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Epaulette Shark


The Epaulette Shark is also known as Blind Shark.


Epaulette Shark




    Scientific Name.... Hemiscyllium Ocellatum
    Family Name
    ......  Hemiscylliidae


  • General Information: Epaulette sharks have small, slightly flattened, elongated bodies that allow them to swim between coral branches and wriggle into narrow reef crevices. They have a swollen snout that is longer than that of any other hemiscyllidae shark and nasal barbels. The two relatively large, spineless dorsal fins are about the same size. The anal fin, far back on the underside, is in front of the caudal fin, and separated from it by a notch. These short. stubby, paired fins are used by many species for "walking" across the bottom. The dorsal and anal fins are set back on an extremely long thick tail.


  • Size: The maximum length of this species if about 3.6 feet.


  • Teeth: They have small triangular teeth.


  • Color: There have been two color phases that have been observed: one has a golden base color, with numerous small dark spots, and very pronounced ocelli ( a spot of color encircled by a band of another color), while the other is tan with fewer, larger spots and less distinct ocelli. There are two large ocelli above its pectoral fins. Those spots look like ornamental epaulettes on a military uniform- hence the shark's name. Predators hovering above the shark could easily mistake the spots for eyes of a larger, more dangerous fish and dash off to find smaller prey. There are no spots on the snout.


  • Feeding Habits: Epaulette sharks are nocturnal ( hunt at night ) and feed mainly on small benthic invertebrates (worms, crab, shrimp and small shellfish ), possibly also small fishes. When eating animals with hard shells, the shark's spiky, sharp teeth flatten to form crushing plates. At night it roams the reef flats using its muscular leg-like paired fins to clamber about the reef and into crevices looking for prey. The epaulette shark has the amazing ability to survive low oxygen conditions by switching off non-essential brain functions; this is apparently an adaption for hunting in tide pools with low oxygen. When hunting buried prey it will shove its rostrum deep into the sand and move it slightly from side to side. Presumably, the nasal barbels have a sensory function. If so the shark could locate worms and crustaceans hiding under the sand by contacting them with the barbels. The epaulette shark may hunt cryptic prey within the staghorn coral beds by day and moves out to hunt in more exposed areas at night.


  • Social Behaviour: Epaulette sharks are solitary species that is more active at dusk and by night. They are very docile and not intimidated. Some inactive individuals are sometimes observed hiding with their heads stuck under a ledge.


  • Habitat | Migration | Distribution: Southwest Pacific; New Guinea and Australia ( possibly to Solomon Islands and Malaysia). They occur in coral ( particularly staghorn) in shallow water and tidepools, sometimes barely submerged. Also among coral boulders or on sand patches on reef flats.


  • Life Span: Unknown.


  • Reproduction: They are oviparous, and lays atendril adhesive eggs cases, which are deposited at night usually two at a time. When hatched they measure about 5.8 inches. Gestation period is 120 days. When courting and mating, the male takes the female's pectoral fin in his mouth. The pair swim parallel to one another, at which time the male swings his body under the female's and inserts a single clasper. Copulation lasts about 2 minutes.


  • Swimming: This species not only swims, but it crawls and clambers.


  • Epaulette Shark Attacks: Harmless. Is unafraid of man, but may nip if captured.


  • Population Report: Common. Populations appear healthy, probably because epaulette sharks aren't of interest to commercial fisheries.


  • Epaulette Shark Facts: Because plants in tide pools don't produce oxygen at night, creatures that live there use up all or most of the oxygen during the night. Epaulette sharks caught in tide pools by the receding tide can turn off enough body functions to survive several hours with little or no oxygen. Researchers are working to discover how the shark manages with so little oxygen-the answer might help in the treatment of stroke patients or during heart surgeries.

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