You did not see one yet?? Then read here about these beautiful animals.
In the southern parts of Thailand, Phuket and Phi Phi Island the leopard shark is a big part of the eco-tourism diving industry.
The IUCN assed the leopard sharks as Vulnerable worldwide. The shark is fished on commercially everywhere, except in Australia, for their meat, fins and oil. It has been proven that the numbers of these sharks are decreasing
what is a leopard or Zebra shark
The Leopard shark is a very distinctive shark within the shark-family.
They are a medium-sized shark with a unique appearance: 5 ridged down their back and a single-lobed tail which is almost as long as their body. They look to be the closest relative of the whale shark with their ridged body shape and spot patterns.
Their body is cylindrical with a large and slightly flattened head and a short, blunt snout. Their small eyes are placed on the sides of the head.
The leopard shark has a nearly straight mouth with 3 lobes on the bottom lip and furrows in the corner of the mouth.
These beautiful and friendly looking sharks are nocturnal, so during the day divers and snorkelers are able to see them just resting on sandy bottoms near coral or rocks.
The hunters will go out at night to look for crustaceans - like shrimps, crabs, lobster - and small fish.
Leopard sharks are also the largest egg-laying shark.
The hatched baby sharks are bold black with white stripes and that is where the name Zebra shark comes from. These stripes break up into spots as they turn into a mature shark.
Spot the leopard-Shark
As with many shark and ray species, little is known about the leopard shark.
The lead professor of the project, Christine Dudgeon, started studying leopard sharks in Australia for her doctoral thesis 10 years ago. Until that point, almost no studies had been conducted on leopard sharks in the wild. Only one known was by a Japanese professor who followed a leopard shark for 24 hours.
It is unclear how badly affected by fishing these species are. Leopard sharks can’t cope with heavy levels of fishing because these animals are long-lived, have very few babies every year and take several years to become mature.
Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!!
For the Spot the Leopard Shark projects pictures of leopard sharks are collected by the project team. The reason photos are so useful is because each individual leopard shark has a unique spotting pattern that is used to tell them apart. Individual markings are common for sharks and rays and have been used to study manta rays, whale sharks, great white shark and black tip reefsharks to name a few.
The tricky thing with leopard sharks is that they undergo one of the most dramatic changes in body markings of any shark. As mentioned leopard sharks are born with stripes that transform into spots while they mature. This is in contrast manta rays and whale sharks, which have the same marking throughout their life.
It is unknown when the patterns stop changing. But it is known that the spots are stable in the adults as found out during the study of leopard sharks in southern Queensland Australia.
You may not think of pictures as a scientific tool as such, but digital photography has opened up whole new ways to conduct research. It’s quite new (only really the last 15 years) and increasingly affordable. With so many divers in the water armed with cameras, the capacity for collecting data is fantastic. With high speed internet, these photos can easily be submitted and stored in a central database via email and social media.
The Results of Spot the leopard shark - Australia
In southern Queensland the leopard sharks aggregate in large numbers over the summer months every year. So over the last 10 years of studying them the project showed some pretty amazing stuff. Briefly, an estimated 460 mature adult sharks are part of the annual aggregation; they can swim quite long distances (the record for 1 shark is ~400km in 1 month); they don’t like water below 22°C or rough water conditions and most importantly for the Spot the Leopard Shark project, the spotting patterns in the adults are stable with individuals matched up to 12 years in the wild!
Spot the leopard shark - Thailand
That is the reason for expanding the project to Thailand. “The Spot the Leopard Shark: Thailand” is a joint venture between Thai researchers (Phuket Marine Biological Center) and Australian researchers (The University of Queensland) and the diving community of Thailand.
The project was just launched on Phi Phi Island in August 2013. The reason for selecting this as the kick-off location is that the leopard shark plays a big role in the eco-tourism / diving-tourism on the island, and of course the country.
The project is setup as a community project. That means the project belongs to all the divers. It’s easy to get involved – all the diver has to do is submit any photos of leopard sharks that they have from Thai waters with information on where and when they are taken. These photos and information will be used to address questions of how many leopard sharks there are in Thailand, which areas they use, how this changes over time, how long they live, etc.
Calling all divers!
The pictures provided to the project team can be new or older ones, as long as you are able to provide basic information about the picture, like location, date. Divesite name and depth details are a big plus.
So join the project and every time you take a photo, you are also being a marine biologist and collecting data!
Go to the project facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SpotTheLeopardShark
or to the website: https://sites.google.com/site/spottheleopardshark/thailand
My home page: www.uq.edu.au/whale/christine-dudgeon
Spot the leopard Shark
Wikipedia – zebra shark - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stegostoma_fasciatum
IUCN - http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/41878/0
Elasmo Research - http://elasmo-research.org/education/ecology/coral-zebra.htm
Rufford Foundation: http://www.rufford.org/projects/christine_dudgeon