Leopard Shark

Leopard Sharks (Triakis semifasciata)

Contributed by TPERP Dan Wieder

Leopard Shark

Where to find them: They live along the Pacific Coast of North America from Washington to Mazatlán, Mexico, including the Gulf of California. Most leopard sharks tend to remain in a localized area for much of their lives.

What do they eat: Leopard sharks are carnivorous; they forage for clams, worms, crabs, shrimp, squid, fishes, and fish eggs found on or near the ocean bottom.

Who eats them: Other larger and more ferocious sharks such as the sevengill and the great white can easily capture and give a fatal bite to the leopard shark. In addition to these predators, the orca can also simply charge at ten leopard sharks and knock them unconscious.

Adaptations: Leopard sharks prefer nearshore, shallow waters less than 20 feet deep and tend to hang out near the bottom. They use a variety of habitats, including sandy and muddy bottoms, kelp forests, and rocky reefs.

Reproduction: They seek out shallow, warm waters which help to speed up the gestation process and allow mothers to have their young quicker. Baby sharks are called pups. Unlike most fish, which lay eggs, mother leopard sharks keep their eggs inside their bodies until they hatch. After 10 to 12 months, they give birth to a couple dozen wriggling shark pups, each about 7 inches long.

What is their life like: Leopard sharks are at home on the sea floor, just a foot or so above the sand. This is because they, like all sharks, lack the swim bladders that other fish use to fine-tune their buoyancy. Instead, leopard sharks store oil in their enormous livers. All that oil helps to counterbalance the shark’s own weight, but they usually remain slightly less buoyant than the water around them, so they tend to sink whenever they’re not swimming.

Interesting facts: These sharks have a distinctive color pattern, resembling leopard spots. These markings are unique and can be used to identify individuals, similar to fingerprints. The average size for adults is 4 to 5 feet.

About 30 leopard sharks were observed in November 2013 in Zone 3. Apparently these were all pregnant females. Some have also been seen in Zone 1. Interestingly, Bonnie Becker, former Marine Biologist at Cabrillo, never saw a live leopard shark during her time here (about 6 years). However she did find a dead one.

Leopard sharks pose no threat to humans unless they are provoked.

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chondrichthyes
Order: Carcharhiniformes
Family: Triakidae

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Last revised 01-Sep-14