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Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata) and Spotted Gully Shark (T. megalopterus) Fact Sheet: Summary

Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata) and Spotted Gully Shark (T. megalopterus) Fact Sheet

Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata) and Spotted Gully Shark (T. megalopterus) Fact Sheet

Leopard shark, Triakis semifasciata, at Africa Rocks at the San Diego Zoo

Leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata)

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Chondrichthyes - cartilaginous fishes (sharks, rays, skates, and chimeras)

Subclass: Elasmobranchii - elasmobranchs (sharks, rays, skates)

Order: Carcharhiniformes - ground sharks

Family: Triakidae - houndsharks, smoothhound sharks, smooth dogfish sharks, gummy sharks, tope sharks, whiskery sharks

Genus: Triakis - leopard and houndsharks

Species: Triakis semifasciata - leopard shark
Species: Triakis megalopterus - spotted gully shark, sharptooth houndshark

Maximum Total Length, TL
Measured as snout to tip of the tail.
Leopard shark, males: 150 cm (59 in)
Leopard shark, females: ~180 cm (71 in)
Spotted gully shark, male: 152 cm (60 in)
Spotted gully shark, female: 207 cm (81 in)

Leopard shark: silvery gray to bronzy gray-brown; above, large, dark "saddles" interspaced with spots; underside, pale or tan.
Spotted gully shark: above, gray-bronze; underside, white or very pale; young with no or few spots

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Leopard shark: west coast of North America, from Oregon, USA, to Mazatlan, Mexico
Spotted gully shark: southern Africa; southern Angola to South Africa

Leopard shark: bays, estuaries, and sloughs; coastal, nearshore waters, including sandy shores, rocky reefs, and kelp forests; coastal islands
Spotted gully shark: sandy shores, rocky reefs, and crevices in bays

IUCN Status
Leopard shark: Least Concern (2014 assessment)
Spotted gully shark: Least Concern (2019 assessment)

CITES Appendix
Leopard shark: Not listed
Spotted gully shark: Not listed

Populations in the Wild
Leopard shark: no population estimates available; population trend: unknown; fishing regulations appear to be protecting this species—recreational fishing stable
Spotted gully shark: no population estimates available; population trend: decreasing

Both species have slender, flexible bodies. Body and wide fins allow them to make tight turns.

Activity Cycle
Both species more active at night.

Social Groups
Both species form mostly-female aggregations during summer. Leopards sharks may also form mixed species aggregations with other sharks and rays.

Leopard shark: invertebrates (clams, squid, crabs, innkeeper worms, etc.), small bony fishes, eggs of fish and squid, small sharks and rays
Spotted gully shark: crabs, bony fishes, squid and octopus

Leopard shark: California sea lion, sevengill shark, humans; Caspian terns and Great Blue Herons observed preying on young sharks
Spotted gully shark: sevengill shark, humans; possibly other sharks

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
Females: 105-135 cm (3.4-4.4 ft) TL (about 10-13 years old)
Males: 100-105 cm (3.3-3.4 ft) TL (about 7-13 years old)

Leopard shark: 10-12 months
Spotted gully shark: 19-21 months

Litter Size
Leopard shark: 6-37
Spotted gully shark: 8-10, on average (range: 5-15)

Interbirth Interval
Leopard shark: females breed annually
Spotted gully shark: females breed every 2-3 years

Birth Size
Leopard shark: 17-23 cm (7-9 in) TL
Spotted gully shark: 40-45 cm (16-18 in) TL

Leopard shark

  • Well-adapted to fluctuating water temperatures and poorly oxygenated waters
  • Aggregating females spend a lot of time in warm, shallow water during summer; likely gain a reproductive benefit
  • Some individuals return to the same aggregation site in successive summers
  • Use their sense of smell to navigate in the open ocean
  • Uses its snout to extract burrowing animals (clams, inkeeper worms) from mudflats
  • Harmful contaminants found in embryos; passed from mother to pups
  • Mainly fished by recreational anglers in California; a well-regulated fishery
  • Popular species for sale in the aquarium trade
  • In archeology, leopard shark remains widely found in Native American middens in California

Spotted gully shark

  • Endemic to southern Africa
  • Behavior not well-known
  • Teeth change shape as they grow and develop
  • Long gestation period—19-21 months; give birth to few young
  • Must grow to a large size to reach sexual maturity, even compared to similar species
  • Evidence of some genetic isolation due to large-scale sea level lowering during the Pleistocene
  • Exploited by unregulated fisheries

About This Fact Sheet

© 2017-2020 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. IUCN Status updated Nov 2020.

How to cite: Leopard Shark (Triakis semifasciata) and Spotted Gully Shark (T. megalopterus) Fact Sheet. c2017-2020. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. triakissharks.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to


Abbreviations used in this fact sheet:
Total Length (TL): length from the tip of a fish's snout to the tip of its longer tail lobe


We wish to thank Dr. Andrew P. Nosal, PhD, for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

Dr. Nosal completed his PhD on leopard shark movement ecology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2013. This research provided many insights into the behavior, habitat preferences, diet, physiology, and genetic relationships of leopard sharks near La Jolla, California.

As of 2017, Dr. Nosal is Professor at University of San Diego and concurrently conducts research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. This research focuses on the movement ecology of sharks and rays in southern California and Baja California. Dr. Nosal also holds interests in science communication and public attitudes towards sharks. He is a member of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group for the Northeast Pacific Region. Read more at

Thank you to Melissa Torres, who shared her knowledge of leopard shark husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Ms. Torres, Dive Program Coordinator and Aquarist at Birch Aquarium at Scripps, is the lead aquarist of ElasmoBeach, an exhibit that houses half of Birch Aquarium's leopard shark population. Ms. Torres leads animal care efforts for these leopard sharks, including health physicals and nutrition programs. She also coordinates and participates in diving activities to monitor the sharks’ behavior, health, and exhibit environment.

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