Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Orectolobiformes Orectolobidae

Scientific Name: Orectolobus halei
Species Authority: Whitley, 1940
Common Name(s):
English Banded Wobbegong, Gulf Wobbegong
Orectolobus devisi Ogilby, 1916
Orectolobus ornatus subspecies halei Whitley, 1940
Taxonomic Notes: Orectolobus halei was previously synonymised with O. ornatus and was believed to be the adult form of O. ornatus. Taxonomic revision of NSW species showed that O. halei differs from O. ornatus in color pattern (O. halei has black edges around saddles and is less freckled), an adult size larger than 120 cm TL, more dermal lobes at the posterior preorbital group (4–6), precaudal vertebrae count (>106), spiral valve count (>25), and two supraorbital knob. Morphometrically, O. halei has a shorter pelvic fin to anal fin interspace, larger pectoral fins, larger head dimensions, and relatively larger claspers in mature specimens (Huveneers 2006).

Orectolobus halei is also often confused with O. maculatus but differs from it by having less (4-6 dermal lobes at the posterior preorbital group) and a distinctive brownish upper body coloration with well-defined, darker brown saddles surrounded by black edges, and containing paler markings that lacks whitish rings and blotches (unlike O. maculatus) (Huveneers 2006).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2009
Date Assessed: 2007-09-20
Assessor(s): Huveneers, C. Pollard, D., Gordon, I., Flaherty, A. & Pogonoski, J.
Reviewer(s): Stevens, J.D. & Valenti, S.V. (Shark Red List Authority)
The wobbegongs Orectolobus ornatus and O. maculatus were assessed for the 2003 Red List of Threatened Species. Recent studies, however, have provided new biological and ecological information while previous taxonomic uncertainties in New South Wales (NSW), Australia have now been resolved, elevating O. halei to species level (previously believed to be the adult form of O. ornatus).

The Banded Wobbegong (Orectolobus halei) is an Australian endemic species. Previous records from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Japan are either misidentified Ornate Wobbegongs (O. ornatus) or a different species of wobbegong. O. halei is a biologically vulnerable species, site-attached within its relatively shallow water range (0–195 m) and caught in commercial and recreational fisheries as a target species and as bycatch. Historic catch data are aggregated between wobbegong species, but serious declines (>50% between 1990/1991–1999/2000) for O. ornatus, Spotted Wobbegong (O. maculatus) and O. halei are documented for the east coast (NSW). Catches have since stabilized, however species-specific catch-per-unit-effort data are unavailable due to inaccurate reporting of fishing effort and aggregation of wobbegong species in catch records. Until late 2006, there were no management strategies specifically regulating the wobbegong commercial fishery in NSW. Since September 2006, wobbegongs have been included in the daily trip limit for a specific list of shark species to one tonne for a 24 hour period and two tonnes for 48 hours or greater. Furthermore, a minimum size limit of 180 cm TL and a maximum trip limit of either six or 12 wobbegongs (including O. maculatus and O. ornatus) will also be implemented and is pending approval by the NSW Fisheries minister. Given the targeted wobbegong fishery, documented decline in catches and previous lack of management regulations, O. halei is classified as Vulnerable in NSW. Wobbegongs are not targeted and catches are low in other Australian states (Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria). However, given that localised depletion is possible due to wobbegong’s slow reproductive cycle (triennial) and long residency within small geographical areas, and that O. halei is caught across its range, O. halei is classified as Near Threatened globally at present. Records of this species from the southern coast of Australia and Western Australia need to be verified, and if this species proves to be more restricted in distribution than currently known; this assessment may need to be revisited. More information is needed on catch composition, fishing effort, age and growth and population structure to develop stock assessments and demographic analyses for use in future conservation and management decisions. Monitoring of catches will also be required due to the recent management regulations that have been introduced in NSW limiting fishing pressure on wobbegongs. Reassessment might then be required in light of this new information.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Orectolobus halei is an Australian endemic wobbegong.

Orectolobus halei has been recorded from warm temperate eastern Australia with confirmed reports from Moreton Bay, Queensland and likely reports from Hervey Bay southwards to Port Phillip Bay (38°14'S, 144°39'E), Victoria and north-westwards to Norwegian Bay (22°54'S), Western Australia (J. Chidlow, unpub. data). However, records from the southern coast of Australia and Western Australia need to be verified (P.R. Last pers. comm. 2007).

Previous sources (Last and Stevens, 1994; Compagno, 2001) show that the global distribution of O. halei (formerly known as O. ornatus) includes Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Japan. However, wobbegongs from these areas are either misidentified O. ornatus or different undescribed species of wobbegongs.
Countries occurrence:
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – western central
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: No evidence of subpopulations. However, as stated above, O. halei population was previously considered the adult of O. ornatus. A genetic study looking at orectolobid phylogeny and phylogeorgaphy and assessing potential stock structure is currently being undertaken (S. Corrigan pers. comm.).
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Orectolobus halei is a common inshore bottom-dwelling shark of continental waters that is found in bays, on macroalgae-covered rocky reef areas, coral reefs (including lagoons and reef flats, reef faces, and reef channels), and around offshore islands (Compagno 2001). In a study in Port Stephens, NSW, a sympatric species of wobbegongs (O. ornatus) was shown to prefer sponge gardens, artificial structures and barren boulders habitats with a high topographic complexity and crevice volume (Carraro and Gladsone 2006). However, O. ornatus did not seem to select habitat on the basis of prey availability and habitat selection may therefore be related to predator avoidance (Carraro and Gladsone 2006). O. halei occurs inshore on the continental shelf to at least 195 m depth (J. Chidlow unpub. data) and appears to prefer clear-water reefs (Kuiter 1993). It is often found in clearer water than the closely related O. maculatus (Lieske and Myers 1994).

A survey on wobbegongs shows evidence of site-attachment with divers observing individual sharks in exactly the same positions over consecutive dives (The Ecology Lab, 1991). Furthermore, O. halei has been recorded within the same area for over 2.5 years (Huveneers et al. 2006; Huveneers unpub. data), and a sympatric species of wobbegong (O. ornatus) has been re-sighted within a 75 hectares area for a period of over 211 days suggesting site fidelity (Carraro and Gladstone 2006).

Compagno (2001) describes this shark as a nocturnal species that rests on the bottom during the day in caves, under ledges on reefs, and in trenches and that undertakes nocturnal excursions away from resting areas. As a primarily nocturnal feeder, it preys on bottom invertebrates and fishes (Last and Stevens 1994). Compagno (2001) cites the prey of O. ornatus and O. halei as bony fishes, sharks, rays, cephalopods and crustaceans. A NSW study found elasmobranchs (including O. ornatus), osteichthyes (reef, benthic and a few pelagic fishes, and moray eels) and cephalopods as prey items (Huveneers et al. 2007a), and only teleosts and cephalopods in a WA study (Chidlow 2003 - misidentified as O. ornatus). No crustaceans were found in the stomachs of O. halei caught in the NSW or WA study. Sampled sharks were, however, mostly large juveniles and adults (> 140 cm TL), and it is possible that crustaceans are part of neonates or small juveniles diet.

O. halei (misidentified as O. ornatus) was previously believed to mature at about 175 cm TL (Last and Stevens 1994, Compagno 2001). Further studies confirmed this and estimated L50 at about 175 cm TL in NSW waters (Huveneers et al. 2007b) and 182 cm TL in WA waters (Chidlow 2003). Similar to O. ornatus and O. maculatus, O. halei as a triennial reproductive cycle with follicles taking two years to enlarge before ovulation. During the first year, follicles remain small, then grow rapidly during the second year prior to ovulation during November. Gestation lasts about 10–11 months with parturition occurring during September–October (Huveneers et al. 2007b). O. halei is lecithotrophic viviparous (Huveneers et al. 2007b) with a litter size ranging from 30–45 and a size-at-birth of about 35 cm TL (R. Brislane pers. comm.). Maximum length is about 290 cm TL (Last and Stevens 1994).

Age and growth of O. halei was attempted but could not be verified or validated (Chidlow 2003; Huveneers 2007). Furthermore, different age estimations for wobbegongs were obtained if using whole vertebrae or thin cut sections (Huveneers 2007). Juvenile captive O. halei of about 120 cm TL grew about 12 cm TL year-1 (Huveneers 2007).
Systems: Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Commercial fishing is probably the main cause of the decline of this species in eastern Australia. Furthermore, observed site fidelity is likely to increase wobbegong’s susceptibility to fishing pressure. On an Australia-wide basis, wobbegong sharks are commonly caught in trawls, beach seines, gillnets, lobster pots and traps, by hook-and-line, and also by spearfishing. The flesh is now highly regarded as food, but in the past has generally been of only limited commercial value. Historically, the attractive skin has been used as decorative leather (Last and Stevens, 1994). However, it is unknown if this practice is still occurring.

In New South Wales, three Orectolobus species (O. maculatus, O. ornatus and O. halei) are taken in the Ocean Trap and Line Fishery (OTL), in the fish and prawn sectors of the Ocean Trawl Fishery, and very few in the Estuary General Fishery. The majority of commercial wobbegong catches occur in the OTL Fisheries, where they have historically been taken as both a target species by setline methods and as by-product by other methods (NSW Department of Primary Industries, unpub. data). Serious declines have been observed in NSW, demonstrating the vulnerability of this species to exploitation. The NSW total catch of wobbegongs (genus Orectolobus), combining all fishing methods and Fisheries, has declined from about 120 tonnes in 1990/1991 to about 55 tonnes in 1999/2000, representing a decrease of about 55% in less than a decade (Pease and Grinberg 1995, NSW Department of Primary Industries, unpub. data). However, catches have since stabilised, and range 55–73 tonnes during 1998/1999–2003/2004. Fishing effort is mostly unknown and inaccurate because it has only been reported as the number of days fished. Additionally, the historical aggregation of the wobbegong species in catch data is a further complicating factor. Species-specific catch-per-unit-effort, required to obtain a more accurate estimation of wobbegong catches, is therefore unavailable. Although the strong decline in catches should be of concern for the resilience of wobbegongs to strong fishing pressure, the number of fishers landing wobbegongs has also decreased from about 520 in 1990/1991 to about 250 in 2003/2004 (NSW Department of Primary Industries, unpub. data).

Commercial fishing by a variety of methods is potentially threatening wobbegong species in southern Australian waters. In southern Australia, wobbegongs are taken within the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery (SESSF) (AFMA logbook data unpub. data). Most of the above fisheries take these species as bycatch, and like many bycatch species they are often utilised. Retained wobbegong from the Commonwealth Fisheries ranged 2.3–5.1 tonnes between 1994 and 1999.

O. maculatus and O. halei are a component of the bycatch of a commercial shark fishery utilising demersal gill-nets that target carcharhinid whalers and other sharks along the southern and lower west coasts of Western Australia with an average total wobbegong catch between 1999 and 2006 of about 45 tonnes year-1 (range 35–68 tonnes) (Simpfendorfer and Donohue 1998, Penn 2001, McAuley and Lenanton 2003, McAuley and Gaughan 2004, Gaughan and Chidlow 2005, McAuley 2006, McAuley 2007). Smaller catches of orectolobids also occur in commercial and recreational rock lobster pots throughout temperate coastal Western Australian waters (J. Chidlow, pers. comm.).

Commercial catches of wobbegong are small in most parts of South Australia (about 0.5–2.5 tonnes) with the highest yearly catch being 3.1 tonnes in 1987/88

Wobbegongs are not targeted in Queensland. O. halei has been recorded in low numbers in the bycatch of prawn trawl fisheries (Kyne et al., 2002), whereas small wobbegongs are sometimes caught by crab pots in Southeast Queensland and Moreton Bay, but are usually discarded (J. Stead, pers. comm.).

The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey (Henry and Lyle, 2003) reported that 5,174 wobbegongs (all species combined) were caught and kept by recreational fishers in southern Australian states during the survey time period (May 2000 to April 2001), comprising 1,944 from NSW, 999 from Queensland, 252 from S.A., and 1,978 from W.A. In Western Australia, a WA Fisheries Department survey conducted in 1996–1997 between Augusta and Kalbarri, reported that up to 1,000 wobbegongs were caught and kept by recreational fishers during that period (Sumner and Williamson 1999).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: As a result of the observed decline in New South Wales wobbegong catches, a discussion paper on wobbegong sharks was produced, seeking the views of various stakeholders on the future management of commercial and recreational fishing of wobbegong sharks (NSW Fisheries 2001). However, the management plan has not been finalised and management measures have not been implemented. NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) also requested commercial fishers to report catches for O. ornatus and O. maculatus individually. Most recently, a review of NSW Recreational Freshwater & Saltwater Fishing Rules and the Fishery Management Strategy (FMS) for NSW Trap and Line Fishery have proposed a minimum size limit of 130 cm TL for wobbegong sharks and a trip limit of 12 wobbegongs caught in fish traps (NSW DPI, 2006). The FMS has also recommended that commercial fishers report their catches of each species separately and to collect additional biological data through the observer program.

Until late 2006, there were no management strategies specifically regulating the wobbegong commercial fishery in NSW. The only regulation in place was a recreational bag limit of two wobbegongs per day (later reduced to zero in September 2007) and a commercial gear limit of no more than ten lines each with a maximum of six hooks when setlining within three nautical miles of the coast. There were no gear limits outside three nautical miles, but as of 2008, amendments to the share management plans will instate a maximum of 1,200 hooks and 30 traps per endorsement holder.

Since September 2006, wobbegongs have been included in the daily trip limit for a specific list of shark species to one tonne for a 24 hour period and two tonnes for 48 hours or greater. NSW DPI also recommended that fishers in the Ocean Trap and Line and Lobster fisheries have in their codes of practice to release wobbegongs less than 130 cm TL caught in fish traps. Since July 2007, the use of wire trace, or other trace made of metal type materials, is prohibited to decrease instances of gut-hooking. Furthermore, a minimum size limit of 180 cm TL and a maximum trip limit of either six or 12 wobbegongs (including O. maculatus and O. ornatus) will also be implemented and is pending approval by the NSW Fisheries minister.

Site attached species may also benefit from habitat protection and suitably designed and implemented "No-take" MPAs, where all forms of harvesting or fishing are excluded. Some protection may be offered by those protected areas already being implemented for grey nurse sharks Carcharias taurus in NSW.

Australian Marine Protected Areas in which the species occurs:
Moreton Bay Marine Park, Qld
Cape Byron Marine Park, Byron Bay, northern NSW
Julian Rocks Aquatic Reserve, off Byron Bay, northern NSW
Solitary Islands Marine Park, north of Coffs Harbour, NSW
Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park, north of Sydney, central NSW
Jervis Bay Marine Park, south of Sydney, NSW
Batemans Marine Park, south of Sydney, NSW
Shark Bay Marine Park, WA
Ningaloo Marine Park, WA
Jurien Bay Marine Park, WA
All Victorian marine parks
All South Australian marine parks

Possibly also occurs in the following areas:
Great Sandy Marine Park, Qld
Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, WA
Shoalwater Islands Marine Park, WA
Marmion Marine Park , WA
Muiron Islands Marine Management Area, WA
Rowley Shoals Marine Park , WA

Further protected areas might be necessary to ensure stable populations and are likely to be efficient due to the high site fidelity of wobbegong (Huveneers et al. 2006).

Recreational fishers may also have had an impact on this species in the past. An in-possession limit of two wobbegong sharks per person was introduced for recreational fishers in NSW and reduced to zero in September 2007. This new regulation may help to alleviate any adverse affects caused by recreational fishing practices.

Although a PhD project investigated the biology and ecology of wobbegong sharks, catch and effort is still poorly recorded preventing adequate stock assessments. Species-specific catches in addition to accurate effort data is required to correctly determine population status of wobbegong.

The improvement of species identification in catch records and a better understanding of biological parameters, including validation of age and growth are crucial in providing accurate data upon which to base stock assessments and demographic analyses. Outcomes from which can then be used to estimate wobbegong resilience to fishing pressure and recommend future conservation and management decisions.

Citation: Huveneers, C. Pollard, D., Gordon, I., Flaherty, A. & Pogonoski, J. 2009. Orectolobus halei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T161709A5485787. . Downloaded on 10 October 2015.
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