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Interview with Tasseled Wobbegong
Interview with Tasseled Wobbegong
Have you ever seen a Tasseled Wobbegong?
If you follow my series of Interviews with Weird Animals, you know how fascinated I am with all manner of strange and little-known creatures on our planet. You will recall Plato, the Proboscis Monkey, with his ever-present state of arousal.
And the Tree Shrew who utilizes his poo in a creative fashion.
As well as the Green Basilisk Lizard known as the ‘Jesus Christ’ lizard for its ability to walk on water. Seriously!
Now let me introduce the Wobbegong.
Here is how we met. I was walking slowly through the second largest aquarium in the world when I entered the section devoted to exotic marine animals. I stared through a wall of glass at an immense tank with beautiful coral covering almost every inch of the sea bottom. The tank appeared to be empty.
Suddenly, I heard a tiny, tinny voice say, “Hey, can we talk?”
I turned around but I’m the only person standing in front of the tank. Oh, oh, I hope it’s not those voices again.
Then I remembered I was wearing my supernatural headgear – the unique apparatus I invented that is composed primarily of aluminum foil, and allows me to communicate wordlessly with weird animals, inanimate objects, and dead celebrities.
Again, I stared intently into the tank but could only see rocks and coral and the sea floor.
The voice, a little louder now, said again, “Hey, can we talk?”
For a moment, I had the crazy thought, that I might be channeling Joan Rivers returned as a fish. Nah, that’s not possible. Something else in that tank was talking to me. Okay, I’m up for the challenge.
me – Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?
Voice – It’s me. I’m a tasseled wobbegong carpet shark. You can call me Wobb.
me – It’s a pleasure to meet you, Wobb, but I can’t see you. Where are you?
Wobb – Right in front of you on the sea floor. Look carefully.
(Now, dear reader, you have an opportunity to see for yourself what excellent camouflage a wobbegong possesses. See if you can find Wobb.)
Here's a clue: check out stop 6:40.
me – Wow! That’s what I call camouflage. How did you know I could communicate with you?
Wobb – I learned about your supernatural communication skill by utilizing Google’s underwater network for individuals of the fish persuasion.
me – Underwater online network? Google?
Wobb – Not exactly. The underwater version is known as Wiggle. (snickering)
me – You’re kidding! Right?
Wobb – Right! We wobbegongs don’t enjoy much frivolity since we live such simple solitary lives. Do you have some time to chat for a bit?
me – No problem. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? How did you get the name, Wobbegong?
12 living species of Wobbegong
Floral banded wobbegong
Gulf or banded wobbegong
Dwarf spotted wobbegong
Interview with Wobbegong
Wobb– My official family name is Orectolobidae but the twelve species of carpet sharks to which I belong are called Wobbegong.
me – My first thought when I heard your name was the English word, woebegone, meaning affected with woe, or shabby and rundown. But you do not look shabby by any means.
Wobb – Thank you. My name is thought to have come from an Australian Aboriginal language meaning shaggy beard – that’s the fringe you see growing around my jaw. Those small weedy, whiskers camouflage my mouth and also act as sensory barbs.
me – And the name: carpet shark?
Wobb – We are called that because we lie like a rug! Sorry – I could not resist the opportunity. We are called carpet sharks because we spend most of our time resting on the sea floor, and our bold patterns resemble a colorful carpet.
Our distinctive camouflage makes us relatively invisible as we hide among coral rocks and within caves to catch small fish for dinner. We are called ambush predators.
Wob the Wobbegong
me – That sounds dangerous.
Wobb - Only if you are a small fish or crustacean. We capture or trap our prey by stealth rather than by speed or strength.
me –That stealthy approach is intriguing. What do you do to attract prey?
Wobb – I exhibit ‘luring behavior.’
me – Which is … ?
Wobb – Picture this. While resting on the sea bottom, I allow tiny fish to settle upon my head which is slightly elevated. Their presence attracts larger fish.
Then I slowly wave my tail back and forth. My caudal fin resembles a small fish complete with a dark eyespot.
When prey is drawn by my ‘fishy’ tail, I strike.
me – That’s a very clever strategy. I guess we could say that your prey becomes woebegone.
Wobb – Nice try.
me – Thanks. I’ve been wondering. Where do you make your home?
Wobb – Anywhere I like. No, not really. You can find us in shallow coral reefs of the western Pacific Ocean and eastern Indian Ocean around Australia, New Guinea and nearby islands.
me – Don’t take this personally, but should humans try to avoid you?
Wobb – Whenever someone says, ‘Don’t take this personally,’ I take it personally. But I understand your question.
We Wobbegongs are usually not dangerous to human beings. But if you poke or touch us or accidentally step on us, we may be provoked and bite you. We have many small teeth and can bite even through a wetsuit. And we hang on like crazy.
me – Speaking of teeth, do many folks try to catch you to eat your flesh?
Wobb – In Australia, our flesh and that of other sharks is called ‘flake’ and is often the prime ingredient in a meal of fish and chips.
And some people are attracted to our colorful skin which is used to make handsome leather goods. Newborn Wobbegongs measure about 8 inches long but we adults can reach a length of almost 6 feet.
me – Speaking of length, I mean width, you do have a very large mouth.
Wobb – The better to eat you, my dear. Just kidding. I was repeating what the Big Bad Wolf says in the Little Red Riding Hood story. Loved your version, by the way.
Our capacious mouth allows us to attract large prey to swallow. One case has been documented where a 4.3 foot long Wobbegong consumed a 3.3 foot long Brownbanded bamboo shark.
Speaking of large mouths, have you ever met my homie, the Goblin shark?
me – No, the only goblins I’ve met have been young imitation versions who come to my door ‘trick or treating’ around Halloween.
Wobb – Well, the Goblin shark looks like this all year ‘round. Take a look at the size of its mouth.
me – I must admit that I have never seen a shark as distinctive-looking as the Goblin shark.
Wobb – Gob – that’s his nickname – would appreciate your being so diplomatic. Most folks use the adjectives: ugly, distorted, freaky, monstrous, bizarre … you get my drift.
me – People can be so cruel. Tell me about your homie.
Wobb – His family name is Mitsukurina owstoni, a rare species of deep-sea sharks. They are the last representatives of a 125-million-year lineage.
me – They could be called living fossils.
Wobb – Exactly! Gob has a long, flat snout that resembles the blade of a sword. But when hunting food, he can thrust his jaw OUT of his face.
me – That’s quite a trick.
Wobb – You betcha. Although Gob’s jaws are normally held flush against the underside of his head, they can be extended outward almost to the end of the snout.
Whenever a potential meal comes into his view, those special jaws snap forward to capture it.
me – How does Gob accomplish that remarkable feat?
Wobb – Two pairs of elastic ligaments are taut when the jaws are in their normal retracted position. When the shark bites, the ligaments release their tension and the jaws are literally catapulted forward.
me – That's what I call ingenious!
Wobb – That’s only half the story. At the same time that he bites, his ‘basihyal’ (similar to a tongue) on the floor of his mouth, drops which expands his mouth even more and sucks in the prey.
Amazing Goblin shark
me – How large are Goblin sharks?
Wobb – Adult sharks usually measure between 9.8 and 13.1 feet long. But in 2000, an enormous female was captured which was estimated at 18 to 20 feet long.
The maximum weight on record is 460 pounds.
me – Where do these sharks make their home?
Wobb – The goblin shark is found in all three major oceans: Pacific, Indian and Atlantic.
me – How did the Goblin shark get its name?
Wobb – The name is a translation of an old Japanese term, ‘tenguzame,’ used to depict a mythical creature with a very long nose and red face.
I have to leave now – I smell my cuttlefish lunch coming my way courtesy of the aquarium staff. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Here is the William Sharkspeare quote that guides my life:
"Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it." - Macbeth
me – Thank you, Wobb, for the shark-sharing information, and the appropriate Sharkspeare quote. Bon appetit!
© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2015. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So."