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Triakis semifasciata (leopard shark), belong to the largest, most diverse shark groups, the Carcharhiniformes (ground sharks). The group consists of eight families, half of which can be found off the coast of California. They are part of the family Triakidae (houndsharks), five species of which reside in California (Ebert 2003). Leopard sharks grow up to 6.5 feet (Miller and Lea 1972) and can be identified by the silvery or bronzy grey upper body coloration with distinct black “saddle-bars and spotting” (Ebert 2003). According to fishery statistics, recreational catches of the leopard shark are greater than those caught in commercial fisheries (Smith and Abramson 1990). Leopard sharks range from the coasts of Mazatlan, Mexico up to Oregon (Miller and Lea 1972). They are commonly found sharks in several bays and estuaries of California, including San Francisco Bay and Elkhorn Slough (Talent 1985, Smith and Abramson 1990, Ebert and Ebert 2005). Studies suggest that leopard sharks use these bay enclosures for increased foraging opportunities and nursery areas, especially during spring and early summer (Talent 1985, Carlisle and Starr 2009). They have been found to prefer low intertidal mud flats within estuaries, possibly due to the higher abundance in prey items (Carlisle and Starr 2009). Their diet primarily consists of benthic organisms commonly found in shallow, mudflat habitats, which include crustaceans, worms, clam siphons, fish eggs, and occasionally bony fish (Ackerman et al. 2000, Ebert 2003). The protection of essential estuarine habitats used by these sharks, especially due to their late maturity, low fertility, and long lifespans, is of rising concern to ecological conservationists (Carlisle 2009).
Ackerman, J.T., M.C. Kondratieff, S.A. Matern and J.J. Cech, Jr. 2000. Tidal influence on spatial dynamics of leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata, in Tomales Bay, California. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 58: 33–43.
Carlisle, A. B. and R. M. Starr. 2009. Habitat use, residency and seasonal distribution of female leopard sharks Triakis semifasciata in Elkhorn Slough, California. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 380:213-228.
Ebert, D. A. 2003. Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras of California. University of California Press, Berkeley. 144-147.
Ebert, D.A. and T.B., Ebert 2005. Reproduction, diet and habitat use of leopard sharks, Triakis semifasciata (Girard), in Humboldt Bay, California, USA. Marine and Freshwater Research, 56: 1089–1098.
Miller, D.J. and R.N. Lea. 1972. Guide to the coastal marine fishes of California. California Department of Fish and Game. Fish Bulletin. 157: 38.
Smith, S.E. and N.J. Abramson 1990. Leopard Shark Triakis semifsciata distribution, mortality rate, yield, and stock replenishment estimates based on a tagging study in San Francisco Bay. Fish. Bull. 88(2):371-381.
Talent, L.G. 1985. The occurrence, seasonal distribution, and reproductive condition of elasmobranch fishes in Elkhorn Slough, California. California Fish and Game 71(4):210-219.