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Friday, December 21, 2012

Creature Feature: Zebra Sharks.

Sharks don't get enough love. Along with snakes and wolves, they are among the moat falsely-demonized animals in the modern media. Nothing makes people scatter quite like a triangluar fin above the surface of the water.  Thanks, Jaws - thanks a lot.

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Zebra sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum) are among the awesome sharks that do not deserve a Jaws reputation. They can be found in the Indo-Pacific, or "anywhere from South Africa to Australia."  They eat fish, molluscs, crustaceans, and maybe even sea snakes. These sharks are nocturnal, so unless you happen to enjoy diving at night, don't expect to see one moving around much. They can usually be found chilling on the bottom of the sand near some coral.

At first glance, the zebra shark has none of the "sleek predator" features that Great Whites or tiger sharks have. The zebra shark is a carpet shark; along with having a nice pattern, it spends most of its time on the bottom instead of swimming menacingly up top. The location of the mouth on the bottom of its body and its overall appearance almost make it look more like a catfish than a shark.  It doesn't even swim like Jaws -it swims like an eel.

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By the way, wondering why a spotted shark is called a "zebra?" The shark pups are striped, that's why! The young zebra sharks look more like young whale sharks than anything. The white lines and black bars soon make way for an almost cheetah-like look as the shark grows older. The young sharks look so different from their parents, in fact, that science thought that mother and child were two different species.

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Zebra sharks are 100% harmless to humans. In many areas of the shark's range, they are even marketed as scuba diving attractions. It is perfectly possible to touch a wild zebra shark, just because they're chill like that. Just don't do anything stupid; people who try to ride the sharks can still get bitten. Jumping the sharks doesn't sound like a wise move, either. You don't have to tell your friends that zebra sharks are harmless; just say "I touched a shark" and watch their eyes widen.

Remember when we had an entry on eating sharks? In part because of their docility, zebra sharks are the most eaten sharks on the planet. These are the sharks used in the infamous shark fin soup. The liver is also used medicinally. This over-hunting has nudged the zebra shark onto the "vulnerable" status, but worry not; these docile sharks have a super-strong presence in captivity. You've got plenty of time to pet a shark.

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