Wobbegong sharks redescribed

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Two species of wobbegong shark have been redescribed, with one species previously believed to be a synonym, raised to species level once again.

Charlie Huveneers from Macquarie University in Australia redescribed Orectolobus ornatus and O. halei based on new specimens caught from temperate waters off eastern Australia and has just published his findings in the journal Zootaxa.

The two wobbegongs were, until recently, considered a single species. Although Orectolobus halei was described as a distinct species by Whitley in 1940, a lack of specimens available for comparison saw it being placed into synonymy with the related Orectolobus ornatus. Huveneers has now shown that the two fish are distinct species, so he's elevated the status of halei back to species level once again.

Says Huveneers: "Due to its small size, O. ornatus was previously thought to be the juvenile form of the larger O. halei. Orectolobus ornatus occurs from Port Douglas, (Queensland) to Sydney (New South Wales) whereas O. halei occurs from Southport (Queensland) around the southern coast to Norwegian Bay (Western Australia)."

Orectolobus ornatus is a different colour to halei and reaches a smaller adult size. It also has fewer dermal lobes at the posterior preorbital group, as well as a number of other anatomical differences. It also has a longer pelvic fin to anal fin interspace, smaller pectorals, a smaller head and smaller claspers than halei when mature.

The cryptic, bottom-dwelling sharks are common in rocky areas and coral reefs where they spend the day resting on the substrate and the night cruising for prey. The species have also been reported to attack waders and anglers if encountered in rock pools.

For more details on the sharks see the paper: Huveneers C (2006) - Redescription of two species of wobbegongs (Chrondrichthyes: Orectolobidae) with elevation of Orectolobus halei Whitley, 1940 to species level. Zootaxa 1284: 29-51 (2006).