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: 2003
Date Assessed: 2003-04-30
Needs updating
Assessor(s): Bennett, M.B. & Kyne, P.M. (SSG Australia & Oceania Regional Workshop, March 2003)
Reviewer(s): Fowler, S. & Cavanagh, R.D. (Shark Red List Authority)
Hemiscyllium ocellatum is widely dispersed across Australia and around New Guinea with a primary habitat of shallow inshore waters and reef systems. In Australian waters marine parks protect much of the critical habitat on the east coast where it is abundant on some reefs. There are no identifiable important fishing pressures in Australia, although a small aquarium trade may target this species. In New Guinea this shark may be collected as part of a subsistence/artisanal fishery and severe degradation of its habitat occurs in parts of its range through destructive fishing practices and high pollutant loads. The species is listed as Least Concern globally, but Near Threatened (due to concern that it could meet the criterion A3cde for Vulnerable) around New Guinea, reflecting the pressures facing the species in that region.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: This species is commonly found in shallow coastal waters of Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. On the east Australian coast the southern extent of its range has been recorded as Sydney, New South Wales (Last and Stevens 1994).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia); Indonesia (Papua); Papua New Guinea
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Significant populations appear to only occur northwards of about latitude 23°S. The Capricorn-Bunker group, Great Barrier Reef has a large population of epaulette sharks, with a population on a small portion of Heron Island Reef estimated to number in the low thousands (Heupel and Bennett, unpublished obs). The degree of interchange of individuals between 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, the Northern Territory and New Guinea are unknown.
Current Population Trend: Stable
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: A small, slender shark of up to about 1 m total length (TL). At Heron Island Reef, Queensland, individuals did not exceed 76 cm TL and a mass of 900 g (n = 497). A species that is commonly encountered in shallow coral reef waters. It is well camouflaged and can been observed foraging over reef flats. Its activity pattern is affected by a combination of suitable tidal and light conditions: it is more active at low water and, although epaulette sharks can be found actively hunting during daylight hours, it is more active after dark and particularly around dawn or dusk. The diet comprises a variety of benthic organisms that it takes from the surface of the substrate or, by burying its head into the substrate, from a few centimetres below the surface (Heupel and Bennett 1998). Annelids and crabs account for the majority of the diet in this species, although there is a degree of ontogenetic shift in dietary preference, with shrimps becoming a more important part of the adult diet (Heupel and Bennett 1998). At rest sharks commonly hide in or beneath coral heads. If in the open, they orient themselves with their head into the oncoming water stream, presumably for station-holding and possibly for prey/threat detection (Peach 2002).

An oviparous species with males and females maturing at 54 to 62 cm TL. Mating probably occur between July and November, with females carrying eggcases found between August and December, although in captivity they have 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 young at 14 to 16 cm TL. Subsequent growth is initially slow, but reaches about five cm year-1 after about three months (West and Carter 1990). Epaulette sharks descend into deeper water between coral reefs and have been found at depths of at least 40 m. The species is hypoxia tolerant and is able to survive in anoxic waters. This trait is important as this shark is often found in shallow (ca 15 cm deep), warm (ca 30°C) waters that become severely hypoxic during the night. This trait may enable this species to survive in areas of poor water quality, such as mining run-off in New Guinea.
Systems: Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: aquarium use

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Collection for aquarium trade and bycatch from fishing activities in Australian waters place only minimal pressure on this species. However, 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 H. ocellatum compared with other endemic Hemiscyllium spp. and the fact that the species is abundant in Australian waters means the species is not threatened with extinction on a global basis. However, given the pressures facing all hemiscyllid sharks around New Guinea, the status of the species requires close monitoring.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: None needed at present. The species is protected in parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland.

Citation: Bennett, M.B. & Kyne, P.M. (SSG Australia & Oceania Regional Workshop, March 2003). 2003. Hemiscyllium ocellatum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2003: e.T41818A10570542. . Downloaded on 09 October 2015.
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