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What is a wobbegong? © Alamy

What is a wobbegong?

Published: 05th April, 2022 at 18:00
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The wobbegong shark takes camouflage to new heights.

Swimming in the warm, shallow waters surrounding Australia, Indonesia and Japan, this master of disguise comes in 12 different species.

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With their intricate markings and pebbly hues, these animals do a knockout impression of the sea floor, where they spend most of their time, stock-still, waiting to ambush any hapless morsel that swims too close. Unlike some other shark species, wobbegongs do not need to constantly move in order to breathe. Instead, they actively pump water over their gills with their cheek muscles.

The word ‘wobbegong’ is thought to come from an Australian Aboriginal word meaning ‘shaggy beard’ and refers to the wispy tassels that frame their enormous chops. By blurring the lines between the shark and its surroundings, they enhance the camouflage effect, and can be wiggled suggestively to lure curious prey, such as bottom-dwelling fish and octopuses.

Wobbegongs also have strong lower fins which enable them to ‘walk’; a nifty trick if the fish find themselves landlocked in a rockpool when the tide has gone out.

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Authors

Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.

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