Tag Archives: Epaulette sharks

Expedition to spot shark encounters spotty shark

Published November 12, 2016 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2016 Susan Scott
Epaulette sharks, named because of the large black patches near their “shoulders,” are found in waters off Australia and New Guinea. ©2016 Susan Scott

Epaulette sharks, named because of the large black patches near their “shoulders,” are found in waters off Australia and New Guinea. ©2016 Susan Scott

Ravens Cove, Hook Island, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park >> To mark exceptional snorkeling spots, the cruising guide for this area shows happy faces wearing mask and snorkel. Tiny Ravens Cove gets three.

In spring when we anchored Honu here, I took 163 pictures in a single winding pass over the cove’s 100-yard-long reef. As a bonus, besides the bay’s breathtaking coral garden and its confetti fish parade, Craig saw a wobbegong shark.

To my regret, I missed it — but I didn’t forget it. One of my goals this time was to sail Honu back here and look for the rare shark. The odds were low but the three species of wobbegong sharks, ranging from 3 to 9 feet long, are bottom-dwelling homebodies, so I had high hopes.

Although wobbegongs are also seen in nearby New Guinea, these unusual spotted, speckled and banded sharks are mostly found in Australian waters.

Wobbegong sharks are famous for frills of skin around their heads, giving them the appearance of fish-shaped doilies. The lacy flaps contain sensors that enable the shark to find food buried in sand or rubble.

Wobbegongs usually don’t attack people, but they aren’t entirely harmless. Like stingrays, the sharks are easy to miss while walking or snorkeling in shallow water. If startled, they can sink their sharp teeth into a hand or foot.

Craig and I snorkeled over Ravens Cove reef until our masks dented our foreheads and numbed our lips. And then, just as we were about to call it a day, there it was: a striking 3-foot-long shark with stubby fan-shaped fins. Black dots covered its pale body, and two large, white-ringed spots on its back stood out like giant eyes.

It was a stunning shark, not a wobbegong, but just as good. Back on the boat with my books, I learned we had seen an epaulette shark, another species found only in Australia and New Guinea.

No worries about swimming with this little cutie. A local fish guide author writes: “(Epaulette) sharks are quite fearless. I have had them come between my feet in the glare of my flashlight, questing single-mindedly for food. The shark ‘walks’ on its four bottom fins, resembling a long-bodied dog moving along on very short legs.”

A photo shows the man holding the shark, its black “epaulettes” clear.

The guide gives Ravens Cove three smiley snorkel faces. Add two sore-but-smiling sailors’ faces to make it five.