Shark Series: Wobbegong Shark
The Wobbegong shark is actually a species of 12 sharks in the Orectolobidae-family, all known under the layman’s term “carpet shark”. Due to the growths around the mouths of the ones found in the western Pacific they are also commonly referred to as the beard.
The Wobbegong is actually part of the family known as carpet sharks, but the terms are often used interchangeably. Medium to large bottom-dwelling sharks, this species spends most of its time lying on the bottom, taking advantage of their excellent camouflage.
Most of the sharks in this species grow to about 1.5 meters/5 feet, though a few, including the Spotted Wobbegong, can grow to as much as 3 meters/10 feet.
Common to all the Wobbegong sharks is their shaggy, beard-like growth in the area around their mouths. As well as good camouflage patterns including vertical stripes or spots.
Sizes range from 1.5 meters/5 feet for most species, but the Spotted and Western Wobbegongs (Orectolobus hutchinsi and Orectolobus maculatus respecitively) both grow to as much as 3 meters/10 feet.
They are bottom dwellers and can often be found hiding around rocks and other places where its camouflage helps it hide from potential prey. Often you can spot them around the sandy parts of the reef, where there’s plenty of food and places to hide.
They are ambush predators and strike at smaller fish that stray close to where the shark is hiding out.
Where to see it
The Wobbegong sharks are found in the Pacific and Indian oceans, mostly around Indonesia and Australia.
They are often found on relatively shallow water, and can be found near quite developed areas, including urban beaches on the Western Australian coasts of Queensland and New South Wales. Manly Beach near Sydney has a fairly large population just off the beach that is a common site for scuba diving.
When to see it
Wobbegongs can be seen year-round, though in the cooler climates of their habitat, they are most commonly spotted in the warm months.
As they are bottom dwellers and relatively territorial, they can reliably be found in the same area dive after dive.
They are primarily nocturnal, meaning that they are often easier to find during the day where they are more or less dormant, while they exhibit more activity when spotted on night dives.
Interactions with humans
Generally considered harmless, the larger species of Wobbegongs do actually have quite a fierce bite, and have been known to bite bathers who have stepped on them.
Quite a few incidents have been reported where divers have grabbed Wobbegongs by the tail in an attempt to pull them from underneath a rock shelf, which has caused the shark to bite.
A very flexible shark, they can turn around and bite a hand that has a grip on the shark’s tail with no problem, so this is definitely not advised.
Once they bite, they have been known to hold on, forcing divers to pull them out of the water before being able to free themselves from the shark’s bite.
Their teeth are small, but quite sharp, so bite can be severe, though rarely dangerous.
In fact, Wobbegong sharks are frequently eaten by humans,not the other way around. Their flesh is sold under the name “flake” and used in Fish and Chips, in particular in Australia.
If you are in doubt on how to interact on a dive read: How to Become an Environmentally Safe Diver
Commonly fished commercially in the regions they inhabit, the endangered status varies by species. Most are in the Near Threatened range, while data is lacking in some.