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Types of Sharks

List of Shark Species and Facts About Each

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Sharks are cartilaginous fish in the Class Elasmobranchii. There are about 400 species of sharks. Below are some of these species, with facts about each.

Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)

Whale Shark / KAZ2.0, Flickr
Courtesy KAZ2.0, Flickr

The whale shark is the largest shark species, and also the biggest fish species in the world. Whale sharks can grow to 65 feet in length and up to about 75,000 pounds in weight.Their back is gray, blue or brown in color and covered with regularly-arranged light spots. Whale sharks are found in warm waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Despite their huge size, whale sharks feed on some of the tiniest creatures in the ocean, including crustaceans and plankton.

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)

Basking shark image showing head, gills and dorsal fin
© Dianna Schulte, Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

Basking sharks are the second-largest shark (and fish) species. They can grow to up to 40 feet long and weigh up to 7 tons. Like whale sharks, they feed on tiny plankton, and may often be seen "basking" at the ocean surface while they feed by slowly swimming forward and filtering water in through their mouth and out their gills, where the prey is trapped in gill rakers.

Basking sharks may be found in all the world's oceans, but they are more common in temperate waters. They may also migrate long distances in winter - one shark tagged off Cape Cod was recorded as far south as Brazil.

Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)

Shortfin Mako Shark image
Courtesy of NOAA

Shortfin mako sharks are thought to be the fastest shark species. These sharks can grow to a length of about 13 feet and a weight of about 1,220 pounds. They have a light underside and a bluish coloration on their back.

Shortfin mako sharks are found in the pelagic zone in temperate and tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

Thresher Sharks (Alopias sp.)

There are 3 species of thresher sharks - the common thresher (Alopias vulpinus), pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus) and the bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus). These sharks all have big eyes, small mouths, and a long, whip-like upper tail lobe. This "whip" is used to herd and stun prey.

Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

Bull sharks have the dubious distinction of being one of the top 3 species implicated in unprovoked shark attacks on humans. These large sharks have a blunt snout, a gray back and light underside, and can grow to a length of about 11.5 feet and weight of about 500 pounds. They tend to frequent warm, shallow, often murky waters close to shore.

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Tiger Shark / Stephen Frink, Getty Images
Stephen Frink / Getty Images
Tiger sharks have darker stripe on their sides, especially in younger sharks. These are large sharks that may grow over 18 feet in length and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Although diving with tiger sharks is an activity some engage in, these are another shark that is one of the top species reported in shark attacks.

White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Great Whtie Shark / Getty Images
Stephen Frink / Getty Images
White sharks (more commonly called great white sharks), thanks to the movie Jaws, are one of the most feared creatures in the ocean. Their maximum size has been estimated at about 20 feet in length and over 4,000 pounds in weight. Despite their fierce reputation, they have a curious nature and tend to investigate their prey before they eat it, so some sharks may bite humans but not intend to kill them.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)

Oceanic whitetip sharks usually live out in the open ocean far from land. Thus they were feared during World War I and II for their potential threat to military personnel on downed planes and sunken ships. These sharks live in tropical and subtropical waters. Identifying features include their white-tipped first dorsal, pectoral, pelvic and tail fins, and their long, paddle-like pectoral fins.

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)

Blue shark (Prionace glauca) in the Gulf of Maine
© Dianna Schulte, Blue Ocean Society
Blue sharks get their name from their coloration - they have a dark blue back, lighter blue sides and a white underside. The maximum recorded blue shark was just over 12 feet in length, although they are rumored to grow larger. They are a slender shark with large eyes and a small mouth, and live in temperate and tropical oceans around the world.

Hammerhead Sharks

Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks / Jeff Rotman, Getty Images
Jeff Rotman / Getty Images
There are several species of hammerhead sharks, which are in the family Sphyrnidae. These species include the winghead, mallethead, scalloped hammerhead, scoophead, great hammerhead and bonnethead sharks. These sharks differ from other sharks, as they have very unique hammer-shaped heads. They inhabit tropical and warm temperate oceans around the world.

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