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The Spot the Leopard Shark project is a program run by the University of Queensland in Australia and assisted by the Phuket Marine Biological Centre. The aim of this program is to identify as many leopard sharks as possible so that scientists can determine:
“population abundance and demography, movement and longevity of wild leopard shark populations” *
The shark that we called a leopard shark is actually a zebra shark, Stegostoma fasciatum. It is not to be confused with the leopard shark that inhabits the eastern Pacific area, which is an unrelated species. When the shark is young, it has stripes, hence the name zebra shark. As the shark matures, the stripes break down into spots.
These are wonderfully docile creatures, with most sightings finding the shark laying motionless on the sea bed. As they are nocturnal, they do not move around much during the day. They are the largest egg laying shark, and grow to up to 2.5 metres.*
The project uses photo ID to identify individuals, as their markings make them unique. In order to contribute, a photo should be taken of the right and left side of the shark. This will allow for a clear view of all its markings. If possible, attempts should be made to determine the sex of the shark. The photo can then easily be uploaded on to the Facebook page of the project, together with a note of the location, depth and dive site at which the shark was seen.
The project is the brainchild of Dr Chris Dudgeon, who has been using this technique to monitor leopard sharks around Queensland for the last ten years.
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*Source – Spot the Leopard Shark