First described as recently as 2008 (1), Henry’s epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium henryi) belongs to the Hemiscylliidae family, a group of small-mouthed, slender-bodied sharks (2) with muscular pelvic and pectoral fins (2) (3). These species use their strong fins to move themselves along the sea floor (2), earning them the alternative name of ‘walking sharks’ (4).
In species within the Hemiscyllium genus, the small mouth is positioned slightly closer to the tip of the short snout than to the eyes, while the eyes are located high up on the head. Hemiscyllium species usually have very short nasal barbels, and the nostrils are almost right on the tip of the snout (3).
The colour patterns of epaulette shark species provide them with effective camouflage from predators (2). Large black or dusky eyespots on the shoulders above the pectoral fins, also known as ‘epaulette spots’, give these sharks their common name. These eyespots may either dupe or intimidate potential attackers by making the epaulette shark look like a large, predatory fish (2).
Henry’s epaulette shark is potentially the largest species within the Hemiscyllium genus (1), and can be distinguished by its unique markings, with a distinctive pattern of small spots scattered across its head, body and fins (5). This pattern includes 13 to 18 spots on the upper side of the snout, 6 to 18 spots on the upper surface of the pectoral fins, and a double eyespot just behind the head (5).
The young of Hemiscylliidae species are hardly ever seen in the wild (2), and there is no information available on the colouration of juvenile Henry’s epaulette sharks. However, young individuals of Hemiscyllium species often differ dramatically in colour to the adult stages (3), and young epaulette sharks are usually patterned with bands that turn into spots as they grow (2).
- Also known as
- Triton Bay epaulette shark, walking shark.
- Length: up to 82 cm (1)
Henry's epaulette shark biology
Very little is known about the biology of Henry’s epaulette shark. However, like other Hemiscyllium species, this elusive shark is believed to be nocturnal, although further studies are needed to confirm this (1). During the day, Henry’s epaulette shark is generally sedentary, resting and sheltering under rocky outcrops or corals. It can occasionally be seen swimming slowly or even using its muscular pectoral and pelvic fins to ‘walk’ along the ocean floor (1) (5).
Henry's epaulette shark range
Henry’s epaulette shark is endemic to New Guinea (6), where it has a highly restricted range (1). This species is only known from the Bird’s Head Seascape (4), located in the Papua Barat Province of western New Guinea (1) (5). However, scientists believe that further studies may show that Henry’s epaulette shark has a more extensive range than this, possibly including the west coast of Bomberai Peninsula as far north as the southern edge of Fakfak Peninsula (1).
Species with a similar range
Henry's epaulette shark habitat
Henry’s epaulette shark is known to be associated with reefs (5), and as in other members of the Hemiscylliidae family, the young are thought to live and hide within deep coral crevices or in dense beds of staghorn coral (2). While Henry’s epaulette shark has been sighted in water less than 4 metres deep (1) (5) (6), this species is usually recorded in deeper water than other Hemiscyllium species (1), often down to depths of 30 metres (1) (5) (6) where the shark rests on the sea floor (1).
Species found in a similar habitat
Henry's epaulette shark status
Henry’s epaulette shark is classified as Data Deficient (DD) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Henry's epaulette shark threats
There is currently insufficient information on Henry’s epaulette shark to be able to accurately identify any threats to the species. However, potential threats to Henry’s epaulette shark include illegal fishing and dynamite fishing. Shallow inshore environments outside of the Triton Bay Marine Reserve boundary where this species might occur could be the target of high fishing pressure, which may include the use of trawlers, leading to habitat destruction and capture of this species as bycatch (1).
On the positive side, Henry’s epaulette shark is not known to be fished for its fins, and as such the population in Bird’s Head Seascape is currently thought to be relatively healthy (4). The effects of pollution on this species are also believed to be minimal (1).
At present, there are no conservation measures in place specifically for Henry’s epaulette shark. However, this species is afforded some protection due to its occurrence in the Triton Bay Marine Reserve. Further scientific surveys have been proposed to investigate the biology, ecology, distribution and demography of Henry’s epaulette shark, as well as the threats it faces. This would help conservationists to be able to accurately assess the status of this intriguing species and instigate appropriate conservation measures to help protect it (1).
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- Fleshy projections near the mouth of some aquatic vertebrates.
- In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Active at night.
- Pectoral fins
- In fish, the pair of fins that are found on either side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
- Pelvic fins
- In fish, the pair of fins found on the underside of the body.
IUCN Red List (January, 2013)
Michael, S.W. (2005) Reef Sharks & Rays of the World: A Guide to their Identification, Behavior, and Ecology. ProStar Publications, Annapolis, Maryland.
Compagno, L.J.V. (2002) Hemiscyllidae. In: Sharks of the World. An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date. Volume 2: Bullhead, Mackerel and Carpet Sharks (Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes and Orectolobiformes). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. Available at:
Mangubhai, S. et al. (2012) Papuan Bird’s Head Seascape: Emerging threats and challenges in the global center of marine biodiversity. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64(11): 2279-2295.
Fishbase.org - Hemiscyllium henryi (January, 2013)
Carrier, J.C., Musick, J.A. and Heithaus, M.R. (2010) Sharks and their Relatives: Physiological Adaptations, Behavior, Ecology and Conservation. Volumes 1-2. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.