Description & Behavior

Epaulette sharks, Hemiscyllium ocellatum (Bonnaterre, 1788), are also referred to as blind sharks and the synonym Squalus ocellatus (Grey, 1827) and are one of 12 species of the long-tailed carpetshark family, Hemiscylliidae. They are small, slender sharks with short snouts and nasal barbels. Their upper body is yellow to brown speckled with widely-spaced dark brown spots. A large black ocellus (eyespot or eye-like marking) is present above each of their pectoral fins. They reach a maximum total length about 107 cm.

World Range & Habitat

This species is found on coral reefs and in shallows (tide pools) along the Australian and Papua New Guinean shores between 32°S and the equator. They may also occur in waters around Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Epaulette sharks feed mainly on benthic invertebrates (worms, crabs, shrimp, and small shellfish), and possibly small fishes. By day this small shark usually remains concealed beneath the coral. At night they roam the reef flats using their muscular leg-like paired fins to clamber about the reef and into crevices looking for prey. Epaulette sharks have the amazing ability to survive low oxygen conditions by switching off non-essential brain functions.

Life History

This species is oviparous. Oviparous animals are animals that lay eggs, with little or no other development within the mother. This is the reproductive method of many fish, amphibians and reptiles, all birds, the monotremes, and most arthropods (insects, crustaceans and arachnids). Males reach sexual maturity at 60 cm.

Conservation Status & Comments

Epaulettes are very docile sharks. Waders and divers can get very close without risk of injury. The speckled carpetshark, Hemiscyllium trispeculare, is a similar species with a similar range (Australian waters and possibly Indonesia) that grows to a length of 60 cm. The speckled carpetshark also has a large black circular spot above each pectoral fin.

References & Further Research

Last, P.R & Stevens, J.D. – Sharks and rays of Australia, CSIRO Australia, 1994.

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