The list below should satisfy the cravings of those who just want a taste of
the fascinating world of sharks. Consider it a plate of elasmobranch hors
d'oeuvres. For a more complete meal, see Clickable Shark for anatomy,
Who's Who of Sharks for species and their ecology, and, for a personal
take, Close Encounters and the interviews with experts under
Life Cycle |
Shark Superlatives |
The Human Factor |
The first sharks on Earth: Ancient relatives of sharks first appeared in
the world's oceans about 400 million years ago. Today, sharks are classified
among the elasmobranchs, which also includes the rays and skates.
Number of species: There are well over 350 known species of sharks, and
new species are described every year.
The difference between a shark and other fish: Unlike bony fish, sharks,
rays, skates, and chimaeras are cartilaginous fish, meaning their skeletons are
made of cartilage, not bone. Their skin is covered with denticles, tooth-like
scales that differ from the scales of bony fish. And they have five, six, or
seven gill slits per side, not one per side as in bony fish.
Average life span of a shark: Less than 25 years
Longest living shark species: Spiny dogfish, 70-100 years
Birth: Sharks give birth to their young in one of three different ways:
Gestation period: From nine months to as long as two years
- Some sharks lay egg cases with developing embryos inside. These sharks are called oviparous (born from an egg).
- Other sharks carry young internally that are nourished by a placenta. They are deemed viviparous (born live).
- Finally, some sharks bear young that develop internally but without attachment to the mother, some within egg cases. These sharks are ovoviparous (born live from an egg).
Number of offspring: Varies from one to up to 100, as observed in the
tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
When sharks stop growing: Never
Largest Shark: The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish in
the world, measuring up to [50 feet] long.
Smallest Shark: Mature males of the dwarf dogshark (Etmopterus perryi)
do not exceed seven inches in length.
Average swimming speed of a shark: About a yard per second
Fastest clocked speed: In sudden, brief bursts, the lemon shark
(Negaprion brevirostrus) can attain speeds approaching 20 mph; mako sharks
(Isurus sp.) are thought to be even faster.
Youngest shark to bite a human: A marine biologist, while probing the
uterus of a pregnant sand tiger shark, was bitten by an unborn pup.
The strongest shark bite: The greatest force of a shark bite ever
recorded measured 132 pounds of force between the jaws of a dusky shark
Largest egg in the world: An egg case of the whale shark found in the
Gulf of Mexico measured 12 by 5.5 by 3.5 inches.
Most travelled shark: A blue shark (Prionace glauca) tagged off New York
was recaptured 16 months later off Brazil, 3,740 miles away.
Freshwater shark: Alone among the sharks, the bull shark (Carcharhinus
leucas) is frequently found far up rivers.
Most exciting recent discovery of an unknown shark: In 1976 and 1984,
respectively, two specimens of a 15-foot-long, plankton-feeding shark were
caught in the Pacific. These are the only two specimens ever found of this new
species, whose gaping mouth inspired the name "megamouth."
Lowest note a shark can hear: 10 Hertz (or 1.5 octaves below the lowest
key on the piano). The lowest note a human can hear is 25 Hertz, so we miss out
on some of the very low frequencies that sharks can detect.
Highest note a shark can hear: 800 Hertz (or G above High C on the
piano), so humans can hear many high sounds that sharks cannot.
The Human Factor
Worldwide shark attack rate: Less than 100 a year, with only 25 to 30
fatalities. Given the number of people who spend time in the ocean, this is
Greatest threat to sharks: Humans
Number of sharks killed by fishers each year: 30 to 100 million
Percentage of shark species threatened with extinction: Up to 80
Longest time span between tagging and recapture of a shark: Two sandbar
sharks were tagged in the same week in 1965 and were recovered within the same
week 19.7 years later, 1,000 miles from the tagging site and only 160 miles
What to do if you catch a tagged shark: Retrieve the tag and record the
date and the place of capture. Note any other information you can obtain, such
as weight, measurements, and sex. Then send the tag and information to one of
the following addresses:
Gamefish Tagging Programme
New South Wales Department of Agriculture
Fisheries Research Institute
P.O. Box 21
Cronulla 2230, AUSTRALIA
Co-operative Shark Tagging Program
National Marine Fisheries Service
Narragansett, RI 02882 USA
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© | Updated May 2002