Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum Click to enlarge image
Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum. Image: jdobson
© CC-BY 4.0

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    ocellatum
    Genus
    Hemiscyllium
    Family
    Hemiscylliidae
    Order
    Orectolobiformes
    Class
    Chondrichthyes
    Subphylum
    Vertebrata
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    The species grows to just over 1 m in length.

Introduction

The Epaulette Shark is a slender species that has a large black ocellus (eye-like spot with a marginal ring) above the pectoral fin. It is endemic (found only in) the Great Barrier Reef from about the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula to the southern extremity of the Great Barrier Reef at the Capricorn Group. It is a bottom-dwelling species which lives primarily in warm, shallow waters.


What do Epaulette Sharks look like?


Identification

The Epaulette Shark is a slender species that has a large black ocellus (eye-like spot with a marginal ring) above the pectoral fin and widely spaced black spots on the body. It has two similar sized dorsal fins and an anal fin positioned just anterior to the tail.

The species has a oronasal groove which connects the mouth to the nostrils, small triangular teeth, and short nasal barbels.


The Epaulette Shark is a member of the fish family Hemiscylliidae, collectively called the Longtail Carpet Sharks. In Australia, the family contains four species, the Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum, the Speckled Carpet Shark, Hemiscyllium trispeculare, the Papuan Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium hallstromi and the Grey Carpet Shark, Chiloscyllium punctatum.

An easy way to tell the difference between the Epaulette and Speckled Carpet Shark is the presence of small dark spots immediately behind the ocellus of the Speckled Carpet Shark. These spots are absent in the Epaulette Shark.


Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum
Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum. Image: Thomas Mesaglio
© CC BY-NC 4.0

Where do Epaulette Sharks live?

Habitat

It is a bottom-dwelling species which lives primarily in warm, shallow marine waters.

Distribution

The Epaulette Shark is endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, from about the northern tip of Cape York Peninsula to the southern extremity of the Great Barrier Reef at the Capricorn Group. The northernmost record is from Sunday Island (11°56’ S, 143°12’ E), a small islet situated less than 3 km from the mainland coast.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums. Source: Atlas of Living Australia. Source: Atlas of Living Australia.



What do Epaulette Sharks eat and what is their life cycle?

Feeding and diet

The Epaulette Shark eats worms, crabs, shrimp, amphipods and small fishes. They use olfaction (sense of smell) and electroreception (the ability to detect weak naturally occurring electrostatic fields in the environment) to detect their prey. The Epaulette shark is more active and dusk and night.


Sharks exhibition at the Australian Museum

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Life history

Males mature at around 55-60 cm in length and the females at 55-64 cm and can grow to 107 cm. The Epaulette Shark is an oviparous (lays eggs) species. The eggs are about 10 cm long and 4 cm wide. They hatch after about 130 days. Young are around 15 cm in length when they hatch.


Epaulette Shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum
A 59cm long Epaulette Shark. Image: unknown
© Australian Museum

References

  1. Allen, G.R. & R. Swainston. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A Field Guide for Anglers and Divers. Western Australian Museum. Pp. 201.
  2. Allen, G.R., Erdmann, M.V., White, W.T., Fahmi & Dudgeon, C.L. 2016. Review of the bamboo shark genus Hemiscyllium (Orectolobiformes: Hemiscyllidae). Journal of the Ocean Science Foundation 23: 51–97.
  3. Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO. Pp. 513, Pl. 1-84.
  4. Longtail carpet sharks, HEMISCYLLIIDAE in Fishes of Australia, accessed 04 Aug 2022, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/family/325