American Oceans

Zebra Shark

The zebra shark, also known as Stegostoma fasciatum, is a species of carpet shark that inhabits the Indo-Pacific region.

a zebra shark swimming underwater

This shark species is known for its striking appearance, with a pattern of dark stripes on a pale yellow or brownish-grey body.

Zebra sharks are typically found in shallow waters near coral reefs, but they have also been observed in deeper waters.

Read on below to learn more about these incredible creatures!

Overview of Zebra Sharks

a top-down view of a zebra shark in the water

Zebra sharks, also known as Stegostoma fasciatum, are a species of fish belonging to the family Stegostomatidae.

They are commonly found in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in the waters around Australia.

Zebra sharks are known for their distinctive appearance, which features black stripes on a tan or light brown body.

Physical Characteristics

Zebra sharks can grow up to 8.2 feet (2.5 meters) in length and weigh up to 44 pounds (20 kilograms).

They have a long, narrow body with a flattened head and a pointed snout. Their dorsal fins are positioned towards the back of their body, and they have five gill slits on the sides of their head.

Zebra sharks have a unique pattern of ridges on their body that helps them to camouflage with the sandy ocean floor.

Habitat and Range

Zebra sharks are commonly found in shallow waters near coral reefs, sandy flats, and seagrass beds.

They prefer warm waters with a temperature range of 75-84°F (24-29°C). Zebra sharks are known to inhabit the waters of the Indo-Pacific region, including the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the coasts of Australia, Japan, and Thailand.

Behavior and Diet

Zebra sharks are nocturnal and spend most of their time resting on the ocean floor during the day. They are known to be solitary creatures, but they can also be found in small groups.

Zebra sharks are opportunistic feeders and their diet includes a variety of crustaceans, small fish, and mollusks. They use their strong jaws and sharp teeth to crush the shells of their prey.

Zebra sharks are not considered to be a threat to humans. They are generally docile and will swim away if approached.

However, they can become aggressive if provoked or threatened. Zebra sharks are also known to be hunted by larger predators such as tiger sharks and great white sharks.

In Australia, zebra sharks are not targeted for fishing, but they are often accidentally caught in fishing nets.

The fins of zebra sharks are highly valued in some countries for their use in shark fin soup, which has led to a decline in their population. Zebra sharks are listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In terms of their anatomy, zebra sharks have a unique liver that is able to store large amounts of oil, which is rich in vitamins.

This adaptation allows them to survive for long periods of time without food. Additionally, zebra sharks have a long, whip-like tail that they use for swimming and navigation.

Reproduction and Lifespan

a zebra shark swimming underwater

Zebra sharks, like other oviparous (egg-laying) sharks, deposit their eggs in protective cases that are anchored to rocks or other structures.

The eggs are leathery and about 17 cm long, with long tendrils that help to anchor them in place.

The female zebra shark can lay up to 46 eggs per year, but usually lays around 20. The eggs take about 5-6 months to hatch, and the baby sharks emerge fully formed and ready to hunt small fish and crabs.


Zebra sharks have a relatively long lifespan for a shark, living up to 25 years in the wild. However, in captivity, they have been known to live up to 30 years.

The lifespan of zebra sharks is influenced by factors such as diet, habitat, and reproductive success.

In general, zebra sharks that are well-fed and live in clean, spacious aquariums tend to live longer than those that are kept in cramped, dirty conditions.

Zebra sharks are listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which means that they are not currently facing any major threats to their survival. However, they are still vulnerable to overfishing and habitat destruction, especially in their native range in the Indo-Pacific.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect zebra sharks and other endangered shark species, including the leopard shark.

Conservation Status

a zebra shark swimming near the ocean floor

The zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) is classified as “Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to overfishing, habitat loss, and low reproductive rates.

The species has a slow growth rate, late maturity, and low fecundity, making it vulnerable to population declines.


The primary threat to zebra sharks is overfishing for their meat, fins, and liver oil. They are also caught as bycatch in commercial fishing nets.

Habitat destruction, especially coral reef degradation, is another significant threat. The zebra shark is also vulnerable to pollution, climate change, and human disturbance.

Conservation Efforts

Several conservation efforts are underway to protect zebra sharks. The species is listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates international trade.

Many countries have also implemented fishing regulations to protect the species.

In captivity, zebra sharks are bred for conservation purposes, and artificial insemination and parthenogenesis techniques have been developed to increase genetic diversity. Research is also being conducted to better understand their behavior, ecology, and reproductive biology.

Efforts are also being made to protect the zebra shark’s habitat. Marine protected areas have been established in several regions, including the Red Sea, Philippines, Indonesia, and Tonga, to conserve the species and its ecosystem.

Restoration of coral reefs and reduction of pollution are also crucial for the species’ survival.

Taxonomy and Evolution

a close up view of a zebra shark in the ocean

The zebra shark, scientific name Stegostoma fasciatum, is a member of the Chondrichthyes class, which includes all cartilaginous fish such as sharks, rays, and chimaeras.

It belongs to the Orectolobiformes order, which are known as carpet sharks due to their flattened and broad bodies. The family of zebra shark is Stegostomatidae.


The zebra shark has a unique name due to its distinctive spotted pattern that resembles a zebra’s stripes. The genus name, Stegostoma, means “covered mouth,” referring to the shark’s protruding mouth. The species name, fasciatum, means “banded” in Latin, which is a reference to the shark’s distinctive stripes.


The zebra shark has a cylindrical body, with a broad head and a long tail. It belongs to the subclass Elasmobranchii, which includes all sharks and rays.

The Elasmobranchii subclass evolved around 400 million years ago, making it one of the oldest groups of vertebrates still in existence.

The zebra shark’s closest relative is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), which is also a filter feeder. Zebra sharks have evolved to feed on mollusks, small bony fishes, and sea snakes. Juvenile zebra sharks have different feeding habits than adults and feed on crustaceans and small fish.

Nurse sharks are also closely related to zebra sharks, and they share some physical characteristics such as their flattened heads and broad bodies. However, nurse sharks lack the distinctive spotted pattern of the zebra shark.

The zebra shark is a slow-growing species that can live up to 25 years. They are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs, and their young develop outside the mother’s body. The eggs are encased in a tough, leathery case, and the young zebra sharks hatch after 5-6 months.

The zebra shark is also known for its liver oil, which was once used for medicinal purposes. However, the harvesting of zebra shark liver oil is now banned due to conservation concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are zebra sharks dangerous?

Zebra sharks are generally considered to be harmless to humans. They are not known to attack humans unprovoked, and their small, blunt teeth are not well-suited for biting through human skin. However, like all sharks, they are wild animals and should be treated with respect and caution.

Do zebra sharks make good pets?

No, zebra sharks do not make good pets. They are large, active animals that require a lot of space to swim and explore. They also have specialized dietary needs that can be difficult to meet in a home aquarium. Additionally, zebra sharks are protected in many areas due to overfishing and habitat loss, and it is illegal to own them without proper permits.

What do zebra sharks eat?

Zebra sharks are carnivores that primarily feed on small fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. They are known to use their long, flexible bodies to wriggle into tight spaces in search of prey. In captivity, they can be fed a diet of squid, shrimp, and fish.

How big do zebra sharks get?

Zebra sharks can grow up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) in length, although most individuals are smaller. They are slow-growing and can take up to 10 years to reach maturity. Females are generally larger than males.

What is the habitat of zebra sharks?

Zebra sharks are found in warm, shallow waters in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the coasts of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. They prefer sandy or rocky bottoms and are often found in coral reefs and lagoons.

Do zebra sharks migrate?

Zebra sharks are not known to undertake long-distance migrations, but they may move between different habitats in search of food or breeding opportunities. Juveniles are often found in shallower waters, while adults may venture into deeper waters.

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