Leopard sharks are also referred to as Zebra sharks, this name comes from the younger species as they are striped like a zebra, and not until they grow do they start to form the stripes on their bodies that look more like a leopards’.
Leopards Sharks here in Thailand are quite frequent visitors to our reefs, although in recent years their number have dwindled somewhat, maybe due to warmer waters, who knows. Like most sharks, very little is known about what they get up to after dark.
Leopard sharks can be found sleeping through the daytime on sandy areas around the hard coral reefs. They are found throughout the whole of Thailand, all down the Indian Ocean coast and all-round the pacific region of the country too.
These most graceful swimmers can grow to almost three metres in length; the biggest I have seen is over two metres. They can live up to thirty yrs. old, however when kept in captivity they never live much longer than 15 yrs.
These sharks are bottom dwellers and spend most of the day resting on sandy areas; they are one of the few sharks worldwide which can lie on the bottom and still breathe efficiently. They will point their nose into the oncoming current directing oxygen rich water through its highly evolved gills.
The way the Leopard shark swims is a wonderful sight to see, they have a very long tail fin (caudal fin) which they swish from side to side so elegantly making them very agile in the water.
They love nothing more than to eat small shellfish, such as crabs, shrimps, smaller fishes, they will also eat mollusks like cuttlefish and octopus as well as squid, and they also love to eat sea snakes, now this would be very interesting to watch.
Their mouths have no teeth as such, but very powerful boney plates, which have a serious shell crunching action going on. They are not at all dangerous to man, well as long as you don’t pull their tails or poke them in the eye or anywhere else for that matter. They will usually just swim away when divers get to close for comfort.
I once observed a breeding pair on the Bida Nai Dive Site of Phi Phi Island, we were quite large group of divers about seven in all, and as we approached, something (we could not see perfectly due to the visibility of the surrounding water) at around twenty metres deep, from a distance looked like a very large fish resting on the bottom. As we got nearer and nearer it became obvious what was going down.
The male had grab the female by her pectoral fin in his mouth, and had flipped her over onto her back, both of these fish were completely motionless, that was until we came into view, then I noticed them getting a little restless. I figured that we should leave them to it; nobody likes a peeping Tom, right?
The female of the species lays around ten large eggs which hatch after five months incubation. The baby Zebra sharks are round 50 cm when they are first born and have the very distinct coloured stripy pattern which I mentioned previously.
Being quite a large shark they really have few predators, although Tiger sharks and Bull sharks have been known to attack them from time to time. Generally around Thai waters anyhow, the only real threat to their existence is… You guessed it, man.
Zebra Shark Facts
Scientific Name: Stegostoma Fasciatum
Origin: Indian and Pacific Oceans
Size: up to 3 metres
Weight: can be up to 16-20kg
Conservation Status: Threatened
Favourite Food: Sea Snakes, Mollusks, Shellfish Fish
Habitat: Tropical waters
Special Features: Leopard spots and long tail fin