10 Different Types of Sharks and What Makes Each So Special
Dating to over 450 million years ago, sharks are a prehistoric creature that are still a critical part of marine ecosystems today. While they’ve gotten a bad rap over time, for the most part, they’re not threatening to humans. In reality, we’re a much greater threat to them.
Human interactions with sharks have led to the deaths of approximately 100 million sharks each year, which has caused a dramatic decline in many shark populations. Caught as bycatch, captured for finning, and affected by commercial boat noise, pollution, and climate change, sharks are constantly under attack. It’s up to us to make a change and to show that we care.
That starts with education. Here, we’re looking at different types of sharks and what makes each unique. There are too many different kinds of sharks to list them all out here, but even learning about some of them can shed some light on these magnificent creatures and their need for conservation.
How many types of sharks are there?
Different types of sharks have fascinated us for ages, ranging from the tiny dwarf lantern shark to the vast whale shark. Over 500 distinct types of shark populate our oceans, each playing a unique role in marine ecosystems.
In answering the question of how many types of sharks are there, it helps to look at the 9 orders of classification they can be separated into:
- Ground Sharks: Over 270 shark types including the famous hammerheads and tiger sharks.
- Echinorhiniformes: Two unique species - the prickly and the bramble sharks.
- Bullhead Sharks: These types of shark are notable for their pig-like snouts and inhabiting warm ocean shallows.
- Hexanchiformes: Ancient species with a unique six or seven gill slits.
- Mackerel Sharks: 15 species ranging from the great white to the goblin shark.
- Carpet Sharks: Ornate patterns with species like the whale shark.
- Sawsharks: Hunters with toothed, saw-like snouts.
- Squaliformes: From the tiny dwarf lanternshark to the long-lived Greenland shark.
- Angel Sharks: Flat-bodied predators hidden beneath the sand.
From the massive to the minuscule, all types of sharks contribute immensely to the balance of our oceans. Dive in, and you're bound to be captivated by their diversity and importance!
1. NURSE SHARK
Bottom dwelling nurse sharks are non-aggressive and the slowest types of shark in the sea, making them typically harmless to humans. They feed primarily on sea urchins, fish, shrimp, squid, and conchs and rest frequently on the ocean floor. They can be social, however, they can’t make verbal sounds (nor can any shark types). Instead, they communicate through movement, sensing the vibrations of other nurse sharks to communicate.
2. TIGER SHARK
There are tigers in both the jungle and the sea. The tiger shark was named as such because it has tiger-like stripes covering its body while it’s young. While the stripes eventually fade, this is still a large predatory shark that can reach around 18 feet. They primarily reside in tropical and subtropical areas and eat everything -- literally everything! These types of sharks are like a garbage disposal at sea, scavenging on dead animals, fish, and sea creatures.
3. GREAT WHITE SHARK
Perhaps the most notorious of all the different sharks because of the movie Jaws, the Great White is the largest predatory shark in the ocean. At full size, they measure around twenty feet and weigh over 6,000 pounds. They’re warm blooded, unlike many sharks, which allows them to live in cold and warm water. They feed primarily on sea lions and seals and most terrifyingly, can detect a drop of blood from up to three miles away. Their hunting patterns and desire to swim long distances are just a few of the reasons why you won’t see these types of sharks in aquariums. And fortunately, human attacks by Great Whites are very rare.
4. HAMMERHEAD SHARK
Hammerheads are one of the coolest looking sharks in the sea. With a uniquely shaped head that resembles a hammer, they can actually see in 360 degrees. There are many different types of sharks classified as hammerheads worldwide, including the mallethead, winghead, great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead, and scoophead sharks. They use their heads to trap their prey, which tend to be stingrays.
5. SAW SHARK
With a long, saw-like snout, saw sharks also have a really unique look. There are nine different kinds of saw sharks, all with a characteristic snout that’s ridged with sharp teeth that they use to strike prey. Saw sharks are relatively small, measuring up to around 4.5 feet long at full size. While they look a bit menacing, they are not harmful to humans.
6. SILKY SHARK
Silky sharks, known scientifically as Carcharhinus Falciformis, are known for the luxurious, silky texture of their skin. Adult Silky Sharks can stretch up to 3.5 meters and tip the scales at around 350 kilograms. Their impeccable sense of hearing equips them with a predatory advantage, allowing them to hunt bony fish, octopuses, and squids with remarkable speed, often diving amidst large groups to launch their attack. Although once believed to be abundant, the Silky shark population is now facing threats, especially since they frequently get ensnared in fishing nets during their high-speed chases after tuna. While interactions between humans and these types of sharks are sparse, divers are advised to approach with caution.
7. LEMON SHARK
Lemon sharks are captivating with their distinct yellowish skin, reminiscent of the fruit they're named after. Interestingly, they are among the most shark types, primarily because of their adaptability to captivity, which allows scientists to observe their behavior extensively. Although Lemon sharks aren’t blessed with the best of vision, they compensate with a keen nose that’s finely tuned with magnetic sensors, helping them scour the ocean floor and sift through the sand in search of rays, bony fish, and crustaceans.
8. GALAPAGOS SHARK
Often recognized as distinct from the different sharks types around Hawaii, the Galapagos shark is known to favor clear waters and the diverse marine life of coral reefs. Typically, these sharks can grow up to a sizable 9.8 feet. Their reproductive cycle is notably slow, with females giving birth to a litter of 4-16 pups approximately every 2 to 3 years. Adding to their list of fascinating traits, Galapagos sharks can invert their stomachs, proving useful when they've ingested something unsavory. Younger Galapagos sharks usually stick to shallower waters to steer clear of their larger counterparts, who, given the chance, might prey on them.
9. WHALE SHARK
Whale sharks are aquatic titans, with some individuals reaching a staggering 10 meters in length and weighing as much as 21.5 tons. These behemoths, believed to have shared the planet with dinosaurs, swim with grace through warm tropical and subtropical seas. Their massive mouths, however, are designed not for preying on large marine animals but for filter-feeding on the tiniest of sea creatures, including plankton, krill, and small fish. Humans have little to fear from these types of sharks. In fact, Whale sharks are often accommodating, allowing divers to swim alongside them, creating an unforgettable underwater experience.
10. BULL SHARK
Bull sharks are unparalleled swimmers, navigating seamlessly from the salty oceans to freshwater rivers. Their robust and adaptable nature has even seen them journeying astonishing distances, with one recorded instance of a Bull shark found 1,750 miles upstream! While their aggressive tendencies do label them as potential threats to ocean-goers, it's their adaptability that truly sets them apart from different sharks. Recent assessments, however, have placed them under the “near threatened” category, signaling the pressing need for conservation efforts.
TRACK DIFFERENT SHARKS AT SEA WITH A FAHLO BRACELET
We’ve only listed a few different types of sharks, but you can already see how cool these sea creatures can be. Want to help these sharks while also learning more about them? Fahlo introduced “The Voyage Bracelet” in partnership with Saving the Blue so that a percentage of proceeds from the sale of each bracelet goes to protecting all different kinds of sharks.
Each bracelet, which is made with natural stone beads and features a shark charm at the center, comes with tracking information so that you can track your shark in real time. You’ll be able to read your shark’s name, their history, and fun facts about them while also following their journey. The more you learn, the greater awareness you’ll have and the better you’ll be able to help.