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Triakis semifasciata - Leopard shark

Geographic range:
Oregon to Mazatlan, Mexico

Key features:
Gray and elongate body with large leopard spots on the dorsal area.

Similar species:

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), estuary, kelp forest
Triakis semifasciata - Leopard shark image


Primary common name:
Leopard Shark
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
General grouping:
Sharks, skates, rays

Geographic Range
Range description:
Triakis semifasciata can be found from Oregon to Mazatlan, Mexico, including the Gulf of California.
Northern latitude extent:
  Southern latitude extent:
East longitude extent:
  West longitude extent:

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
Intertidal height notes:

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
Subtidal depth notes:
Triakis semifasciata is common in some subtidal habitats within its range, and in particular on the sandy bottom.

bay (rocky shore), bay (sandy shore), estuary, kelp forest
Habitat notes:
Triakis semifasciata occupies a variety of habitats, from mudflats, to open coast kelp beds and anything in between. They can be found to depths of 100 m, but are more often in shallow waters near the bottom in depths less than 5 m.

Relative abundance:
Triakis semifasciata is uncommon along the entire coast.

Species Description
General description:
Triakis semifasciata is in the class Elasmobranchii shared by all sharks and rays. It is in the order Carcharhiniformes, groundsharks, and the family Triakidae, the houndsharks. Its genus name Triakis, means three pointed in Greek and refers to their teeth. And its species name semifasciata, means half-banded in Latin referring to their leopard-print-like markings.
Distinctive features:
Triakis semifasciata has an elongate and fusiform body colored gray with black spots and bars which may form saddles over the back. The belly is white and smaller spots may occur on the sides between the saddles. In young sharks, the saddles are solid with light centers while adults have more spots that develop between the saddles. An occasional fish has few or no saddles, but lots of spots. The eyes are catlike and the mouth is broadly arched with sharp-edged teeth. The fourth and fifth gill slits are over the pectoral fin. The first dorsal fin is rounded and its origin is above the rear of pectoral fin. The second dorsal fin is pointed and the origin is in front of the anal fin which is much smaller than the second dorsal. The upper lobe of the caudal fin is very long and notched, the pectoral fin is triangular, and all fins are spotted.

Triakis semifasciata can be distinguished from the Gray Smoothhound, Mustelus californicus, which lacks black spots. The Smooth Dogfish, Mustelus canis, is slate-gray or brown above and lacks the markings of Triakis semifasciata. The Brown Smoothound, Mustelus henlei, lacks black spots and is red-brown to bronze above and silvery below. Could be mistaken for swell sharks, ephaloscyllium ventriosum, however unlike Triakis semifasciata, they are red-brown with flattened heads.
Triakis semifasciata females can grow to a length of two meters and males to one and a half meters. The maximum weight reported for these sharks is 32 kg.

Natural History
General natural history:
Triakis semifasciata often forms schools aggregating with other smoothhounds or dogfish sharks. They can occasionally be found resting on the bottom. The oldest Triakis semifasciata on record was a 24 year old male.
Triakis semifasciata is a popular sport fish and part of the commercial shark fishery as well.
Triakis semifasciata feeds on a variety of foods, including fishes, crabs, shrimp, fish eggs, and worms. In particular, they will eat the eggs of herring, Topsmelt, Atherinops affinis, and Jacksmelt, Atherinopsis californiensis, that are attached to plants or rocks. Some of the fish species they eat include Midshipmen, Porichthys notatus, Sand Dabs, Limanda limanda, Shiner Perch, Cymatogaster aggregate, Bat Rays, Myliobatis californica, and Smoothhounds.

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Feeding behavior notes:
Triakis semifasciata is mainly a groundfeeder. Electroreceptors in their snouts help them locate buried prey in the sand or mud.
September - February  
Triakis semifasciata tends to remain where they are throughout the year, with some movement out during fall and winter.

March - June  
Spawning occurs from March to June, with a peak in April to May. Triakis semifasciata is ovoviviparous, meaning embryos develop within the female and they bear live young. There can be 4 - 29 young in a litter and these embryos develop in the mother for 10 — 12 months. The young sharks are 20 - 23 cm at birth. Both sexes mature at a length of about 1 meter, when males are around 7 years old and females are about 10 years old. Like most sharks, Triakis semifasciata, breed at a later age than most bony fish and bear few young.
Alden, P., F. Heath, R. Keen, A. Leventer, and W. Zomlefer. 2002. National Audubon Society Field Guide to California. A.A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Boschung, H.T., J.D. Williams, D.W. Gotshall, D.K. Caldwell, and M.C. Caldwell. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fishes, Whales and Dolphins. A.A. Knoph, New York, NY. 848 p.

Eschmeyer, W.N., and E.S. Herald. 1983. A Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA. 336 p.

Froese, R. and D. Pauly (eds.). 2006 (Updated 01/02/06). FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., Accessed [04/25/06].

Love, M. 1996. Probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific Coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, CA. 381 p.

Monterey Bay Aquarium. Online Field Guide, 2008.
Accessed [04/27/06]
Accessed 01/30/2009 for Pelagic Cormorant
Accessed 8/19/09 for Bryozoan
Accessed 7/31/09 for Spiny brittle star
Accessed 3/31/09 for Sunflower star
Accessed 8/9/09 for red octopus
Accessed 8/19/09 for Decorator crab
Accessed 7/31/09 for warty sea cucumber

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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