Wobbegong (Shark)

Orectolobidae
Image by prilfish.
Image by prilfish.

Wobbegong is the common name given to the eight species of carpet sharks in the family orectolobidae.

The word wobbegong is believed to come from an Australian Aboriginal language, meaning “shaggy beard.” They are found in the shallow, temperate, and tropical waters west of the Pacific Ocean and east of the Indian Ocean; chiefly around Australia and Indonesia.

Wobbegongs are bottom-dwelling sharks which spend much of their time resting on the sea floor, often among rocks or under ledges. The largest species, the spotted wobbegong – orectolobus maculatus – grows up to 3.2 metres long.

Wobbegongs are well camouflaged with a symmetrical pattern of bold markings which resembles carpet. Wobbegongs make use of their relative invisibility to hide among rocks and catch smaller fish which swim too close (typical of ambush predators). Wobbegongs are largely nocturnal. Due to their low metabolisms, wobbegong species are not fed as often as other sharks, and most do well on two feedings weekly.

Wobbegongs are generally not dangerous unless they are provoked. They have bitten people who accidentally step on them in shallow water; they may also bite scuba divers or snorkelers who poke or handle them, or who block their escape route. Wobbegongs are very flexible and can easily bite a hand that is holding on to their tail. They have many small but sharp teeth and their bite can be severe, even through a wetsuit; having once bitten, they have been known to hang on and can be very difficult to remove.