Description & Behavior

Spotted wobbegong sharks, Orectolobus maculatus (Bonnaterre, 1788), aka wobbegongs, reach a maximum length of 3.2 m with the average size of adult males between 1.5-1.8 m. These amazing sharks are mottled yellow-green or brown in color with saddle- and O-shaped markings. Their body and heads are flattened in shape, and their jaws protrude forward when capturing prey. Spotted wobbegongs, like other wobbegong species, have nasal barbels and hanging tassels on and around their head and body.

They have 2 dorsal fins, the first originating over their pelvis, the second just before their anal fin. The caudal (tail) fins are short and their pectoral and pelvic fins are broad. Other species of wobbegongs are similar in appearance, however, the patterns of spotted wobbegongs are specific to this species and aid in their superb camouflage among the reefs in the eastern Indian Ocean, off eastern Queensland and southern Australia, and possibly off southern Japan and in the South China Sea.

World Range & Habitat

Spotted wobbegong sharks, Orectolobus maculatus, are found in relatively shallow waters in the eastern Indian Ocean, western Queensland, southern Australia, and possibly Japan and the South China Sea. They are found on the continental shelf, from the intertidal zone to 110 m. They are commonly found on coral and rocky reefs, under piers, and on sandy bottoms. They have also been known to swim in water so shallow that it barely covers their body.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Spotted wobbegong sharks, Orectolobus maculatus, feed at night on octopuses, crabs, lobsters, sea bass, and luderick. They often lie still on the bottom while waiting for prey to swim close to their mouths. Spotted wobbegong sharks have also been observed sneaking up on prey from a distance.

Life History

Spotted wobbegong sharks, Orectolobus maculatus, are ovoviviparous. The litters of spotted wobbegongs are large, in one case up to 37 pups were born from one female. During breeding season, males are attracted to females when they release pheromones into the water. While mating, like other shark species, males will bite females and insert one clasper into the cloaca to release sperm. The average size of the spotted wobbegong at birth is 21 cm.

Ovoviviparous: eggs are retained within the body of the female in a brood chamber where the embryo develops, receiving nourishment from a yolk sac. This is the method of reproduction for the “live-bearing” fishes where pups hatch from egg capsules inside the mother’s uterus and are born soon afterward. Also known as aplacental viviparous.

Conservation Status & Comments

Spotted wobbegong sharks, Orectolobus maculatus, are harmless but will bite if disturbed. The bite can cause severe lacerations, and the spotted wobbegong is known to clamp down on its victim without letting go. The International Shark Attack File reports 16 confirmed bites to humans by spotted wobbegongs of which only 2 were not provoked. None were fatal.

The spotted wobbegong or wobbegong is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

A taxon is Near Threatened when it has been evaluated against the criteria but does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

References & Further Research – image database of sharks, skates, rays, and chimaera’s from around the world by Andy Murch

Research Orectolobus maculatus @
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