When most people think of sharks, big scary creatures tend to come into mind. What most people don't know is that there are actually some adorable little sharks out there that will give you a whole new perspective on the topic of sharks! One of these charming little guys is the Epaulette Shark. Not only are Epaulette Sharks harmless to humans but their striking patterns make them quite beautiful to look at and they even have a few special tricks! Here at Wings Whitsunday Adventures we are always happy to see these beautiful little critters, so let us tell you why they are so amazing.
Epaulette Sharks have fascinating patterns that cover their whole bodies, working to help hide them from predators or danger. The little sharks, at their maximum size only reach a metre long and need to use what they can to help keep them safe, consequently they have developed the patterns covering their bodies. Their bodies are a creamy brown colour and are covered in medium sized dark brown to black spots. Just behind their pectoral fins (forward fins) they have a large black spot with a white ring around it that looks a little like an eye, this is known as an ocellus. Using these patterns the Epaulette sharks are able to hide quite well from predators such as large groper or larger shark species.
This species is typically found in shallow marine waters, particularly in warmer areas and tropical reef habitats. As Epaulette sharks prefer shallow warm waters it does mean that there are plenty of opportunities for our passengers to come across them during snorkels. However you will need a sharp eye as Epaulette sharks can be a little shy and hide away in small caves or overhangs and with their clever camouflage can be tricky to spot. It's even possible to see Epaulette sharks when strolling through rock pools. They are often found in shallow pools of water on the reef flats, becoming trapped in these pools as the ocean has retreats to a low tide. In the shallow pools it's possible to see the little sharks quite well and if you are lucky maybe even witness them snatching up some of their favourite foods.
Though they are generally considered nocturnal this species is opportunistic and can be seen feeding whenever prey is available. In fact Epaulette Sharks are often found hunting in the shallow pools that remain on the reef flats once the tide has retreated. They are bottom feeders and prefer searching for food in areas that are mainly sandy bottoms or coral substrate. Being a small species as far as sharks go the size of the prey is quite small compared to many other species, Epaulette sharks generally targeting small invertebrates. Though the adult Epaulette shark prefers invertebrates such as crabs, juveniles of the species tend to prefer polychaete worms. As mentioned above these little sharks are very opportunistic and will feed on a variety of prey including shrimp and even small bony fishes.
One trick that does help these unique creatures hunt, especially when the low tide means no water access between rock pools, is that they have the ability to walk! Yes you heard correctly, the crafty Epaulette shark is one of nine known species of shark that have the ability to walk over land! To do this they use pectoral fins and pelvic fins as makeshift “legs” to waddle themselves between rock pools and continue their hunt for food, or make their way to deeper waters. To go along with this neat little ability the Epaulette sharks have another trick up their sleeve to help them out on their journey over land and through shallow waters. Epaulette sharks have the ability to slow down their breathing and heart rate and even shut off parts of their brains and alter blood flow through their bodies to help them conserve oxygen and complete the job at hand!
With all the special skills of the Epaulette shark you are probably wondering if there are any other surprises these adorable little sharks have to offer? Well there is one last revelation to offer, Epaulette sharks are oviparous. What this means is that the females of this species don’t give birth to live young, they in fact lay eggs and the juvenile sharks will emerge from them roughly 3 months later! The ends of the egg case have appendages and these are used to help secure the egg in a safe place until the young are ready to hatch. The eggs the females lay look nothing like a chicken egg that you might have been imagining but instead are a small brown pocket somewhat resembling a type of stuffed pasta or little coin purse. The eggs of the Epaulette shark actually look so much like a little purse that they often referred to as a “mermaid’s purse”, pretty neat right?
Ready to come out on the ocean and learn a little more about the cutest sharks you ever did see, or even get the chance to meet one?! Well don't hesitate the Epaulette sharks are some of the friendliest critters you could find, and our crew would love to tell you all about them and more. So jump aboard Wings Whitsunday Adventures and let us show you what adventures in the Whitsundays is all about!