WELCOME TO SPOT THE LEOPARD SHARK - a research project that uses photo-identification of individual leopard sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum - also known as zebra sharks) to investigate population abundance and demography, movement and longevity of wild leopard shark populations.

What is photo-identification (photo-ID)?  Individuals within many different species  have markings that can be used to tell them apart.   When we take photographs of these animals the photos become data that can be used to address many different scientific and conservation questions including:
  • how many animals are in the population
  • what is important habitat for them
  • how long do the animals live

Research from southern Queensland, Australia

Chris Dudgeon (The University of Queensland) and colleagues have been using photo-ID as a technique to study leopard sharks in Queensland (QLD), Australia for ten years.  Using archival photograph contributions we have now identified 388 individuals visiting the primary aggregation site in southern QLD with some animals having been sighted over 12 years!   Population modelling has estimated that around 460 adult leopard sharks aggregate in southern QLD waters every year. 
Almost all these animals are mature adults, the aggregation is seasonal and occurs mainly over the warmer months.

This is the largest known aggregation leopard sharks in the world!! 

Some facts about leopard sharks

  • They are a unique species - the only member of their family Stegostomatidae with their closest relatives including whale sharks and wobbegongs.
  • They are the largest egg laying shark and reach around 2.5m total length
  • Leopard shark egg attached to coral, Phi Phi Island

  • When the babies hatch out they have bold dark and light stripes - which is why they are also called zebra sharks 
  • They have the longest tail to body ratio after the thresher sharks.
  • There is another leopard shark found in the eastern Pacific (Triakis semifasciata) which is an unrelated species.
In collaboration with dive operators and the Phuket Marine Biological Center, we are undertaking the first photo-ID survey of leopard sharks in Thailand, based off Phi Phi Island in the Andaman Sea.  Find out more about this project here and how to contribute.
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  385k v. 1 Aug 17, 2013, 4:54 AM Christine Dudgeon