Common Name: Zebra Shark
Scientific Name: Stegostoma fasciatum
Distribution: Found throughout the tropical western pacific and the Indian oceans and the red sea.
The zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) is a species of carpet shark belonging to the Stegostmatidae family, in fact the only member of this family. Zebra sharks are a large and very distinctive species. Juveniles are born dark brown with yellow stripes but their appearance changes as they mature, they shed their stripes which are replaced with small black dots and their body lightens from a dark brown to a lighter tan colour. Adult Zebra sharks look remarkably similar to the leopard shark and are often mistaken as such.
Habitat and Ecology
The zebra shark is most commonly found in shallow coral reefs habitats, but they have been found in depths of 62m (203 ft). The tropical coral reefs and sandy flats that they make their home have plenty of crevices and caves in which to hunt for food.
They are nocturnal foragers and feast on delicacies such as small fish, snails, sea urchins, crabs and other small invertebrates. They may not look like deadly hunters, but their bodies are perfectly adapted to catch their prey. Their ability to wriggle into small spaces enables them to catch smaller fishing hiding in crevices and their strong gill muscles mean they can suck up their prey in one big gulp.
By day the Zebra shark is often found resting on the sandy flats. They face the current to allow the water to pump over their gills to breathe while they remain motionless. ¹
They reproduce by laying eggs, which they anchor to the seafloor. ³
As with many other species of shark, the main threat to the Zebra shark are humans. Fished for their meat, which may be sold fresh or salt-dried in markets throughout Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines among others. Their livers are frequently used in vitamins and their fins removed for a traditional Chinese delicacy, fin soup.
Although shark finning is illegal in many waters, it is still a common practise as fins can still be bought and sold from unsustainable foreign fisheries.
The Zebra shark is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List as the threats posed by humans is driving down populations across their range. In Australia however, it is considered as least concern thanks to the low level of fishing and its wide distribution.