Sharks have been around for over 400 million years, longer than we have been walking the earth! What makes these apex predators so fascinating? Here, you can learn more about different shark species and what makes each of them one of a kind!
Photo by David Snyder / Florida Museum
COMMON NAME: Tiger Shark
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Galeocerdo cuvier
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 15 or more years
SIZE: 10 to 14 ft
WEIGHT: 850 to 1,400 lbs
The tiger shark can be found in tropical and moderate coastal regions, usually swimming in murky waters. It gets its name from the dark vertical stripes on its body, however, when it ages, the stripes fade. The tiger shark is the fourth largest shark, behind the whale shark, basking shark, and great white shark. Although it can swim to up to 20 mph, the tiger shark usually swims slowly, making it difficult for their prey to detect them. These fish tends to live in deep waters, but swims in shallow waters to hunt. The tiger shark has the ability to crack the shells of sea turtles and due to its aggressive and indiscriminate feeding style, they often eat inedible objects, such as oil cans, tires, baseballs, and plastic. Found to be near threatened, this shark is heavily hunted for skin, teeth, fins, and liver which contain high levels of vitamin A. The tiger shark is considered to be sacred by some native Hawaiians, who believe the eye of the tiger shark have special seeing powers. Legend suggest that many kings living in historical Hawaiian environment acquired their future decisions by consuming the eye of the tiger shark. It is said that the mother of the most famous king of Hawaii, king Kamehameha asked for the eyes of the tiger shark during her pregnancy because they wanted to enhance the leadership qualities of the future king she carried.
Great White Shark
Photo by Jim Abernethy
COMMON NAME: Great White Shark
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Carcharodon carcharias
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN WILD: 20 years
SIZE: 15 ft to more than 20 ft
WEIGHT: 4,000 to 5,000 lbs, liver makes up to 25% of weight
The great white shark, also known as the white death, white pointer, white shark, and even man eater, migrates all coastal areas except for Antarctica. With a mouth measuring 1.2 m wide and containing extremely sharp teeth, these animals feed on fish, seabirds, sea lions, dolphins, and even other sharks. The great white shark does not chew its food and even has the ability to eat a sea lion in whole. It can even reach speeds up to 15 mph and can jump 10 ft in the air. Being the largest predatory fish, this animal does not have very many predators of its own – only orcas and other great whites. The great white normally breeds late in life, sometimes up to 25 years old, and live till they are around 20 years old. They are curious by nature and are believed to be very intelligent.
Photo by David Clode
COMMON NAME: Hammerhead Sharks
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sphyrnidae
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 20 to 30 years
SIZE: 13 to 20 ft
WEIGHT: 500 to 1,000 lbs
The hammerhead shark can be found throughout the world in warm water. There are 9 species of hammerhead, all that have heads that are laterally flat and extend to form a cephalofoil, giving it a hammer shape. Although the sharks hunt together during the day, at night they can be found hunting alone. Their diet consists of octopus, small fish, crustaceans, and squid and are not known to attack humans. A food favorite for the hammerhead shark are stingrays! When needed, the hammerhead shark will swim up to 15 mph. Additionally, these sharks can give birth to up to 40 pups at a time.
Photo by Sebastian Lambarri
COMMON NAME: Whale Shark
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Rhincodon typus
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 70 years
SIZE: 18 to 32.8 ft
WEIGHT: 40,000 lbs
The massive whale shark inhabits all warm and tropic seas. Biologically, the whale shark’s correct name is Rhincodon typus, which means rasp teeth. This shark has 300 rows of 4,000 small, rasp-like teeth allowing it to feed on plankton and small fish. It’s mouth is very large, about 6.5 feet wide, which the shark leaves wide open while swimming. The whale shark tends to swim and feed in groups, with up to 400 whale sharks together at one. Despite their size, the whale shark is known to be very gentle and can often be found with human divers and photographers by their side. The whale shark is the largest fish on earth, giving birth to 2 foot long babies, although no man has ever witnessed a whale shark mating or giving birth. These unique sharks do not attain sexual maturity until age of 30 years and can carry up to 300 eggs, some of which don’t fully mature. Additionally, the spots on these massive fish are just as unique as fingerprints on a human!
Photo by Lawson Wood
COMMON NAME: Basking Shark
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cetorhinus maximus
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: unknown, estimated to be 50 yrs,
SIZE: 20 – 26 feet, some found to be around 40 feet
WEIGHT: 10,400 lbs
Basking sharks have shown to be very social creatures, sometimes swimming in sex-segregated schools of over 100 sharks and have been thought to follow visual cues. They have the smallest weight-for-weight brain size of any shark, reflective of its relatively passive lifestyle. The basking shark only swims at a 2.5 mph speed and much like the whale shark, it will funnel plankton into its large mouth, which will then get trapped in its gill rakers. While feeding, the basking shark can be found to have its entire dorsal fin out of the water. It is the 2nd largest fish in the world, behind its plankton-eating look-alike, the whale shark. The basking shark does not yet have a territory map, as it has been found everywhere it was previously determined not to inhabit. Furthermore, the basking shark is the most vulnerable shark to threats and is hunted for its sweet meat and liver oil, which is then used for food and cosmetics. In response, their numbers have been reduced by 80% since 1950.
Photo by National Geographic
COMMON NAME: Goblin Shark
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mitsukurina owstoni
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: unknown, but estimated to be 36 years
SIZE: 12-15 ft
WEIGHT: 460 lbs
This rare, deep-sea shark is known as the prehistoric shark, with lineage reaching 125 million years old. It can be found 5,000 ft deep in the sea and is considered one of the oldest living creatures on earth. So far, there have been only 45 documented files of research on the goblin shark. Previously, a goblin shark was captured and kept at Tokai University, where it only survived a week. This unique shark has been found to practice ‘slingshot feeding’, where their ligaments release tension and the fish catapults its jaw forward at a speed of 3.1 m/s. Its diet consists of crabs, squid, and deep-sea fish like dragon fish and rattail. Goblin sharks have soft, flabby, blade-like bodies and long snouts, which tend to get smaller as they age. In the past, the Japanese have used the goblin shark for liver oil and production of fertilizer.