Since it’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, this is the perfect time to highlight one of the sharks on display at CMA…the leopard shark.
Leopard sharks are easily spotted by their spots (pun intended), which is also the reason they are named after the famously spotted land mammal. Upon closer inspection, a leopard shark’s spots are actually a pattern with bars of color and small spots decorating the back and larger spots along the side.
This pattern is best described in The Sharks of North America by José Castro, "The beautiful leopard shark is easily recognized by its striking color pattern of numerous, well defined, large dark saddle bars over the dorsal surface, interspaced with dark spots, and a row of rounded dark spots on the side of the body."
The coloring of the leopard shark's stunning pattern ranges from a deep brown to black against a light gray to tan background, a striking look that leopard sharks carry well. But occasionally, a leopard shark goes against the grain and sports a completely different pattern, and CMA is fortunate to have one of these rare leopard sharks, also known as a variegated leopard shark, on display in the eyes-only section of the Tidepool Touch Tank. But having such great looks has a downside; leopard sharks have become popular for fish fans buying animals for home aquariums and shark smugglers making money off the demand.
In California, it is illegal to capture leopard sharks less than 36 inches in length. About once a year the California Department of Fish and Game brings leopard sharks to CMA for care that were confiscated during a shark poaching investigation. CMA has a history of taking in sharks native to California’s coast that are part of illegal wildlife trafficking, and one case was highlighted in the recently acclaimed book “Demon Fish,” by Juliet Eilperin.
In the meantime, come and visit the aquarium during shark week, it’s a great way to see leopard sharks without breaking the law. And don’t forget to check out the leopard shark with the unusual markings in the deeper area of the Tidepool Touch Tank.