Physical Description

  • Small sharks, 4-7 feet long.
  • Known for their saddle markings and their leopard-like spots.
  • Grey to copper-brown coloration on top, lighter on bottom.
  • Short, broadly-rounded snout that shark digs for prey with.
  • Adult females are usually larger than males.
  • Juveniles: pups look just like miniature adults.


  • From Oregon to Baja California, Mexico.
  • In the Gulf of California, Mexico.


  • Most common on or near the bottom in shallow water.
  • Can be found at depths of 290 feet.
  • Prefer coastal waters, like sandy or muddy bays.


  • Females have their first litter at about 10, and a litter every year after that.
  • Gestation is 10-12 months.
  • Leopard sharks give birth to live young! Like most fish, baby leopard sharks are hatched in an egg. But a mother leopard shark keeps the egg inside of her until the pups are ready to be born.
  • A female can lay 8-33 pups at a time, pups are 8-9 inches long.


  • Bottom-dwelling animals, like crabs, fish eggs, clam siphons, and burrowing worms.
  • Will sometimes eat other small sharks, rays, and octopus!


  • Broadnose sevengill sharks, great white sharks, marine mammals.

Interesting Facts

  • Leopard sharks are known to school in large numbers, often with other sharks, including the gray smoothhound shark, brown smoothhound shark, and Pacific spiny dogfish.
  • Leopard sharks can live up to 24 years in the wild, and 28 years in zoos and aquariums. 
  • Leopard sharks swarm to the waters right near this map, the Matlahuayl State Marine Reserve, in massive numbers every summer. Andy Nosal discovered during his PhD at Scripps Institution of Oceanography that the majority of those leopard sharks were pregnant females, coming to enjoy the warm, calm, protected waters off of La Jolla Shores. 

Sources: MarineBio Conservation Society; San Diego Zoo; National Aquarium; Florida Museum 

Photo: Mark Royer

Want to see leopard sharks in person but it’s the wrong time of year to see them off the coast? Come see them live at Birch Aquarium or at the San Diego Zoo

Snorkel with a Birch Aquarium naturalist here on a Shark Snorkel or at Snorkel 101 Camp (ages 10-12) and learn all about the amazing gathering of these sharks in our local waters, and how the mystery of the La Jolla Shores Leopard Sharks was cracked by Scripps PhD student Andy Nosal, now a professor at USD!