Halmahera bamboo shark (Photo courtesy of Conservation International)

Endemic 'Walking' Sharks Species Threatened by Unsustainable Tourism, Collectors


JANUARY 13, 2017

Jakarta. Research shows that five of the nine species of bamboo shark in the world can be found in Indonesia, with four species endemic to Indonesia.

A study conducted by Conservation International (CI), the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI), the Western Australian Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, found that bamboo sharks roam the waters north of the Australian continent, near Papua New Guinea and West Papua, and around the islands of Halmahera and Aru in Maluku.

The four species are Freycinet’s Epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium freycineti), Cendrawasih Epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium galei), Halhamera Epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium halmahera) and Henry’s Epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium henryi).

A fifth species, the speckled carpetshark (Hemiscyllium trispeculare), is not only found near Aru Island but also along the northern and western coasts of Australia.

Bamboo sharks, which fall under the Hemiscyllium genus, are also known as "walking sharks" due to their capability to "walk" on the seabed using their fins.

According to CI, a Virginia-based environmental NGO, walking shark populations are under threat due to irresponsible fishing, oil spills, rising water temperature, natural disasters, reclamation developments and unsustainable tourism practices.

“It’s easy to find the sharks in shallow waters when snorkeling, but because of the ease with which they can be found, it is clear these threats are becoming larger,” CI Indonesia marine program director, Victor Nikijuluw, said in a statement. “Habitat destruction threatens preservation, but if those areas are conserved well, the existence of shark species can provide a unique charm and boost tourism [in these areas].”

Victor implored tourists and local residents to keep marine conservation in mind, especially of coral and seagrass areas where bamboo sharks spawn.

LIPI added that bamboo shark populations are at risk due to their limited swimming capability and low distribution, highlighting the importance of preserving coral reefs.

Yet another threat comes in the form of exotic aquatic animal collectors.

“Walking sharks are often used as ornamental fish, which are valued highly in the international market […] It is essential to have conservation efforts for these sharks and their habitats, to ensure they can be found not in aquariums but in their natural habitats,” Fahmi, a LIPI shark expert, said.

Indonesia has already taken some steps to conserve walking shark populations by including the species in the government's National Action Plan (RAN), but CI believes that it all begins with sustainable tourism practices in the areas of Raja Ampat and Kaimana in West Papua.