Have you ever thought what the most unusual-looking shark species would be? The tasseled wobbegong shark is an excellent choice. These creatures, sometimes known as carpet sharks, have an unusual, flattened look due to their branching lobes that extend from their heads. Despite the fact that these sharks were originally described in 1867, we still don’t know much about them.
The tasselled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) is a carpet shark of the Orectolobidae family that lives on the shallow coral reefs off northern Australia, New Guinea, and the surrounding islands. This species has a large and flattened body and head, but its most distinguishing feature is a fringe of branching dermal flaps around its head that continues onto its chin, allowing it to blend in with the coral reef habitat in which it lives.
During the day, the lonely tasselled wobbegong may be seen sleeping within caves or under ledges with its tail coiled up, but at night, it emerges and aggressively forages for food – even humans if the chance presents itself. They have been documented to bite and kill people even when provoked, with the majority of assaults likely originating from people accidently disturbing them or mistaking them for prey.
The tasselled wobbegong is the most specialized member of the wobbegong family. Its intricate colors and complicated appearance provide great hiding, and it is likely a slower swimmer than comparable species. But that is in no way a disadvantage for this individual.
While these creatures are solitary and have a restricted home range with many favored resting locations that they return to, this species becomes more active at night, swimming onto the reef to hunt. Its massive mouth helps it to consume even large prey, with one known occurrence of a 1.3 m (4.3 ft) long individual devouring a 1.0 m (3.3 ft) long brownbanded bamboo shark.
Although the carpet shark is most active at night, it is also an opportunistic ambush predator during the day, feeding on schooling nocturnal fish such as soldierfish and squirrelfish, as well as sweepers, which frequently shelter in the same cave. Tiny fish and crustaceans have also been observed landing on the resting wobbegong’s head, luring larger fish, which are then attacked by the wobbegong. Wow.
In fact, captive investigations of these animals have indicated that this species appears to participate in active enticing behavior. And a truly one-of-a-kind one at that. When the tasselled wobbegong detects food nearby, it begins to slowly wag its tail back and forth, like a little fish with a black eyespot at the base. And because the shark usually sleeps with its head raised, it is within easy reach of any prey enticed by that inquisitive tail. Humans, too.
Yup, wobbegongs have been linked to multiple unprovoked assaults on humans, and the tasselled wobbegong is known to be considerably more violent than similar species. Gilbert Whitley, an Australian naturalist, claimed in 1940 that it “attacks and generally kills the people” of Papua New Guinea. While it’s uncertain whether Whitley’s story was true, this species is undoubtedly capable of inflicting serious injuries on people. However, the tasselled wobbegong is also a popular ecotourism destination, and many divers have approached it safely. However, given this shark’s cryptic look and weak vision, humans should proceed with caution to avoid accidently disturbing it or mistaking a hand or foot for food.
So, if you happen to come across a tasselled wobbegong, you should be on the lookout. Unfortunately, even those few areas are dwindling in number since the shark’s range is impacted by substantial fisheries activity as well as habitat deterioration caused by pollution, blast fishing, and coral loss.