How Fast Does the Leopard Shark Move?

Leopard sharks live along the coasts of Oregon, California and northern Mexico. They prefer bays and estuaries with sandy, muddy or rocky floors, usually remaining at depths of 65 feet or less. Adults typically measure 4 to 6 feet long, although they occasionally grow to 7 feet. Leopard sharks sometimes swim in schools with bat rays, brown and gray smooth-hounds, sevengill sharks and spiny dogfish.

Size and Speed

Scientists usually measure sharks’ speed by how many body lengths the shark swims per second. Researchers estimate that leopard sharks can sustain a rate of around one body length per second, although they can more than double that speed for brief stretches. According to these calculations, 6-foot leopard sharks can reach more than 8 mph, although they probably cruise between 1 and 4 mph most of the time. This is much slower than the mako, which has been clocked at 30 mph and is believed the fastest-swimming shark.

At the Bottom of the Sea

Another factor in how fast leopard sharks swim is their preferred environment. As bottom-dwelling sharks, they don’t need to swim quickly to hunt or capture prey. They usually grab clams, crabs, innkeeper worms, octopi and shrimp from the sand or mud. They can even dig below the surface with their snouts or suction up their prey. Leopard sharks supplement their diets with small fish such as bat rays and shiner perch. They rely on their sense of smell, ability to perceive vibrations and electrical currents and strong teeth to find and eat prey.

Swimming for Their Lives

Leopard sharks have plenty of predators, and their ability to swim quickly for brief bursts might help when they’re trying to evade capture. Great white and sevengill sharks, as well as California sea lions, dine on adult leopard sharks.

Micro Migrations

Most leopard sharks don’t migrate long distances -- another reason speed isn't essential for them. In fact, scientists believe that many populations are isolated from and don’t interbreed with each other. The sharks do follow tidal and seasonal patterns, though. During high tide, they often follow the surf in and can be found in only a few feet of water. When the tide goes back out, leopard sharks retreat with it. They spend the spring and summer in bays and estuaries but seem to prefer waters just offshore during the cooler months.