Spotted wobbegong

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The spotted wobbegong is a weird-looking shark with an equally weird name. The weird name of wobbegong is an old Aboriginal Australian word. No one knows for sure what it means, but some people think it means “living rock.” Another guess is that the word means “shaggy beard. Those are quite different meanings, but they both seem fitting for this animal.

Wobbegong is not the only name this fish has; it is also called the carpet shark, the common catshark, and the tassel shark. The latter name comes from the fringes of skin coming off the edges of the shark. These fringes are called barbels, and they are used for tasting and feeling.

There are actually 12 species of wobbegongs in the world, all living in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The name “tassel shark” for this species can be kind of confusing as there is another species of wobbegong called the tasseled wobbegong.

Although this shark looks much different than the scary great white shark, it can still give a powerful bite if it feels threatened.

Size

Although this shark looks small in the picture above, they can grow to be somewhat large. On average they are about 5 feet 4 inches (1.65 m) long. The largest ones can be much larger, almost twice this size!

Males are usually larger than the females, and the largest of them can be up to 10.5 feet (3.2 m) long!

Habitat and range

Wobbegongs are bottom-dwelling sharks, but they aren’t made to withstand the high water pressure in the deep ocean. Because of these two things, they live near the shore where the ocean floor is typically less than 400 feet (122 m) below the surface. They will often spend time in much shallower water, and it common to find them in water that is barely deep enough to cover their body!

This nocturnal fish is usually seen in sheltered areas while sleeping during the day. This can include caves, coral reefs, rocky overhangs, and even shipwrecks!

The range map below shows the range of the spotted wobbegong, and, as you can see, they live only off the shore of the southern half of Australia. Some sources show that these wobbegongs also live off Japan and China, but these reports are likely from people confusing a different species for this one.

Diet and hunting

As their habitat might suggest, wobbegongs feed mostly on bottom-dwelling creatures. This can include both invertebrates and fish. Those invertebrates include crabs, lobsters, and octopuses. There are hundreds of different types of fish they could eat, but the ones that stick out the most are rays and sharks, including some in their own species.

Wobbegongs use their dull coloring and plant-looking barbels to blend into the ocean floor. They will wait for prey to wander into the perfect spot for attacking. Sometimes fish will even nibble on their barbels before the shark finally decides to strike. Actually, “strike” probably isn’t the best word. To capture its prey, a wobbegong will actually just quickly open its mouth, sucking in a bunch of water, and its next meal.

Status and threats

The IUCN has classified the spotted wobbegong as Near Threatened, which is actually just one level higher than Least Concern. Most larger fish and even marine mammals pose a threat to these sharks, especially the smaller ones.

The most dangerous predator to these sharks is humans. Most frequently they are just by-catch, but they are used as trophy fish and even have some uses to humans. Their meat is a delicacy in some places, and their patterned skin can be used as decorative leather. Habitat loss and pollution also play a roll in this animal’s well-being.

Reproduction and young

Spotted wobbegong breeding season normally occurs in July, with the females using chemical scents to attract the males. These sharks are ovoviviparous, a long word meaning the young develop in eggs which develop inside the mother. It may take up to 2 years for the young to develop! The females will give birth to a large litter of usually around 20 pups, and litters as large as 37 pups have been recorded!

At birth, the pups are about 8 inches (20 cm) long. They become mature and ready to mate about when they reach 24 inches (60 cm). It isn’t known exactly how long these sharks live, but if they are anything like other sharks, it could be 20 years or more.

Sources:

Photo credit:

  • Spotted Wobbegong – Andrew J. Green
  • Spotted Wobbegong range – Chris Huh

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