Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark, Indonesian Speckled Carpetshark.
Elongated, slender body. Well developed pectoral and pelvic fins on fore-body (used partially for walking). Two equally sized dorsal fins on rear-body. Tail long and straight with upper and lower caudal lobes on underside. Sub-terminal notch present.
Dorsal coloration light reddish-tan speckled with small, mostly oval, dark spots. In mature adults, groupings of spots form leopard-like markings. Darker patches along upper back with concentrations of dark spots form 8 or 9 irregular saddles along body and tail. Two larger dark spots are present on the lower cheek just behind the eye; these often form an elongated diagonal dark blotch.
The ocelli (eyespot behind gill) is large, oval and ringed in white on its underside. Two smaller, joined, dark blotches form a figure 8 shape just behind and below the ocelli. Ventrum pale.
Maximum size 68cm. Size at birth unknown.
Shallow tropical coral reefs, reef rubble patches, and seagrass beds. From intertidal zone to 12m, on or near the bottom.
Previously thought to be wide ranging throughout New Guinea until the species was divided. Now considered endemic to the Raja Ampat region of West Papua in Indonesia.
The Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark is threatened by artisanal fishing/gleaning (collecting by hand and using hand spear on intertidal reef flats at night) and hand-line fishing which is prevalent throughout its range at 5–15 m depths. There are about 120 villages throughout the range that may place a small amount of fishing pressure on this species. It is also suspected that The Raja Ampat Epaulette Shark is collected for the aquarium trade.
Habitat degradation of reef flats occurs in approximately 20% of this species’ range due to a combination of tourism development and climate change. Resort or homestay construction involves the collection of intertidal rocks that were favoured sheltering sites for sharks for building, as well as sedimentation is generated from construction. Finally there is frequent disturbance by speedboats and longboats accessing beaches.
Global climate change has already resulted in large-scale coral bleaching events with increasing frequency causing worldwide reef degradation since 1997. Almost all warm-water coral reefs are projected to suffer significant losses of area and local extinctions, even if global warming is limited to 1.5ºC (IPCC Report, 2019).
VanderWright, W.J., Allen, G.R., Dudgeon, C.L., Derrick, D., Erdmann, V & Sianipar, A. 2020. Hemiscyllium freycineti. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T199932A124548294. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T199932A124548294.en. Downloaded on 29 December 2020.
Oviparous. Reproductive cycle poorly known.
Nocturnal. Rests by day in crevices on the reef or under corals.
Reaction to divers
If not approached too closely, it is possible to watch this species hunting on the reef during night dives. Usually moves away if disturbed.
As its common name suggests, the Raja Ampat epaulette shark is endemic to the Raja Ampat Islands in West Papua, Indonesia. However, in that area it is quite easy to find during shallow night dives. Mark Erdmann (who described this species) estimates an average of 200 individuals are present per square kilometre. So there could be as many as 660,000 individuals present throughout its known range.
I found this species in front of the village dock on Gam Island, but any shallow spot with good coral coverage should be just as productive.