Leopard Shark

The Science

Ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs develop and hatch inside the female and she gives birth to live babies [11]

The Fishery

Targeted by recreational anglers, small-scale commercial fisheries, and marine aquaria collectors in ocean waters adjacent to California [2]

The Seafood

Unlike the dark, meaty texture of most shark, this one is white and flakey!

The Science

Leopard Shark
Brian Gratwicke/ CC BY 4.0

Taxonomic description

  • A slender bodied houndshark with a pair each of triangular dorsal fins and pectoral fins; distinctive dark spots and saddle-like markings on dorsal side, giving the shark its name [2]
  • Adult length ranges from 1.2-1.5 m (4-5 ft); size at birth 18-20 cm (7-8 in), and mature at 0.7-1.3 m (2-4 ft) [2]


  • Eastern Pacific, from Oregon to Baja California, Mexico, and into the Gulf of California [4]

Life history

  • Males live to at least 24 years old and females live to at least 20 years old  [2]
  • Maturity for males is reached between 7-13 years and females between 10-15 years of age [2]
  • Little is know about mating behavior with only one documented observation of mating in the wild, 19 m from shore and in 1-3 m (3-9 ft.) depth water in La Jolla, California in August 2003. Mating is said to take place after spring birthing [2]
  • Ovoviviparous, eggs hatched in body, females gives birth to 7-36 live young between March and July, peaking in April and May, after an estimated 10-12 month gestation period [2]


  • Primarily found in water less than 18 m (60 ft) in depth but seen as deep as 83 m (273 ft) [2]
  • Found year round along the open coast particularly in kelp forests, rocky reefs, and near sandy beaches [2]
  • Nomadic active swimmers that may form schools that are segregated by size and sex [2]
  • Their movements are tidal related, moving inshore to feed during high tide. They retreat to deeper water during low tide [2]
  • Known to aggregate with other elasmobranchs (e.g., bat ray, smoothhound sharks, sevengill sharks) [2]
  • Opportunistic , feeding on a wide variety of primarily benthic prey but adults also eat anchovy, herring, sculpins, croakers, surfperch, rockfish, and small elasmobranches. Diet varies by location, season, and age.
  • Preyed upon by other sharks, such as the sevengill shark and great white shark.

The Fishery

Samantha Feingold, Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Seasonal availability

  • Available year round in San Diego, California [5]

Managing authority

  • Regulated and managed by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries,  and Pacific Fishery Management Council under the Federal  Groundfish Fishery Management Plan [2,4,8]
  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contribute to management

Gear type

  • Gill nets, troll, longline, hook and line [5,8]

Status of the fishery

  • Low numbers reported in 1986, mainly in San Francisco, due to over fishing; catch restrictions set shortly after included a size limit of 36 in (0.9 m), a catch limit of 3, as well as boating and depth laws and gear regulations [4,8]
  • Little is known about the size of the fishery and/or population relative to the size prior to 1992-1995 regulations [4]
  • Most caught and reported are recreational, non-commercial fishers [4]
  • Currently no concern over the status of populations in California; numbers estimated to be stable with catch restrictions in place [4]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • Regulation established in 1992 has helped populations recover in San Francisco Bay and beyond [4]

The Seafood

Holly A. Heyser, honest-food.net

Edible portions

  • White meat [6]

Description of meat

  • White, firm, juicy, and more tightly flaked than most fish [6]

Culinary uses

  • Should be gutted and bled out immediately after catching; skin removed before preparation [6]
  • Commonly marinated grilled, baked, sautéed, or broiled [6]

Nutritional information 

  • Nutritional information for this species could not be found, reported is mixed species of small sharks [9]
  • Good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, phosphorus, and selenium [9]
  • Nutrition values listed in table [9]

Toxicity report

  • Known toxins include mercury and other PCBs [7]
  • Cooking shark in a way that drains fatty juices may reduce any chemicals making the meat safer to eat [6]
  • OEHHA recommends no more than one serving of shark a week for women over 50 and men over 18, while none at all for pregnant women, children under 18, and women under 50 [7]

Seasonal availability

  • Year round availability 


[1] The Associated Press, 2017. Hundreds of Leopard Sharks Mysteriously Die in San Francisco Bay. CTVNews. Web. http://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/hundreds-of-leopard-sharks-mysteriously-d.... Accessed: 12 July 2017.

[2] Smith, S. E. 2001. Leopard Shark-State of California. Web. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=34290. Accessed: 6 May 2017.

[3] ABC News, 2017. Queensland Supplied: Tourism and Events. "One of Leonie's Three Pups." ABC News. Web. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-17/one-of-leonies-three-pups/8187924>. Accessed: 6 May 2017

[4] Smith, S.E. 2001. Leopard Shark. California’s Living Marine Resources: A Status Report. Leopard Shark. California Department of Fish and Game, Richmond, CA. Web. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=34410&inline. Accessed: 6 May 2017.

[5] Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, 2017. Web. Species: Leopard Shark. thdocksidemarket.com/new/#species. Accessed: 6 May 2017.

[6] Shaw, H, 2010. Fishing for Leopard Sharks in San Francisco Bay. Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Web. http://honest-food.net/shark-fishing-in-san-francisco-bay. Accessed 6 May 2017.

[7] OEHHA, 2018. San Diego Bay. Web. https://oehha.ca.gov/advisories/san-diego-bay. Accessed 20 December 2018.

[8] Pacific Fisheries Management Council. 2016. Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. Web. http://www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/GF_FMP_FinalThruA27-Aug2016.pdf . Accessed 04 June 2017.

[9] Leopard Shark.Web. https://www.nutritionvalue.org/Fish%2C_raw%2C_mixed_species%2C_shark_nut.... Accessed: 21 September 2017.