Though leopard sharks typically live in shallower waters -- including estuaries and bays in the Pacific Ocean near Oregon, California and Mexico -- they sometimes swim out to the open ocean as well. Leopard sharks eat fish, fish eggs, marine worms, young sharks, mollusks and aquatic crustaceans. They live 18 to 26 years in the wild and 22 to 30 years in captivity.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Chondrichtyes
Subclass - Elasmobranchii
Superorder - Selachimorpha
Order - Carcharhiniformes
Family - Triakidae
Genus - Triakis
Species - T. semifasciata
Common Names - Leopard Shark, Cat Shark. Should not be confused with the Zebra Shark (Stegostoma fasciatum), which is sometimes called “Leopard Shark” in Southeast Asia and Australia, or the Leopard Catshark (Poroderma pantherinum).
Leopard sharks have dark spots and silver or bronze-colored skin on the upper side of their body and a white or lighter colored underside. They have flatter heads and more rounded snouts than other shark species, as well as two dorsal fins and large oval eyes. Adult leopard sharks measure about 5 feet long on average and weigh around 40 pounds.
Leopard sharks breed one time per year. The breeding season occurs from April through July, followed by a gestation period that lasts from 10 to 12 months. The females then give birth to between four and 37 offspring in shallow waters. Young sharks are on their own from the time they are born. They have a slow growth rate and reach reproductive maturity between 10 and 15 years for females and between 7 and 13 years for males.
Leopard sharks rely on their sense of smell and vision to find prey and move through their surroundings. They catch prey through suction, then grab onto it by clamping their jaw shut. Leopard sharks tend to travel in groups made up of others similar in gender and size. They also travel with different species at times, including bat rays. When the waters grow colder, they migrate south to the waters near Mexico.
Leopard shark populations are still found throughout their limited range in the Pacific Ocean. In 1991, California enacted regulations on sport fishing to help maintain local populations.
The leopard shark has a status of Least Concern because the overall numbers of this species are not in danger of experiencing a significant decline. Some potential threats include its slow growth rate, over-fishing and low reproduction rates. Local populations near California and Oregon are carefully managed to prevent decline from over-fishing.