Leopard Sharks in Thailand: The best places to dive with Leopard Sharks in Thailand

July 8, 2010

Leopard Sharks in Thailand are relatively easy to find if you know where to look. Here we’ll talk about the best places to dive with Leopard Sharks in Thailand as well as serve up some interesting facts about these creatures. Also known as Zebra Sharks (Stegostoma fasciatum), Leopard Sharks can grow up to three and a half meters in length, although these days it’s uncommon to encounter specimens this large. Most encounters are with sharks no more than two meters in length. Completely harmless to humans, Leopard Sharks are extremely popular with scuba divers as they often get a chance to get really close to these beautiful animals. There has never been a recorded attack on a human.

Leopard Shark

Leopard Sharks are one of the few species of Shark which can pump water over their gills enabling them to breath while stationary. Other Sharks, which can do this, include White Tip Sharks, Nurse Sharks, and Bamboo Sharks. Most other sharks have to swim constantly so oxygenated water passed over their gills. If they stopped swimming they would drown. Leopard Sharks are aplacental viviparous which means their young hatch inside the female Sharks uterus and are nourished by the yolk. New Leopard Sharks are born from March to June after a gestation period of 10 to 12 months. Leopard Sharks are slow growing and take many years to mature. Males mature after at least 7 years while females mature between 10 to 15 years of age. When the pups are born they are around 20cm in length and grow very slowly for the first few years of their life. Leopard Sharks are active predators and subsist on a diet of shellfish, worms, crabs, shrimps, fish eggs, as well as bony fish. Leopard Sharks tend to remain localized and seldom travel long distances.

So where are Leopard Sharks in Thailand most commonly found?

The Similan Islands remain one of the best places to find Leopard Sharks, particularly at dive sites such as Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. They can pop up almost anywhere, and are usually found resting on sandy bottoms. If the Sharks are used to seeing scuba divers they will usually remain stationary as divers approach affording a unique dive experience and some superb photo opportunities. Koh Phi Phi is probably the best place in Thailand to find Leopard Sharks. Bida Nai and Bida Nog can claim to be the top dive sites in Thailand for Leopard Sharks. Occasionally on a single dive Leopard Sharks will be waiting round every corner. During the mating (June to July) season several Sharks might congregate together to partake in what might at first sight seem like an excessively violent courting ritual. Males will aggressively bite the pectoral fins of the female Sharks trying to encourage them to mate. Sometimes several males will harass a single female and this behavior is regularly witnessed at many dive sites in Thailand. Leopard Sharks are also regularly encountered at some of Phukets dive sites including Shark Point and Anemone Reef. If you took a Similans liveaboard dive trip over 4 nights, you’d be considered unlucky not to see at least one Leopard Shark.

Leopard Sharks are caught by commercial fisheries, as well as the local sea gypsy community here in Thailand. Although not endangered, over the last ten years their numbers have dropped noticeably. They are also highly prized by the aquarium trade, as they tend to survive well in captivity.

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