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This shark is easily distinguished by the bold dark bars across its dorsal surface and additional dark spots along the lateral surface. Juvenile leopard sharks have zebra-like markings -- narrow white stripes and blotches contrasted against a dark brown base.
The prominent rounded dorsal fin of this shark originates over the inner margins of its pectoral fins. The second dorsal fin is pointed and averages about three-quarters the size of the first dorsal fin. The anal fin is diminutive in comparison to the leopard shark's second dorsal fin. The pectoral fins of the leopard shark are rather broad and roughly triangular in shape. The upper lobe of the tail is notched and elongated.
A relatively small shark, the leopard shark averages 50-60 inches in length, with a maximum length of 7 feet and maximum weight of 42 pounds.
Distribution and Habitat
The leopard shark has a relatively narrow range, living in the eastern North Pacific from Oregon to the Gulf of California and Mexico. It is most commly found in water of 65 feet or less in depth, but has been seen as deep as 300 feet. It will also follow the high tide to feed on shallow mudflats, then move back out again as the water recedes.
Leopard sharks are opportunistic feeders, preying on just about anything that lives on or near the sea bottom including crabs, shrimp, clams, octopus, and sea worms. They will also take bony fish from near the surface, usually by swimming in an opposite direction to the prey and letting the fish swim into their mouths.
Like most other sharks, the leopard shark incubates her eggs inside her body. The mother gives birth to 4-33 pups (each 8-9 inches long) after an incubation period of 10-12 months, with most births taking place in April and May.
Leopard sharks are slow growers, taking up to 10 years to reach sexual maturity. Life span in the wild is unknown, but captive specimens have been known to live over 20 years.
The leopard shark is an active, strong swimmer, and is often observed swimming with an undulating motion. It is usually solitary but will form large schools of 20-50 individuals, and is sometimes seen with gray or brown smooth-hound sharks and piked dogfish.
Leopard sharks pose no threat to humans, with no confirmed tiger shark attack on a human ever recorded.
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This page was last updated on September 19, 2017.