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September Elasmobranch of the Month: Epaulette shark

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

Epaulette Shark

Hemiscyllium ocellatus

Key Features/Appearance:

Epaulette Sharks are small, 70-90 cm (3 feet) long with rounded fins and an elongated caudal (tail) fin. They are cream-colored or brownish with darker brown spots covering the top-side of their bodies, excluding the nose. Behind the gills and above the pectoral fins are larger black spots, framed with white borders. These larger spots, resembling epaulettes on a military uniform, is where this shark’s common name is derived.

Habitat and Distribution

This bottom-dwelling shark species prefers shallow water coral reefs. The epaulette is often trapped on rocks and corals when tides recede. Using its rounded, strong pectoral fins it is able to “walk” across these surfaces and find small puddles of water. It is also able to shut down non-essential body functions to survive until the tide returns. Epaulettes inhabit the Southwest Pacific Ocean from New Guinea to Northern Australia.

Walking Shark


Small invertebrates, such as worms, crabs and shrimp, residing on the ocean floor and in the sediment make up the majority of the Epaulette’s diet. They also eat small fish. This shark sometimes chews and grinds its food prior to ingesting it.


Epaulette reproduction is oviparous, meaning young hatch from eggs that have been released by the female. Typically, two eggs are released at a time with. A single female is likely to release 50 eggs per year.

Epaulette shark embryo. Photo credit D Kraver & M Johnson


The Epaulette Shark is listed as “Stable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


Epaulette Sharks face pressure from habitat change and destruction, largely impacts to corals due to climate change. They are prey to larger fish such as sharks and grouper. This shark is also widely traded in the public and private aquarium industry. The Epaulette Shark is protected in parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland and Ningaloo Marine Park, and Western Australia.

To learn more about current research on these sharks check out Dr. Jodie Rummer's Lab at ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies


Shark Research Institute

Florida Museum, University of Florida

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2019

Bennett, M.B., Kyne, P.M. & Heupel, M.R. 2015. Hemiscyllium ocellatum. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T41818A68625284. Downloaded on 02 September 2019.

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