Have you ever wondered what shark species has the most unusual appearance? The tasseled wobbegong shark, for example, is an excellent choice. Due to their distinctive, branching lobes that extend from their heads, these animals are sometimes referred to as carpet sharks, and they have an odd, flattened look. 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 that lives in shallow coral reefs along the coasts of northern Australia, New Guinea, and the surrounding islands. This species has a large and flattened body and head that extends into its chin, 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 can be found curled up within caves or under ledges, but as night falls, it emerges and aggressively forages for food, even people if the chance arises. Even when unprovoked, they have been known to bite and kill people, with the majority of assaults likely occurring from people accidently upsetting them or mistaking them for prey.
The tasselled wobbegong is the most specialized of the wobbegong family. It has great concealment thanks to its intricate colors and complicated appearance, although it is presumably a slower swimmer than comparable species. But that is in no way a disadvantage for this individual.
While these sharks are solitary and have a restricted home range with few favourite resting locations that they visit frequently, they become more active at night, swimming into the reef to hunt. Its massive mouth lets it to swallow even large prey, as seen by a 1.3 m (4.3 ft) long individual swallowing a 1.0 m (3.3 ft) long brownbanded bamboo shark.
Despite the fact that the carpet shark is most active at night, it is an opportunistic ambush predator during the day, feeding on schooling nocturnal fish such as soldierfish and squirrelfish, as well as sweepers that frequently shelter in the same cave. Small 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, for that matter, a truly unique one. 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 of its caudal fin. And, because the shark usually rests with its head up, any prey brought by that inquisitive tail is within easy reach. Humans included.
Yup, wobbegongs have been known to attack people without provocation on multiple occasions, and the tasselled wobbegong has a reputation for being even more violent than similar species. It even “attacks and generally kills the indigenous” of Papua New Guinea, according to Australian researcher Gilbert Whitley in 1940. While it’s uncertain whether Whitley’s story was true, this species is undoubtedly capable of inflicting serious injuries on people. The tasselled wobbegong, on the other hand, is a popular ecotourism destination, and many divers have approached it without issue. However, because of this shark’s enigmatic look and weak vision, people should exercise extreme caution to avoid disturbing it or leading it to mistake a hand or foot for prey.
You should be on the lookout for the tasselled wobbegong in the limited places where it may be found. Unfortunately, even those few areas are dwindling, since the shark’s range is being impacted by widespread fishing and habitat degradation caused by pollution, blast fishing, and coral loss.
We shouldn’t keep stepping on it indefinitely.