Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Orectolobiformes Orectolobidae

Scientific Name: Orectolobus ornatus
Species Authority: (de Vis, 1883)
Common Name(s):
English Ornate Wobbegong
Taxonomic Notes: Orectolobus ornatus was previously synonimised with O. halei and was believed to be the juvenile form of O. halei. Taxonomic revision of NSW species showed that O. ornatus differs from O. halei in color pattern (more freckled in O. ornatus), an adult size smaller than 120 cm TL, fewer dermal lobes at the posterior preorbital group (3-4), precaudal vertebrae count (<106), spiral valve count (<25), and the absence of supraorbital knob. Morphometrically, O. ornatus has a longer pelvic fin to anal fin interspace, smaller pectoral fins, smaller head dimensions, and relatively smaller claspers in mature specimens (Huveneers 2006).

Assessment is complicated by taxonomic uncertainties based on the identification of the PNG specimen. This species should at present be considered as an Australian endemic (L.J.V. Compagno, pers. comm.).

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): Valenti, S.V. & IUCN SSG Australia and Oceania Red List Workshop participants (Shark Red List Authority)
The wobbegongs Orectolobus ornatus and O. Maculatus were assessed on the 2003 Red List of Threatened Species as Near Threatened globally. Recent studies, however, have provided new biological and ecological information while previous taxonomic uncertainties in NSW have now been resolved, elevating O. halei to species level (previously believed to be the adult form of O. ornatus). This assessment presents updated documentation for O. ornatus.

The Ornate Wobbegong (Orectolobus ornatus) is an Australian endemic species. Previous records from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Japan could be different undescribed species of wobbegongs. A biologically vulnerable species, site-attached within its relatively shallow water range 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 and 1999/2000) for O. ornatus, Spotted Wobbegong (O. maculatus) and Banded Wobbegong (O. halei) are documented for the east coast (NSW). Catches have since stabilised. 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 (effectively protecting O. ornatus since its maximum size is about 120 cm TL) and a maximum trip limit of either six or 12 wobbegongs (including O. halei and O. maculatus) 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. ornatus 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 wobbegongs' slow reproductive cycle (triennial) and long residency within small geographical areas, and that O. ornatus is caught across its range, O. ornatus is classified as Near Threatened globally. More information is needed on catch composition, fishing effort, age and growth and population structure to develop stock assessments and demographic analyses. Wobbegong resilience to fishing pressure could then be calculated and used to recommend 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.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2003 Near Threatened (NT)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Orectolobus ornatus is an Australian endemic wobbegong.

Orectolobus ornatus has been recorded from the Whitsunday Islands (20°20'S 148°54'E, Australian Museum specimen IA 3831) tropical eastern Australia southwards with confirmed reports from Port Stephens (32°43'S, 152°11'E, Australian Museum specimen I 43621-001-5 (Huveneers 2006) and likely reports in Sydney (Huveneers 2007).

Previous sources (Last and Stevens 1994, Compagno 2001) show that the global distribution of O. ornatus includes Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Japan. However, wobbegongs from these areas are could be different undescribed species of wobbegongs.
Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia)
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. ornatus population was previously considered the juvenile of O. halei. 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: Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented: No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Orectolobus ornatus 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, Orectolobus 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). Orectolobus ornatus occurs inshore on the continental shelf to at least 100 m depth (Last and Stevens 1994, Compagno 2001) and is also known from around offshore islands such as Heron Island (P. Hallam pers. comm.). 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. ornatus has been re-sighted within a 75 hectares area for a period of over 211 days (Carraro and Gladstone 2006), whereas a sympatric species of Orectolobus (O. halei), has been recorded within the same area for over 2.5 years suggesting site fidelity (Huveneers et al. 2006, Huveneers unpub. data).

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 osteichthyes (reef, benthic and a few pelagic fishes, and moray eels) and cephalopods as prey items (Huveneers et al. 2007a). No crustaceans were found in the stomachs of O. ornatus caught in NSW. Sampled sharks were, however, mostly large juveniles and adults (>70 cm TL), and it is possible that crustaceans are part of neonates or small juveniles diet.

Although O. ornatus was previously believed to mature at about 175 cm TL, further studies revealed that O. halei actually matures at about 175 cm TL, whereas O. ornatus matures at about 80 cm TL (Huveneers 2007, Huveneers et al. 2007b). Similar to O. halei and O. maculatus, O. ornatus has a triennial reproductive cycle with follicles taking two years to enlarge before ovulation. During the first year, follicles remained 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). Orectolobus ornatus is lecithotrophic viviparous with a litter size ranging from 4-18 (mean nine) and a size-at-birth of about 20 cm TL (Huveneers et al. 2007b). Maximum length is about 120 cm TL (Huveneers 2006).

Age and growth of O. ornatus was attempted but could not be verified or validated (Huveneers 2007). Furthermore, different age estimations for wobbegongs were obtained if using whole vertebrae or thin cut sections (Huveneers 2007). Newborn captive O. ornatus grew about 20 cm TL year-1 (Huveneers 2007).
Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Historically, the attractive skin has been used as decorative leather (Last and Stevens 1994). However, it is unknown if this practice is still occurring.

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 NSW, 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).

Wobbegongs are not targeted in Queensland. Orectolobus 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 1000 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 NSW 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 (effectively protecting O. ornatus since its maximum size is about 120 cm TL) and a maximum trip limit of either six or 12 wobbegongs (including O. halei and O. maculatus) 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
Great Sandy 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

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 as suggested by the previous Red List assessment, 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 ornatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T41838A10577597. . Downloaded on 07 October 2015.
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