Leopard Shark, Stegostoma fasciatum Click to enlarge image
A Leopard Shark at a depth of 25 m, 10 miles NNE of Corbett Reef, off Lockhart River, far northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, December 2001. Image: Erik Schlögl
© Erik Schlögl

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    fasciatum
    Genus
    Stegostoma
    Family
    Stegostomatidae
    Order
    Orectolobiformes
    Class
    Chondrichthyes
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    The species grows to at least 2.4 m in length, and possibly up to 3.5 m.

Introduction

The Zebra Shark is a sluggish slow-swimming fish that feeds primarily on gastropod and bivalve molluscs. It is unagressive when approached underwater and considered to be harmless.



Identification

The Zebra Shark has large pectoral fins, two close-set, spineless dorsal fins and a very long caudal fin that lacks a ventral lobe. It is a slow-moving species that has 5 gill slits (slits 4 and 5 overlap) and strong ridges along the upper sides. It is usually yellow-brown in colour with a covering of dark brown spots. Individuals less than 70 cm in length are brown with narrow yellow to white bars and blotches.


Zebra Shark
A Zebra Shark at a depth of 12 m, Julian Rocks, New South Wales, January 2001. Image: Tim Hochgrebe
© Tim Hochgrebe

Habitat

The Zebra Shark is often seen on sandy bottoms.

Distribution

It is found in coastal waters throughout the tropical Indo-West Pacific. In Australia it is recorded from the western coast of Western Australia, around the tropical north and south to the central coast of New South Wales.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.



Feeding and diet

The Zebra Shark feeds primarily on gastropod and bivalve molluscs with lesser amounts of crabs, shrimps and small fishes.

Breeding behaviours

The species is oviparous, laying large (17 cm in length), dark coloured egg cases that have tufts of hair-like fibres which serve to anchor them to the bottom.

References

  1. Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 292.
  2. Allen, G.R. & R. Swainston. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 201.
  3. Compagno, L.J.V. 1984. FAO species catalogue. Vol. 4, Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Part 1 - Hexanchiformes to Lamniformes: viii, 1-250.
  4. Hoese, D.F., Bray, D.J., Paxton, J.R. & G.R. Allen. 2006. Fishes. In Beesley, P.L. & A. Wells. (eds) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35. ABRS & CSIRO Publishing: Australia. parts 1-3, pages 1-2178.
  5. Hutchins, B. & R. Swainston. 1986. Sea Fishes of Southern Australia. Complete Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Swainston Publishing. Pp. 180.
  6. Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to Sea Fishes of Australia. New Holland. Pp. 433.
  7. Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 1994 Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO. Pp. 513.
  8. Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press. Pp. 557.