The Inky Depths #2: Wobbegong (Carpet Shark)
January 1, 2022 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Hello all creature-loving friends! Meet the WOBBEGONG! (YouTube Video) The name "wobbegong", from the tasselled wobbegong, is Australian aboriginal in origin, but its exact meaning is unknown. It is speculated that it may mean "living rock." Many other sources claim it means "shaggy beard," but there is little source evidence for this provided. They also may be known in Australia by their nickname, "wobbies." They are a wonderfully small group of fish, (and really really cute), so let's dive in!

Stock video footage of Woobegong (YouTube Video)
Even more footage! (YouTube Video)

Now, why on earth would sharks be called “shaggy”? The reason is that wobbegong sharks do look like they have a beard. They have whiskers (called barbels) around their noses, and flaps of skin that look like tiny fins around their mouths and eyes and on the sides of their heads. For this same reason, the scientific name of the family of wobbegong sharks is Orectolobidae, from the Greek words orektos, meaning “stretched out”, and lobos, meaning “lobe”.

Wobbegongs can range in size from barely 2 inches long to 10.5 inches long, depending on species (species list at bottom of post). The largest, Spotted Wobbegongs, feed at night on lots of creatures, like octopuses, crabs, lobsters, sea bass, and luderick. They often lie still on the bottom while waiting for prey to swim close to their mouths. Spotted wobbegong sharks have also been observed sneaking up on prey from a distance.

Wobbegongs are ovoviviparous, meaning fertilization of eggs occurs internally, and the young are born fully formed and ready for action - females produce quite a few at a time too - the spotted wobbegong can give birth to up to 37 pups per litter. They possess a spiracle, which allows them to breathe while remaining motionless at the bottom, where they wait for prey perfectly blended with the sea floor (If you recall, sharks usually have to keep moving to breathe).

Is it hurty?
Yes. It has been known to bite humans who mostly accidentally step on it. And would you want to tangle with these teeth? And here is a story of someone from 2004 who had to leave the ocean with one still attached, and drive for help!

From Wikipedia: Although the spotted wobbegong is generally docile with humans, it is sometimes aggressive with them. Its defence mechanism is a bite, which can cause severe wounds due to the species' tendency to hold its bite for a long time.[3] Reports are known of it attacking people if they step on it or put a limb near its mouth.[3] Divers sometimes pull it by the tail during its daytime resting period, which often provokes it enough to bite.[13] The species can attack if caught with a fishing line or net, or if speared. In one circumstance, a spotted wobbegong specimen bit off a fisherman's foot.[10] It may also attack a human holding a speared or hooked fish, as well as the fish itself.[13] In 1789, Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales, wrote about the spotted wobbegong, which he called "Watts's Shark", in his book Voyage to Botany Bay. He said that it ferociously attacked the dog of "Mr. Watts":[2]

... after having lain on the deck for two hours seemingly quiet, on Mr Watts's dog passing by, the shark sprang on it with all the ferocity imaginable, and seized it by the leg, nor could the dog have disengaged himself had not the people near at hand come to his assistance

There have been reports of unprovoked attacks on humans, including divers well above the bottom,[14] while Compagno noted of such reports that "it is often difficult to determine which species was involved or what the precise circumstances were that led to the incident".[10] The International Shark Attack File lists 4 unprovoked attacks,[a] known to be by the spotted wobbegong, none of which were fatal.[16] In total, the Australian Shark Attack File has recorded 51 instances where the unprovoked attack,[b] on a human was confirmed to be by any species of wobbegong shark in the years 1900 to 2009, none of which were fatal.[17] Reports of wobbegongs biting boats are known in literature, but it has not been confirmed that these attacks were by the spotted wobbegong in particular.[10]

One source said a total of twenty-eight unprovoked wobbegong shark attacks have been recorded in the past 450 years, four of which are attributed to the spotted wobbegong.

Do we eat it? Mess with it at all?

From Wikipedia: The species' primary threat in eastern Australia is fishing for commercial purposes. Its flesh is edible, and has thus caused it to be a target of fishing. In Queensland, it is sometimes caught as a bycatch but is not fished for intentionally. Its skin has been utilised for decorating historically, but whether it is utilised in such a way currently is unknown. Multiple conservation actions have taken place for this species, particularly since 2006. It is unknown if its population is decreasing or increasing, but it is not severely fragmented as of 2015. It is listed as a species of least concern on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as of 23 March 2015, after having been assessed as near threatened in 2003 and 2009.

A few sources say it's skin has been used "historically" for leather, but no pictures emerged in Google image search. And other random fun fact, Ornate wobbegongs are homebodies. An individual was spotted in the same region, an area less than 1/3 of a square mile, for more than 200 days.

There's only 12 species known, so get to know them all!

(Arranged by size from smallest to largest):
common length 52.3 cm (barely 2 inches)Orectolobus reticulatus (network wobbegong)
common length 63 cm Orectolobus wardi (northern wobbegong)
common length 75 cm Orectolobus floridus (floral banded wobbegong)
common length 88.5 cm Orectolobus parvimaculatus (dwarf spotted wobbegong)
common length 90 cm Orectolobus leptolineatus (Indonesian wobbegong)
common length 92 cm Sutorectus tentaculatus (cobbler wobbegong)
common length 100 cm Orectolobus ornatus (ornate wobbegong)
common length 118 cm Orectolobus japonicus (Japanese wobbegong)
common length 120 cm Eucrossorhinus dasypogon (tasselled wobbegong)
common length 149 cm Orectolobus hutchinsi (western wobbegong)
common length 256 cmOrectolobus halei (banded wobbegong or gulf wobbegong)
common length 180 cm but max length has been measured at 320 cm or 10.5 feet Orectolobus maculatus (spotted wobbegong)

Previously: The Inky Depths #1: The Whalefish
posted by tiny frying pan (15 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I tend to call cats wriggling along a floor "carpet sharks," so I will have to start calling them wobbegongs! Could have waited on this post - space them out, right? BUT WHO CAN WAIT when there are SO MANY INCREDIBLY LOVELY ANIMALS to talk about? Thank you for the enthusiastic response on the first edition, MeFi!
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:13 AM on January 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

Regarding the guy who had to drive to the hospital with a shark attached, Billy Connolly describes it wonderfully.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Connolly explains the head to toe tights (with a hood) seen on the diver in the first video.
posted by the Real Dan at 8:58 AM on January 1, 2022

You've made the first day of 2022 pretty great, tiny frying pan! I oohed and awwed at the wobbegong (which I'll probably be muttering under my breath all day) and envisioned a sequined wobbegong patterned hoodie with drippy barbels framing the head/hood.
And then I laughed my ass off watching the Billy Connelly link, so thanks for that as well. It's a good way to start a day.
posted by winesong at 9:31 AM on January 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

My 8-year-old daughter wandered by while I was reading the "living rock" article, and asked what the picture was. Things have since degenerated into me following her around the house, repeating "tasselled wobbegon" at ever-increasing volume.

Thank you for this New Year's Day treasure, tiny frying pan.
posted by Mayor West at 11:08 AM on January 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

In this house the cat creeping along the rug is a "longtailed carpet shark", referencing the Hemiscylliidae. However wobbegongs are more pretty and mellifluous!
posted by away for regrooving at 11:12 AM on January 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Ok those are pretty cute. And the name is pretty great!
I admit I hoped that one that wouldn't let go of the guy's leg would survive in the end. Wildly optimistic thinking, I realize.
posted by Glinn at 2:12 PM on January 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I heard there's a freshwater member of this species too: the Lake Wobbegong.

(snare drum roll, cymbal crash, peace out)
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 2:49 PM on January 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Spotted wobbegong sharks have also been observed sneaking up on prey from a distance.

Well, sure. It’s the ones that aren’t spotted that go unobserved.
posted by zamboni at 3:16 PM on January 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

Those jaw shots made me think:

Angel: OK, I think it’s done
God: Needs more teeth
Angel: I added more, it’s got a load of teeth
God: There’s room for more; pack a bunch of them at the front
Angel: Why do you hate Australia?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:19 AM on January 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

They also may be known in Australia by their nickname, "wobbies."

Not to be confused with 'wobblies' (wallabies).
posted by Pouteria at 6:27 AM on January 2, 2022

I miss being able to see the wobbegongs at Toronto Aquarium. They seem very chill, but that's the plan.
posted by scruss at 9:00 AM on January 2, 2022

posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:53 PM on January 2, 2022

50cm is about 20 inches, not 2.
posted by lemur at 6:43 AM on January 3, 2022

Typos happen, thanks for the correction!
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2022

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