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10 Facts About Wobbegong Sharks

Last Reviewed and Updated on January 18, 2023

Sharks are one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet, but not all sharks are made the same. When you think about a shark, species like wobbegongs aren’t usually ones that come to mind. You won’t see them swiftly swimming in the ocean, and they certainly do not look fearsome. Still, they are sharks nonetheless. Learn what is so special about wobbegong sharks, from the basic information about these species to some of the most interesting facts about wobbegong sharks.

Some Basic information about Wobbegong Sharks

Wobbegong shark is a common name for the 12 (living) known carpet shark species from the family Orectobidae.

The living species are;

  • Tasselled wobbegong
  • Gulf or banded wobbegong
  • Western wobbegong
  • Japanese wobbegong
  • Indonesian wobbegong
  • Spotted wobbegong
  • Ornate wobbegong
  • Dwarf spotted wobbegong
  • Network wobbegong
  • Northern wobbegong
  • Cobbler wobbegong

Wobbegongs are cartilaginous fish with 4 to 7 gill slits.

These bottom-dwelling sharks spend most of their time resting on the sea floor.

They are native to the western Pacific Ocean and eastern Indian Ocean (mainly around Australia and Indonesia), where they can be found in shallow temperate and tropical waters.

These ambush predators hide amongst rocks and mainly prey upon smaller fish that swim too close. As a whole, the wobbegongs normally feed on fish; some species also prey on squid, nautilus, octopus… They can tackle larger prey as well; whatever fits in their mouth is potential prey, even if this means the prey is another shark.

They aren’t generally considered dangerous to humans, but they may attack if you get too close to one (there have been no confirmed fatal attacks to date).

Most of the 12 living species of Wobeggong are not threatened; however, the conservation status of Indonesian Wobbegong is near threatened.

Wobbegong Shark Facts

You already know the basics about these shark species now; let’s dive into some of the more interesting facts about wobbegong.

1. Wogebbong means “shaggy beard” in the Australian Aboriginal language

The common name Wobbegong is believed to originate from the Australian Aboriginal language, and it translates to “shaggy beard”. The “shaggy beard refers to the beard-like growths (whiskers) around the mouth of these sharks.

2. The markings on their skin resemble a carpet

The body of Wobbegongs is well camouflaged; it’s covered with a symmetrical pattern of markings resembling a carpet (their flat bodies and bottom-dwelling nature add to the look). It is because of these markings that Wobbegongs, along with their close relatives, are also referred to as carpet sharks

3. Tasselled wobbegong is the slowest of them all

Tasseled wobbegong is the most specialized of all the 12 species. It has ornate coloration and a very complex fringe surrounding its mouth, which grants these sharks excellent camouflage. When you have excellent camouflage, there isn’t much incentive to move around. Tasseled wobbegongs spend most of their days lying motionless; they are more active at night but are still most likely slower than any other wobbegong species.

4. Tasseled Wobbegongs are also the most aggressive

While Wobbegongs aren’t considered dangerous, attacks on humans can happen if you get too close to one or accidentally step on one. Once they bite, they are also reluctant to let go. There are no confirmed fatal attacks, though.

When it comes to unprovoked attacks on people, the tasseled wobbegong has far more than any other of the 12 species. In addition, in 1940, Gilbert Whitley, a zoologist, wrote that these sharks attack and generally kill the natives of Papua New Guinea. While this can’t be verified and is unlikely to be true on a larger scale, these specific sharks are still very capable of inflicting severe wounds.

5. Spotted wobbegongs are one of the largest and Network wobbegongs may be the smallest

Spotted wobbegong and banded wobbegongs are one of the largest species of wobbegong sharks, reaching about up to 9.8 ft / 3 m in length. They are found in the Indo-Pacific region around Australia.

Dwarf spotted wobbegongs were considered the smallest for a long time, however, Network wobbegongs, discovered in 2009, could be the smallest known species of wobbegong sharks. With studied and observed specimens, the maximum known length of an adult Network wobbegong was measured at only 20.6 inches / 52.3 cm. This species is found in shallow waters in some regions of north-western Australia.

6. All wobbegong sharks are electrosensitive

One of the coolest facts about wobbegong is its ability to sense prey. All wobbegong sharks are electrosensitive, meaning they can detect and respond to the electricity of moving organisms swimming or walking near them. This ability helps them find prey and avoid potential predators. This ability may have other functions as well, besides detecting prey. It may be used in communication and for detecting mates. It is potentially used by these sharks to accurately navigate through the terrain, especially in low visibility.

The electrosensitivity works through the gel-filled pores on and near their head. These pores open up on the surface of the skin and pick up sensory information from the environment.

7. Wobbegong sharks have a slower metabolism than other sharks

Wobbegong sharks are slow-moving animals; unlike many sharks that are active swimmers (some even can’t afford to stop), wobbegongs might not even move around during the day. As they aren’t as active, they don’t need as much food and don’t need to turn the food into energy ASAP. Compared to other sharks, they have a slower metabolism.

8. They can “walk” on the ocean floor

While most sharks are known for their strong swimming abilities, the wobbegong shark is pretty unique in that it can also “walk” on the ocean floor. This isn’t something you commonly see with sharks, epaulette sharks being the exception.

The bottom fins of wobbegongs allow them to move across the ocean floor in a way that pretty much resembles walking.

9. A female can give birth to close to 40 pups

There are some differences between different species of wobbegongs and their average litter sizes; one of the largest litters recorded was 37.

A female wobbegong shark can give birth to close to 40 pups at a time. This is one of the largest litter sizes among sharks. On average, the litter sizes are above 20 pups.

10. When mating, a male wobbegong will attach himself to the female

When mating, a male wobbegong will bite and latch himself to the female’s gills.

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