual markings are common for sharks and rays and have been used to study manta rays, whalesharks, white shark and black tip reef sharks amongst others. Interestingly leopard sharks undergo one of the most dramatic changes in body markings of any shark, which can make the identification more difficult than other species. The juvenile markings bold dark and light stripes, which break up into spots as they mature into an adult (in contrast manta rays and whale sharks have the same marking throughout life). It is currently unknown at what point in their development the patterns stop changing, although many of the adults in the Queensland population have now stabilised.
Leopard sharks are classified as Vulnerable to Extinction on the IUCN Red List.
For further leopard shark information please refer to one of our previous articles: Leopard Sharks