During the night in the shallow waters just outside of Ternate in Indonesia a very special creature can be encountered – the Halmahera walking shark. This rare animal only lives in the Halmahera region in north Maluku.
While diving over a field of soft corals through the dark some of the coral suddenly started to move. At first I could not see the shark as it was walking slowly and well hidden between the little bushes. Only when its head did stick out between two coral I realized that I was looking at a juvenile walking shark which was just about 30 cm long. This little creature is just adorable. It didn’t really seem to know where it was going and was more crawling then walking. Absolutely cute!
The walking shark are also called epaulette shark, bamboo sharks or longtail carpetsharks. What a great selection of names to choose from. The scientific name of the species that can be observed in Ternate and the north Maluku region is Hamiscyllium halmahera. This species has only been described in 2013 (1).
Their maximum size is 70 cm and they have a long thin body with a specific color pattern differentiating them from the other species of the family. Eight other species of Hemiscyllium are known from West Papua in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Australia (2).
These sharks are able to swim as well but will mostly use their fins as feet to walk on the seabed. The ones we have seen just outside of Ternate were staying hidden between the soft coral. It is possible to see larger ones to swim.
(1) Allen, G.R., Erdmann, M.V. & Dudgeon, C.L. (2013), “Hemiscyllium halmahera, a new species of Bamboo Shark (Hemiscylliidae) from Indonesia.”, aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology 19 (3): 123–136. PDF
(2) Fish Identification: Find Species, Genus: Hemiscyllium in Fishbase. Retrieved May 3, 2016 from http://www.fishbase.org/identification/SpeciesList.php?genus=Hemiscyllium