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Synonyms
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  • Triakis californicus  Gray, 1851, (nomen nudum).
  •  
  • Mustelus felis  Ayres, 1854, (see Remarks below).
    FAO Names
    En - Leopard shark, Fr - Virli léopard, Sp - Tollo leopardo.
    3Alpha Code: LES     Taxonomic Code: 1080402302
    Scientific Name with Original Description
    Triakis semifasciata  Girard, 1854, Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philad. 7(6): 196. Holotype: ? Type Locality: San Francisco, California, USA, near Presidio, San Francisco Bay.
    Diagnostic Features
    fieldmarks: The bold, saddled black colour pattern of this shark is unique.

    Strong cusps and cusplets on almost all teeth, not semi-molariform, lateroposterior teeth bladelike, with strongly oblique cusps.  Pectoral fins broadly triangular in adults. First dorsal fin with posteroventrally sloping posterior margin.  Total vertebral counts 129 to 150.  Colour gray or bronzy-gray above, white below, with bold, large, broad black saddle-marks, becoming light-centred in adults, and scattered large black spots. 
    Geographical Distribution
    Distribution Map
    Eastern North Pacific: from Oregon to Gulf of California (USA and Mexico).
    related Launch the Aquatic Species Distribution map viewer
    Habitat and Biology
    An abundant, cool to warm temperate shark of inshore and offshore continental littoral waters, most common on or near the bottom in shallow water from the intertidal to 4 m depth, less common down to 91 m.The leopard shark is commonly found in shallow, enclosed, muddy bays, often entering them as the tide rises and departing when it retreats. It favours flat sandy areas, mud flats, and bottoms strewn with rocks near rocky reefs and kelp beds.This is an active, strong-swimming shark, usually seen in undulating motion, that forms large schools sometimes mixed with gray and brown smoothhound sharks (Mustelus californicus and M. henlei) and piked dogfish (Squalus acanthias). Movements are not well understood, and schools are apparently nomadic; they have been seen to appear in an area for a few hours and then disappear.  [more...]
    Leopard sharks are sometimes seen resting on the bottom by divers, on sand among rocks; and readily do so in aquaria.  [more...]

    Ovoviviparous, without a yolk-sack placenta; number of young 4 to 29 per litter. S. Smith (pers. comm.), using sectioning techniques to demonstrate the growth rings in the vertebrae of leopard sharks and tetracycline to calibrate the rings in sharks recaptured after being tagged, has found that these sharks are slow-growing, and as in the piked dogfish (Squalus acanthias ) may take over a decade to mature.  The leopard shark is primarily an opportunistic feeder on bottom animals with some littoral prey taken also; invertebrates are somewhat more important in its diet than fish prey. Items taken include cancrid, grapsid, and mole crabs; shrimp and ghost shrimp; clam siphons and sometimes feet and whole clam bodies; polychaete worms; a large, sausage-shaped echiuroid worm, the fat innkeeper or weenie worm (Urechis caupo), which can be the most frequent prey item in some localities; octopus; bony fishes, including anchovies, herring, topsmelt, croakers, surf perch, gobies, rockfish, sculpins, flounders, sanddabs, tongue-soles, and midshipmen (Porichthys); and small elasmobranchs, including brown smoothhounds (Mustelus henlei), guitarfish (Rhinobatos productus), and bat rays (Myliobatis californicus). When available, the eggs of herring, topsmelt, jacksmelt, and midshipmen are avidly eaten by this shark. Crabs, shrimp, bony fish, fish eggs, clam necks and innkeeper worms are the most important prey items of leopard sharks.  [more...]
    Leopard sharks and piked dogfish have been observed catching anchovies together at the surface inside a hollow bridge support structure in San Francisco Bay, slowly swimming counterclockwise into oncoming clockwise-moving, densely packed schools of anchovies with their mouths wide open (Russo, 1975).  [more...]
    Size
    Maximum 180 cm, males maturing between 70 to 119 cm and reaching 150 cm, females maturing between 110 to 129 cm and reaching 180 cm, though most adults are smaller than 160 cm; size at birth about 20 cm.
    Interest to Fisheries
    In California this species is commonly taken by sports anglers and spearfishers, but in recent years has come to be increasingly taken by small-scale commercial line fisheries. In some areas of California it may be declining in numbers, due to increased pressure by spearfishers. Mexican catches are little-known, but presumably occur.
    Its meat is excellent and is utilized fresh or fresh-frozen for human consumption.

    The leopard shark is a popular sport fish in California and is also commercially landed mainly as a bycatch from net fisheries (Cailliet et al. 1993). Commercial landings of leopard sharks in California rose in the late 1970s, peaked at some 46 t of dressed carcasses in 1983 and were of about 25-30 t/y afterwards (Cailliet et al. 1993, Bonfil 1994). Smith (in press) reports that estimated sport fishery landings of leopard sharks in California are much more important, averaging about 138 t per year in the period 1980-95 and having peaked in 1987 at some 326 t.

    Conservation Status : The leopard shark was found to possess a relatively low intrinsic rebound potential (Smith et al. 1998). This means that it can be more easily overfished than other shark species if it is not under proper management. The species has been preliminarily considered as Data Deficient at the world level for IUCN Red List purposes (Smith in press) and Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent in California and Oregon. However, this classification is awaiting IUCN Shark Specialist Group consensus. California has regulations for the sport fishery of leopard sharks: a minimum size of 91 cm TL and a bag-limit of three fish per person (Cailliet et al. 1993). The minimum size limit was extended for the commercial fishery in 1994 (Smith in press).
    related Additional information from IUCN database
    related Additional information from CITESdatabase
    Remarks
    The earliest name for this species is Triakis californica Gray, 1851, proposed without description and hence a nomen nudum unless the name of the species itself is considered a valid indication of its identity (that is, a member of the hitherto monotypic genus Triakis from California). The writer examined the five syntypes of Triakis californica (BMNH 1953.5.10.8-12, late fetuses 160 to 170 mm long, from Monterey, California) in the British Museum (Natural History) and confirmed that they are indeed conspecific with T. semifasciata. However, even if T. californica is a valid name, it would not serve nomenclatural stability to replace the well-known and virtually universally used T. semifasciata. Triakis felis Ayres, 1854 was published about one month (4 December 1854) later than T. semifasciatum Girard, 1854, (14 November; Lillian P. Dempster, pers. comm.).
    Threat to humans: This shark was once recorded as harassing a diver with a nosebleed, but in general it is very wary and usually flees when approached underwater. It is generally regarded as harmless to people.
    Source of Information
    FAO species catalogue Vol.4. Sharks of the world. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date Part 2 - Carcharhiniformes.Compagno, L.J.V. 1984.  FAO Fish. Synop., (125) Vol.4, Part 2
    Bibliography
    de Wit, (1975
    Feder, Turner & Limbaugh, 1974
    Herald & Ripley, 1951
    L.J.V. Compagno, (unpub. data)
    Roedel & Ripley, 1950
    Russo, 1975
    Susan E. Smith, (pers. comm.)
    Talent, 1976
     
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