Hemiscyllium ocellatum 


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Chondrichthyes Orectolobiformes Hemiscylliidae

Scientific Name: Hemiscyllium ocellatum
Species Authority: (Bonnaterre, 1788)
Infra-specific Taxa Assessed:
Common Name(s):
English Epaulette Shark

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2015-02-18
Assessor(s): Bennett, M.B., Kyne, P.M. & Heupel, M.R.
Reviewer(s): Walls, R.H.L. & Bigman, J.S.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Kyne, P.M., Walls, R.H.L., Simpfendorfer, C. & Chin, A.
The Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) is a relatively small species (up to 107 cm total length), widely dispersed across northern Australia and around New Guinea with a primary habitat of shallow, inshore waters and coral reefs. Marine parks protect much of the critical habitat on the Australian east coast, where it is abundant on some reefs in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. There are no identifiable important fishing pressures in Australia, although a small aquarium trade does target this species. With no perceived major threats to this species at this time, it is assessed as Least Concern in Australia and globally, but with a separate subpopulation assessment for New Guinea of Near Threatened (due to concern that it could meet the criterion A3cd for Vulnerable) based on destructive fishing practices and high pollutant loads in its coral reef habitat.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2003 Least Concern (LC)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Epaulette Shark is commonly found in shallow coastal waters of Queensland, the Northern Territory, and northern Western Australia (Allen and Erdman 2008, Allen et al. 2013), and also occurs around New Guinea. On the eastern Australian coast, the southern extent of its range has been recorded as Sydney, New South Wales (Last and Stevens 2009).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia); Indonesia (Papua); Papua New Guinea (Papua New Guinea (main island group))
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central; Pacific – southwest
Lower depth limit (metres):40
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:In Australia, significant portions of the population appear to only occur northwards of about latitude 23°S. The Capricorn-Bunker group, Great Barrier Reef, has a large population of the Epaulette Shark, with part of the population on a small portion of Heron Island Reef, estimated to number in the low thousands (Heupel and Bennett 2007). The degree of interchange of individuals among reefs is unknown and subpopulations may exist if emigration/immigration is minimal. The population sizes and details of the range of this species in Western Australia and the Northern Territory are unknown. Despite this, the lack of major threat to the species at this time allows the assumption that the population is stable.
Current Population Trend:Stable
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The Epaulette Shark is commonly encountered in shallow coral reef waters. This species is well camouflaged and can be observed foraging over reef flats. The main activity pattern is affected by a combination of suitable tidal and light conditions; this species is more active at low water and, although it can be found actively hunting during daylight hours, individuals are more active after dark and particularly around dawn or dusk. The Epaulette Shark descends into deeper water between coral reefs and has been found at depths of at least 40 m. The species is tolerant of hypoxia and able to survive in anoxic waters. This trait is important as this shark is often found in shallow (~15 cm deep), warm (~30°C) waters that become severely hypoxic during the night. This trait may enable this species to survive in areas of poor water quality.

This is a small, slender shark of up to about 107 cm TL (Last and Stevens 2009). At Heron Island Reef, Queensland, individuals did not exceed 76 cm TL and a mass of 900 g (n = 497). An oviparous species with males and females maturing at 54 and 62 cm TL, respectively (Last and Stevens 2009). Mating probably occurs between July and November, with females carrying egg cases found between August and December (Heupel et al. 1999), although in captivity it has been noted to breed continuously (West and Carter 1990). Two egg capsules are produced and deposited among coral at night. A pair of egg capsules may be produced every 14 days, resulting in up to about 20 potential offspring per female per annum. Eggs hatch after about 120 days with size at birth 14 to 16 cm TL. Subsequent growth is initially slow, but reaches approximately 5 cm year-1 after about three months (West and Carter 1990).
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: The Epaulette Shark is taken in small numbers for use in the commercial aquarium trade.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Collection for the aquarium trade and bycatch from fishing activities in Australian waters place only minimal pressure on this species so there are currently no major threats in Australia. The New Guinea subpopulation is assessed separately. Around New Guinea the species is likely to be threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing practices and habitat modification, including the damage and destruction of coral reefs from dynamite fishing and pollution. These processes are likely causing declines in all hemiscyllid species occurring around New Guinea, however quantitative data are not available. The wider distribution of the Epaulette Shark compared with other endemic Hemiscyllium species and the fact that the species is abundant in Australian waters means the species is not at risk of extinction on a global basis. However, given the pressures facing all hemiscyllid sharks around New Guinea, the status of the species requires close monitoring there.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There are no conservation actions in place or necessary for this species at present. The Epaulette Shark is protected in parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland and Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia.

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.4. Marine Neritic - Subtidal Sandy
suitability: Suitable season: resident major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:No
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:No
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Area based regional management plan:No
  Invasive species control or prevention:Not Applicable
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:No
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:No
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:No
  Included in international legislation:No
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:No
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale)
♦ timing: Ongoing ♦ scope: Minority (<50%) ♦ severity: Unknown ⇒ Impact score: Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale)
♦ timing: Ongoing ♦ scope: Minority (<50%) ♦ severity: Unknown ⇒ Impact score: Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

1. Research -> 1.5. Threats

Bibliography [top]

Allen, G.R. and Erdmann, M.V. 2008. Two new species of bamboo sharks (Orectolobiformes: Hemiscylliidae) from Western New Guinea. Aqua International Journal of Ichthyology 13: 3-23.

Allen, G.R., Erdmann, M.V. and Dudgeon, C.L. 2013. Hemiscyllium halmahera, a new species of bamboo shark (Hemiscyllidae) from Indonesia. Aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology 19: 3-19.

Heupel, M.R. and Bennett, M.B. 2007. Estimating the abundance of reef-dwelling sharks: a case study of the epaulette shark, Hemiscyllium ocellatum (Elasmobranchii:Hemiscyllidae. Pacific Science 61: 383-394.

Heupel, M.R., Whittier, J.M. and Bennett, M.B. 1999. Plasma steroid hormone profiles and reproductive biology of the epaulette shark, Hemiscyllium oscellatum. Journal of Experimental Zoology 284: 586-594.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group. Specialist Group website. Available at: http://www.iucnssg.org/.

Last, P.R. and Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

West, J.G. and Carter, S. 1990. Observations on the development and growth of the captive epaulette shark Hemiscyllium ocellatum (Bonnaterre) in captivity. Journal of Aquariculture and Aquatic Sciences. 4: 111-117.

Citation: Bennett, M.B., Kyne, P.M. & Heupel, M.R. 2015. Hemiscyllium ocellatum. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41818A68625284. . Downloaded on 30 November 2015.
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