Papuan epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium hallstromi)

GenusHemiscyllium (1)
SizeMale length: up to 77 cm (2)

The Papuan epaulette shark is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Papuan epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium hallstromi) is named after the conspicuous epaulette spots, or shoulder patches, on the side of its body, above the pectoral fins. Closer examination of the spots reveals that they are actually white rings surrounded by two or three large, black spots (2).

The Papuan epaulette shark has a scattering of wide-spaced, small and large dark spots across the majority of its body, except for the snout (2). The mouth is positioned well in front of the eyes, and the spineless dorsal fins are located far back on the extremely elongated, thick tail (3).

The Papuan epaulette shark can be easily distinguished from the rather similar hooded carpet shark (Hemiscyllium strahani) by the lack of a dark hood covering its head (3).

The Papuan epaulette shark is known to occur only around the southern coast of Papua New Guinea, in the Gulf of Papua (1).

Little is known about the exact habitat requirements of the Papuan epaulette shark. However, it is known to inhabit coastal tropical waters (3), where it is likely to be found on coral reefs (2).

The Papuan epaulette shark spends most of its time on the bottom of the sea bed (2), where it is thought to feed on a variety of invertebrates, as do other sharks in the genus Hemiscyllium.

Although nothing is known about reproduction in this species, other Hemiscyllium sharks, such as the Indonesian speckled carpet shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti), are oviparous, meaning that they lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. It is therefore likely that the Papuan epaulette shark is also oviparous (3).

Habitat destruction is the main threat to the Papuan epaulette shark. Gold mining near the Fly River in Papua New Guinea causes large quantities of pollutants to drain directly into the Gulf of Papua, resulting in heavy pollution of the Papuan epaulette shark's habitat. It is also thought that the Papuan epaulette shark is being heavily impacted upon by destructive fishing practises, such as dynamite fishing (1).

The Papuan epaulette shark may also be at risk due to exploitation by the aquarium industry. It is a very attractive and hardy species, which may be appealing to both public and private aquariums. However, the extent of such trade is unknown (2).

At present there are no known conservation measures in place for the Papuan epaulette shark. As a result of its rarity, restricted distribution and the high risk of habitat destruction, the Papuan epaulette shark requires urgent scientific examination to assess its conservation status (2).

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  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
  2. Compagno, L.J.V. (2002). Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Vol. 2. Bullhead, mackerel and carpet sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes. Rome: FAO.
  3. Shark Foundation - Papuan epaulette shark (July, 2011)