Spotted: It’s the Leopard Shark!

Spotted: It’s the Leopard Shark!

Photo Source: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

In honor of yours truly moving to San Diego, CA, I am highlighting a common San Diego species of shark. Today, we’ll learn all about Triakis semifasciata, the leopard shark! Leopard sharks are special to San Diego because they are known to gather in large numbers in shallow waters in the summertime. Marine biologists have observed that the majority of the leopard sharks that gather in San Diego, CA are pregnant females! Let’s dive in deeper and discover the world of the “catshark.”

Lovely Leopard Sharks

Photo Source: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Like other sharks, the leopard shark is a flexible, cartilaginous fish. They are found in the Pacific and are common along the Oregon coast down to the Gulf of Mexico. The leopard shark is sometimes called the catshark because of its leopard-like appearance. They are 3-6 feet in length and range from light to dark grey color on their bodies with darker spots. These spots are splotched and located on their fins and upper body. Pictured on the right, you can see the saddlebag splotches that make up the spots on their body. These markings aid in camouflage as this shark spends their time close to the ocean floor.  Other notable features of the leopard shark include its short, round snout.

Their scientific name, Triakis semifasciata, loosely translates to “three-pointed half-banded.” This describes the sharks’ shape of their three-pointed teeth and the markings that appear saddle-like or half-banded (Aquarium of the Pacific). Leopard sharks weigh, on average, 40 pounds and can live up to 30 years of age.

Leopard Shark Abode

Within the Pacific Ocean, leopard sharks live near the bottom of bays and shallow ocean regions. They have adapted a lifestyle near the ocean floor due to their lack of a swim bladder. All sharks lack this organ and adapt in various ways. Generally, they will store oil in their livers, which aids in weight distribution by counterbalancing their bodies. The lack of the swim bladder means that sharks are often less buoyant than their surroundings and will sink or descend when they are not actively swimming. This works out for the leopard shark as their average height above the ocean floor is 1 foot.

Leopard sharks are obligate carnivores. They are active hunters and their diet consists of smaller fish, fish eggs, clams, worms, crabs, octopus, rays, and even small sharks! As a bottom dweller with a mouth located on their underside, they can peruse the sandy bottoms of the ocean and forage for food. They will use their flat teeth to suction up prey and smash or crush this prey before consuming it.

Photo Source: Everyday California, Robin Bigge

Conservation, Pups, and Behavior

Leopard sharks are considered least concern in their conservation status. However, their populations are still threatened and harmed by human consumption and being killed as a product of accidental catch, or bycatch. Their populations can be more fragile due to their late sexual maturity, around 10-15 years, and gestation period of 10-12 months. When the females give birth, they have between 4-33 pups. Females give live birth, which is called ovoviviparity, where there is internal fertilization and the eggs hatch inside the female’s body. 

Photo Source: Untamed Science

Leopard sharks are somewhat nomadic and found in large schools. The schools are grouped by their size and sex. Oftentimes, the leopard shark is more active in the evening and they have been seen to congregate with other types of sharks, too. They are not considered aggressive but have “bumped” into swimmers and divers due to their natural habitat and preferred locations in the ocean. The best way to help leopard sharks thrive is to support non-profits working to conserve them, abide by laws and regulations in oceanic areas, spread awareness for sharks, and as always reduce your impact on our planet. If you encounter leopard sharks in the wild, always respect their space and admire their beauty. Check out this video to see hundreds of leopard sharks gather in La Jolla, CA. Thanks for reading our latest blog post, catch you next time! 


Written By: Bailey Higa


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1 comment
  • This is so interesting! I can’t believe it takes 10-15 years for them to sexually mature. Such a good read, Bailey!

    Suzi Jacobs on

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