Leopard Sharks can be found along the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of North America from Oregon, U.S.A. to Mazatlán, Mexico. They are generally found in near-surface level water to 20 m deep, but they can also be found 156 m below.
Biology and Behaviour:
Leopard sharks have a slender body with a pattern of black saddle-like marks and large spots on its back. They are commonly between 120 to 150 cm long. They typically form large schools near bays, estuaries, over sandy, muddy slats or rocky areas that are close to kelp beds and reefs.
They prey on many things such as clams, spoon worms, crabs, shrimp bony fish and fish eggs. They are reportedly more active during the night possibly because of their hunt for food.
Reproduction and Lifespan:
Leopard sharks are ovoviviparous and females can have up to 36 pups in a litter. Female leopard sharks give birth near shallow and protected habitats over sand or mudflats. Females gestate for about 10 to 12 months. Pups are about 17 to 25 in length at birth. They grow slow and take many years to become fully mature.
Females mature between 10 to 15 years at 105 to 135 cm long. Males mature a little earlier at about the age between seven to 13 years at 100 to 105 cm long. The maximum length reported for leopard sharks was 213 cm. The reported maximum estimated age for a leopard shark is 30 years.
Conservation and Tourism:
The IUCN lists leopard sharks as least concern.
Leopard sharks are commonly caught in Californian waters, but leopard sharks are not actively regulated under the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Groundfish Management Plan. Regulations established by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have contributed significantly towards protecting Leopard Sharks.
On January 1, 1992, California established a new sports fishing regulation where a shark with a length of 91 cm was the minimum size limit and there was a daily bag limit of three fish. A year after, a 45.7 cm the minimum size limit was extended to the commercial fishery for leopard sharks and all sharks and rays to prevent over-harvesting for the aquarium trade.
California has general restrictions of usage of certain types of commercial gear, in particular, gillnets near the shore. This restriction helps protect young leopard sharks who frequent shallow waters.
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