The Tasselled Wobbegong Shark’s Powerful Jaws

MEET ONE OF OUR FAVOURITE SIGHTINGS -
THE TASSELLED WOBBY

Although the tasseled wobbegong shark may look sluggish and potentially harmless once you encounter them at the bottom of the sea, they are actually known as supreme ambush predators with a bite that can cause considerable damage.

So, best to steer clear of its powerful jaws, since it's notorious for not letting go that easily.

True to its nickname - CARPET SHARK - the wobbegong spends most of its time lying motionless on the sea floor and with its scientific name (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) roughly meaning "well-fringed nose with shaggy beard", you can see why this little guy can go unnoticed. It actually relies on camouflaging as a feeding tactic and has various other tricks up its sleeves for catching its prey.

The many branched dermal lobes under the shark's chin makes it resemble a fringed carpet.

This nocturnal hunter will often lie still, perfectly camouflaged - waiting for prey to swim too close, attracted to the tentacles around the shark's mouth. The wobbegong will also occasionally wave its tail slowly, mimicking a fish, to attract other fish to come closer.

Once its target gets close enough, the wobbegong will strike, clamping down with its wide, powerful jaws, in some cases even using suction to pull its dinner in. The sudden opening of its mouth causes pressure differences in the water, which suck the fish into its jaws before being swallowed whole and digested. The shark can even dislocate its jaw to swallow large fish and has been documented eating prey bigger than itself.

They are well known for slowly sneaking up on its prey from a distance and have been observed climbing rocks between tide pools, with their backs above the water. These sharks are just miraculous!

ARE WOBBEGONGS DANGEROUS?

They are generally a non-aggressive bottom-dwelling shark, however it has been known to bite humans under certain circumstance, such as when accidentally stepped on - given how camouflaged this shark can be against the ocean floor. It will also attack if a limb is put in front of its mouth and is mistaken as prey.

Either way, once something is in a wobbegong's mouth, it's game over. Because of its large jaws, a wobbegong can swallow prey almost as big as itself. But if the prey is too large to swallow, the shark will hold it in its teeth until it dies, and then eat it in chunks.

But don't think the wobbegong's camouflage is simply just for hunting, it's also to protect him from being hunted. Wobbegongs are most definitely on the menu for other larger fish and marine mammals in the area.

WOBBEGONG EATS BAMBOO SHARK WHOLE

Wobbegong eats bamboo shark

Photo: Tom Mannering

Wobbegong eats shark whole

Photo: Tom Mannering

The picture was taken during a fish census on the reef off Great Keppel Island, conducted by the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

"During the 30-min observation period", the researchers said, "neither shark moved... we assume that it would have taken at least several more hours for the wobbegong to completely consume the bamboo shark."

Acknowledgments
These images were captured during a field trip funded by the National Environment Research Program (NERP).