Leopard Sharks In Phuket: Stunning and Fascinating

Leopard Sharks In Phuket: Stunning and Fascinating

Leopard Sharks In Phuket But Zebra Sharks To Others

We call them leopard sharks in Phuket and in south east asia in general but the rest of the world refers to Stegostoma (covered mouth) fasciatum (banded) as zebra sharks. Along the west coast of the US and Mexico, a small hound shark – Triakis semifasciatais is commonly referred to as leopard shark. It must have been named by somebody who’s never seen a leopard, the markings have no real resemblance. We’ll stick to calling them leopards sharks in Phuket.

What’s In A Name

leopard shark pup at national sea life centre birmingham, uk

leopard shark pup

Photo Credit: National Sea Life Center, Birmingham, UK

So why the confusion? Even though the adult Stegostoma fasciatum have very leopard like markings, the juveniles look very different. They were at first considered different species. The leopard sharks pups have bold brown and white zebra like markings that possibly mimic venomous sea snakes. The little guys are less than a foot long when they emerge from their egg cases so they need a little protection. It’s a little unclear where they hang out after hatching, apparently the youngsters have been sighted at 60m+ and around shallow mangroves.

They Don’t Look Like Other Sharks

Leopard sharks are one of a kind, the only shark in the stegostama genus. They do share some features similar to other sharks; ridges like a whale shark, long tail like a thresher and barbels like a nurse shark. This combination along with the markings make for a very unique and beautiful animal. The long tail is especially impressive. If you’re lucky enough to see a leopard shark swimming, the graceful, sinuous movement is an experience you’ll long remember. Leopard sharks can grow up to 3m, half of which is the tail.

Leopard sharks are benthic, which basically means they lounge around on the bottom. Like most of the sharks in the broader carpet shark family they’re tagged under, strong gill and mouth muscles allow them to pump water over their gills so they can rest on the bottom. Leopard sharks are supposed to rest in areas exposed to current to facilitate the movement of oxygen over the gills. We have to say that that the opposite seems true around Phuket, we often find them resting in sheltered areas on our scuba diving sites.

Their habit of resting in shallow areas make them a firm favorite with guides and guests. So it’s quite possible to encounter a leopard shark even on a beginner courses.

leopard shark resting on the ocean floor

leopard shark resting on the ocean floor

What do Leopard Sharks Eat?

Leopard sharks are nocturnal hunters so very few have seen them feeding. Scientists still have many tricks to find out what their diet consists of. Crabs, urchins, molluscs and small fish are all fair game for leopard sharks. The thick skin and and flexible body allow them to push into small cracks and holes in the reef to winkle out snacks.

The strong jaw muscles that surround the small mouth are designed to suck in the prey from the reef or buried under the sand. The small appendages (barbels) either side of the mouth are thought to assist in finding prey in lowlight conditions. Teeth of leopard sharks are small and numerous across plates in the lower and upper jaw, a great adaptation for crushing up their preferred prey of molluscs.

small teeth and crushing plates of a leopard shark

small teeth and crushing plates of a leopard shark

Don’t Need No Man

Back in 2016, a captive female leopard shark in the Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville laid eggs. Not an unusual event in itself but she had no mate. She’d been living alone for a few years so this came as a bit of a surprise. Scientists thought she may have been storing sperm but DNA tests showed only cells from the female. She had produced pups in the conventional manner before so this was the first observation of a shark switching to asexual reproduction.

We’ll have to wait a long time to see if these pups are capable of breeding themselves. Would be kinda pointless if they can’t…We hope they can, parthenogenesis would be a great tool to have in the locker for this under threat species.

Who’s The Hanger On?

The little yellow fish that appears in some of the photos is a juvenile golden trevally (Gnathandon speciosus). They often use larger fish for protection and feeding opportunities. They can grow to more than 1m in length and 15kg in weight. We quite often see the large, impressive adults hunting the snapper schools on Koh Bida Nok.

Where Are The Leopard Sharks In Phuket?

Shark Point had started to be called Sharkless Point over the last couple of years. We had more whale shark than leopard shark sightings. This year has been spectacularly different. We’ve had much cooler water than normal so we think this is reason they’ve returned to old haunts. Shark Point has has daily sightings, Koh Bida Nok quite a few and even Racha Noi and Racha Yai.

We visit Shark Point four times per week, every Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Our exceptional guides will know exactly where to look and more importantly how to behave around these magnificent sharks. Dive with Local Dive Thailand to give yourself the best chance of an incredible encounter.

Contact Us Now To See Phuket’s Leopard Sharks!

By Justin Hartrey

I've been enjoying the incredible marine life in our oceans for over 25 years. 13 years ago I became a PADI professional, hoping to introduce as many people as possible to the incredible beauty of the seas.

Having been fortunate enough to dive all over south east and especially Thailand, I enjoy sharing my experience and passion on this blog.

Posted in Rare & Peculiar Critters on .

Popular Services

banana bay at racha noi island phuket

Racha Noi Banana Bay South

For many students Racha Noi Banana bay will be part of your first Phuket diving experience. The clear shallow bay is often devoid of current. Making it an ideal dive site for first timers and more experienced divers who haven't got wet for a while. That's not to say it's a bad dive site, just a very safe one. The dive will begin near the very beautiful coral gardens at around 4-5 meters. Many species of jewel like damselfish, butterfly fis [...]

Find Out More
Phuket Diving Site Elephant Head Rock

Elephant Head Rock

Elephant Head Rock is a large rocky pinnacle that nestles between Similan Islands seven and eight. The strong current that runs between the two islands has smoothed the granite boulders on Elephant Head Rock and created lots of really nice swim-throughs. Although strong currents are frequently prevalent. The large size of the pinnacle ensures there is always a sheltered and safe area to dive. It's often the first dive of the day to allow d [...]

Find Out More

Daily Schedules

M/V Kepsub Schedule

Jobs @ Local Dive Thailand

Local Dive Thailand is one of Phuket's fatest growing & most vibrant scuba diving operations, we are always looking for quality staff to join us, so feel free to have a look at our jobs listing page.

Job Listings

Contact LDT

Local Guides, Local Knowledge, Local Experiences

Don't trust your diving to amateurs or freshly minted dive guides, dive with local experienced experts from Local Dive Thailand. Our Scuba Diving Phuket Tours will take you to see the rarest of the rare critters, you will be amazed by the macro life our guides can find, in the secret places only they know. To put it in perspective, if you were going to climb Mount Everest you would certainly hire a local sherpa to lead the way & keep you safe. Diving is similar because there is absolutely no substitute for local experience & local knowledge, Local Dive Thailand's guides are Phuket's Sherpa's of the Andaman Sea!

Learn More About Us

Scuba Diving Phuket, Phi Phi & Thailand

When talking about Scuba Diving in Phuket, you should believe the hype, many seasons we have had Whale Sharks grace us on our regular and easy to reach dive sites and on a good day you can add Sea Horses, Sea Moths, Snake Eels, Frog Fish & Octopus to what you can see on any given dive and so much more. If we are heading to Phi Phi Island for the day, you can possibly see Hawksbill Sea Turtles and Black Tip Reef Sharks, also don't forget the King Cruiser, 84 meters of beautiful wreck and the most amazing reef nursery for fish and nudibranch. Local Dive Thailand day trip tours to these locations are not to be missed when you are scuba diving Phuket, get in touch with us and book an 'awesome' day of diving.

Book Your Day Trip

Related News From Local Dive Thailand

See why we are Thailand's leading scuba diving Phuket tour provider, stay up to date & watch out for news & special liveaboard offers!

new divers ready to go Scuba Diving For Beginners

Tips For New Scuba Divers

Congratulations! You've just passed your Open Water course and have been introduced to a whole new world beneath the waves but where do you go from here? If you've completed your course on holiday in somewhere tropical like Phuket, you'll get back home and immediately start planning your next diving adventure but that could be another year away, it's quite possible that you could forgot some of your skills, theory and techniques by then. So h [...]

Read Full Story
flying after scuba diving has restrictions Scuba Diving For Beginners

Flying After Scuba Diving

Uncertified divers will not be aware that flying after scuba diving is potentially hazardous but why? Well DCS is the why. Certified divers will be aware of the dangers but PADI Discover Scuba Diving students will certainly not. Without going into decompression theory we'll outline the do's and don'ts. The PADI Open Water Course will outline set times for flying after scuba diving: Dives within no decompression limits 1 dive - [...]

Read Full Story
Phuket Diving Critters Amazing Local Dives

Phuket Critter Diving – Great At The Moment

Diving in Phuket is not renowned for critters but we do get our fair share of small animals, it's just that they're a little harder to find. It's hard to beat our dive guides for local knowledge, they're out everyday looking in every crack and crevice trying to find those special animals for you. Recently there's been lots of cool critters spotted on lots of dive sites. We have ornate ghost pipefish at Shark Point, Racha Noi and Racha Yai, [...]

Read Full Story

Local Dive Thailand Office In Phuket


Find Us On Google Maps