Leopard Sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum), also known as Zebra Sharks, are a species of Carpet Shark. They are a member of the Stegostomatidae family. They are frequently found around coral reefs and on sandy seabeds, in tropical coastal waters up to a depth of 70m. They are a popular attraction for divers and are a favourite with us at Scubafish. They can be seen at all the dive sites around Ko Lanta, but most commonly at one of our dive sites, Ko Phi Phi.
Interesting facts about Leopard Sharks
Leopard Sharks can grow to nearly 3 metres in length. They live for 25 to 30 years in the wild, but kept in captivity, generally do not live longer than 15 years. Adult Leopard Sharks are distinctive in appearance, with five ridges which run the length of their body. They have a low caudal fin, which is nearly half the length of their body. Their skin is pale, with a pattern of dark spots, unique to each shark. These patterns can be used to identify individual sharks. Leopard Sharks have a long, flattened body which helps them to go unnoticed on the seabed. The Leopard Shark’s tail is over half their body length, enabling them to be a strong, agile swimmer. Leopard Sharks move their tails from side to side when they swim, in an eel-like manner. Leopard Sharks are nocturnal and spend most of the day resting motionless on the sandy seabed. Reef channels are favoured resting spots, since the narrow space yields faster, more oxygenated water. They will sometimes use their pectoral fins to prop up the front part of their body as they face into the current with their mouth open, to aid respiration. At night, they become active and hunt for mollusks, crustaceans, small boney fish and sea snakes. Their slender, flexible body allows them to wriggle into narrow holes and crevices in search of food, while their small muscly mouth allows them to create a powerful suction force with which to extract prey. They are docile, harmless to humans and can be easily be approached underwater. However, they have been known to bite divers who have pulled their tails or attempted to ride them. Please do not touch these graceful, harmless creatures. Their predators are larger sharks, such as Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks, along with humans, who hunt them for their meat and fins. Relatives of the Leopard Shark are Nurse Sharks, Whale Sharks and Epaulette Sharks.
The courtship behaviour of the Leopard Shark consists of the male following the female and biting vigorously at her pectoral fins and tail. At times he will hold onto her pectoral fin and both sharks will lie motionless on the seabed. This will sometimes lead to mating, in which the male curls his body around the female and inserts one of his claspers into her cloaca. Copulation lasts for two to five minutes. The female Leopard Shark lays an average of ten large eggs, which hatch after an incubation period of about 5 months. The baby Leopard Sharks, (called pups,) are nearly half a metre long when they first hatch. They have a completely different pattern on their skin to the adult shark. Their colouring consists of light and dark vertical stripes. Also they do not have the ridges, these will develop as they mature.
Techniques and ideas when photographing Leopard Sharks
- Don’t crowd your subject, approach them slowly and don’t scare or startle them
- Never surround your subject, don’t chase after them and don’t ever touch them
- If you see them free swimming, get a sense of the general direction in which they are going. If they are interested or curious, they will often approach you
- Frequently, you will find them asleep on the sandy seabed, approach them carefully, making sure not to disturb them, lie close to them or hover nearby
- A close-up portrait shot, with an external strobe and a black background makes for a really good photograph
- Macro shots showing the detail in the pattern of their spots are interesting
- Silhouettes against the sun make for a striking image
- Wide-angle shots, full body from above or the side – these can be very effective. It is advisable to take the shot without strobes, instead, set the camera’s manual white balance and use natural light, in doing so you will get an even, natural colour
Leopard Sharks are a threatened species worldwide and their numbers are dwindling. The World Conservation Union has assessed this species as vulnerable. They are taken for their meat, fins and liver oil. At Scubafish we are continually raising awareness of the fact that Sharks are being slaughtered in their millions. We must stop the brutal killing of these magnificent creatures. Sharks need our help.
Scubafish continues to support events and causes that raise awareness of Shark Finning and other environmental issues facing our oceans and marine life.
Living, working and diving off Ko Lanta, a small island community in Southern Thailand, gives us a unique opportunity to understand and share information with local islanders, to whom fishing is a part of their everyday life. We also inform the tourists who come to dive, snorkel and admire the beautiful reefs. We hope that, by coming into contact with such a diverse mixture of people from around the world, we can continue to spread the word, educate and ask them to help us to protect our oceans’ top predators.
Love Sharks, they are not our enemies.
Facts about Sharks
- Sharks have been around for more than 400 million years
- There are over 400 different species of Shark
- Sharks are intelligent and can be trained
- More than 80 million Sharks are killed each year for their fins
- The largest Shark is the Whale Shark, averaging 9 metres (30 feet) in length—the size of a large bus
- Whale Sharks are not aggressive. They eat zooplankton, small fish and squid
- Over fishing can have a dangerous effect on Sharks. The whale shark, for example, has to live to be 30 years old before it can reproduce, and its life span lasts between 60 and 100 years. As a result, it can’t reproduce fast enough to keep the population going
- When a Shark loses a tooth, a new one grows in its place
- Mako and Blue Sharks are the fastest swimming Sharks
- Sharks can take hours or even days to die after being finned
- Sharks are a critical part of marine ecosystems
- Question: What is more dangerous to people – a Shark or a wasp/bee? Answer: wasp/bee Every year, 100 people die from wasp or bee stings, yet hundreds of millions of people go swimming, and Sharks kill only about six people a year. Only about 25 sharks have been known to actually attack people. Every year, people kill millions of Sharks
- Bad publicity about Sharks has given them the reputation of being vicious man-eaters. In fact, only 10 out of all the Shark species are considered dangerous to humans and of these, attacks are extremely rare
How you can help Sharks
- First and foremost, do not buy food containing Shark fin
- Tell your friends and relatives that they may be contributing to the irreversible decline of Shark populations. Make them aware of the potential disastrous consequences
- Always opt for environmental and sustainable alternatives and substitutes
- Sign WildAid’s Shark pledge vowing to lend your voice to the 73 million Sharks whose fins are used in shark fin soup every year
- Take action for Shark conservation: Shark research, data collection, support campaigns, stop the demand and help raise Shark awareness worldwide
Websites – Shark Conservation:
- Project AWARE
- IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
- Shark Trust
- Shark Gaurdian
- ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
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