Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21, 2011 : Leopard Shark


Leopard Shark

The leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) is a species of houndshark, family Triakidae, found along the Pacific coast of North America from the U.S. state of Oregon to Mazatl├ín in Mexico. Typically measuring 1.2–1.5 m (3.9–4.9 ft) long, this slender-bodied shark is immediately identifiable by the striking pattern of black saddle-like markings and large spots over its back, from which it derives its common name. Large schools of leopard sharks are a common sight in bays and estuaries, swimming over sandy or muddy flats or rock-strewn areas near kelp beds and reefs. They are most common near the coast, in water less than 4 m (13 ft) deep.

Active-swimming predators, groups of leopard sharks often follow the tide onto intertidal mudflats to forage for food, mainly clams, spoon worms, crabs, shrimp, bony fish, and fish eggs. Most leopard sharks tend to remain within a particular area rather than undertaking long movements elsewhere, which has led to genetic divergence between populations of sharks living in different regions. This species is aplacental viviparous, meaning that the young hatch inside the uterus and are nourished by yolk. From March to June, the female gives birth to as many as 37 young after a gestation period of 10–12 months. It is relatively slow-growing and takes many years to mature.

Harmless to humans, the leopard shark is caught by commercial and recreational fisheries for food and the aquarium trade. This species is mostly fished in the waters off California where, after a period of population decline in the 1980s, new fishing regulations in the early 1990s reduced harvesting to sustainable levels. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed this species as of Least Concern, while noting that local stocks may easily become overfished because of the shark's slow growth and limited migratory habits.

The leopard shark occurs in the cool to warm-temperate continental waters of the northeastern Pacific Ocean, from Coos Bay, Oregon to Mazatl├ín, Mexico, including the Gulf of California. It favors muddy or sandy flats within enclosed bays and estuaries, and may also be encountered near kelp beds and rocky reefs, or along the open coast. Numbers have been known to gather near discharges of warm effluent from power plants. Leopard sharks generally swim close to the bottom and are most abundant from the intertidal zone to a depth of 4 m (13 ft), though they may be found as deep as 91 m (299 ft). Many leopard sharks, particularly in the north, leave their coastal habitats in winter and return in early spring. A study in Tomales Bay in northern California determined that they depart when the water temperature drops below 10–12° C (50–54° F); one tagged shark was found to have swum some 140 km (87 mi) south.

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