7 Interesting Species of Sharks: How They Differ and Where to See ThemNovember 15, 2022
All divers and water-lovers enjoy the thrill of seeing sharks in the water... The increased heartbeat and the adrenaline that these encounters bring leave us with wide smiles and lifelong memories.
Shark encounters should always be handled responsibly, with knowledgeable guides and tour operators on location, while maintaining respect for these intelligent and fascinating animals.
We will look at a few identifying characteristics and facts for each of these seven interesting species of sharks, as well as where to try and find them. We will also cover a few of the threats these species are facing in our oceans.
1.Caribbean Reef Sharks
Best place to see them: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.
This is one of the most easily recognizable shark species with its gray back and white underbelly. The Caribbean reef shark is an apex predator throughout the Caribbean and tropical atlantic regions. Its broad nose and smoothly blended change in its countershading distinguish this shark from other species in the region.
A very rarely seen behavior, these sharks are capable of lying or resting on the seafloor and pumping sea water through their gills, this is unique as most sharks have to constantly swim. Often very heavily pregnant females will be seen doing this prior to pupping.
The Caribbean reef shark can grow upto 2.5m (8ft) long. A curious species, they will often calmly approach divers in the water, and can be seen year round throughout the Caribbean in depths anywhere between 3m-30m (10ft-100ft). They hunt at night on the reef, preying on fish, and scavenging anything they can find.
- Fishing practices.
- Discarded fishing equipment or ghost nets.
- Over exploitation of their own food sources by human activities.
- Commercial finning.
2. Nurse Sharks
Best place to see them: Exumas, Bahamas.
A great species to gently ease people into shark encounters, these sharks are commonly found in the Caribbean region.. They are tan brown in color, with a broad flat head, small eyes, and a long upper lobe of the tail. They will usually be found resting under a coral head or a ledge on a sandy sea floor. They can be seen while scuba diving or freediving, but are just as easily spotted while snorkeling.
Nurse sharks feed on lobsters, other crustaceans, and molluscs. Nurse sharks can create one of the strongest vacuums in the animal world to extract the snail from its shell …which, if you have ever tried to do, you will know, it is no easy task!
Their teeth are different to most sharks as they are much more like the rough plates that stingrays possess, this is because they suck in and crush their food.
Nurse sharks grow upto around 2m (7ft) long, and can be seen year round. They are usually found in waters from 3-30m (10-100ft) deep.
- Reduction in their prey, as a result of over exploitation by humans (lobster and conch particularly).
3. Basking Sharks
Best place to see them: Isle of Coll, Scotland.
No shark encounters would be complete without mentioning a gentle giant of the shark family: The basking shark. The second largest fish in the ocean (behind the whale shark), these huge animals can be found in large numbers in north west Europe during the spring and summer months.
Easily identified by their large dorsal fin, mottled green/brown skin, and of course their huge gaping mouth, they congregate in the cool waters around Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland to feast on the seasonal plankton blooms found there.
These sharks have been known to breach completely out of the water on occasion, which for an animal of upto 9m (30ft) long is quite astonishing!
Basking sharks are usually found at the surface, where many animals may feed together on a glut of zooplankton created by the tides and currents. Snorkeling or shallow freediving is the best method to observe them. It has been documented that basking sharks can make huge oceanic journeys of over 2500+ miles while following their food sources.
- Boat strikes.
- Rising sea surface temperatures that affect the timing and availability of their food.
4. Whitetip Reef Sharks
Best place to see them: Cocos Island, Costa Rica.
Whitetip reef sharks are quite easy to identify from their narrow, elongate body, small fins and head, as well as their iconic white tip on the dorsal fin. In daytime hours they lead fairly relaxed lives, often resting in small caves, swim throughs, or overhangs.
Whitetip reef sharks really come to life in the night time hours when they will hunt the reef in packs to flush out fish. ensuring every individual gets a meal. All sharks possess the ability to detect electromagnetic fields such as heartbeats or the muscular contractions of their prey as it swims. This sixth sense makes them formidable hunters even in complete darkness.
These sharks can grow upto around 1.8m (6ft) long, they are found on the reef, in depths of 4.5-30m (15-100ft).
- Discarded ghost nets and fishing gear.
5. Blue Sharks
Best place to see them: Pembrokeshire, Wales.
As the name suggests, these sharks have a prominently blue back, they are a very sleek-looking, elegant shark. Long pectoral fins and their eye-catching color make identifying blue sharks pretty easy. They are found across the globe in offshore environments.
These sharks are open water hunters that track down schools of fish and scavenge from fishing vessels. Their keen sense of smell allows them to detect tiny traces of potential food sources in the water, but they can go for weeks without food before finding a good meal.
Blue sharks grow upto around 2.4m (8ft) long and can be found in depths of 0-60m (0-200ft), meaning that snorkeling or shallow freediving is a great way to see them.
- Longline fishing.
- Commercial finning.
6. Oceanic Whitetip Sharks
Best place to see them: Kona, Hawaii.
A pelagic shark, the oceanic whitetip can be found in various places around the world, unfortunately however, its population has declined by over 90% in the last 100 years. This species can be distinguished by its huge, elongated pectoral fins and smooth rounded tips to the other fins. It has a broad snout, with a dappled edge to the countershading as it switches from white to brown/gray across its whole body. Oceanic whitetips are often accompanied by stripey pilot fish.
Stocky and very confident sharks, oceanic whitetips are truly a sight to behold in the deep blue waters. Scavengers, they mainly feed on scraps from other animals’ hunting activities (pilot whales, dolphins). The only shark that has ever been shown to spyhop (poke their snout out of the water) as scent travels faster in the air than in the ocean! The latin "longimanus" means long hands… and their pectoral fins certainly live up to that name.
Up to 3m (10ft) long, oceanic whitetips are found in depths from 0-60m (0-200ft), scuba diving, freediving, or snorkeling are all good ways to see these animals.
- Longline fishing.
- Commercial finning.
7. Great Hammerhead Sharks
Best place to see them: Bimini, Bahamas.
Great hammerheads are one of the most unusual looking sharks on the planet; Easily recognized by its hammer shaped head, but also its huge sickle shaped dorsal fin which can be as much as a third of the body length in height.
Hammerheads gently swing their head side to side as they swim, as their eyes are located on the far ends of the hammer, they gain an almost 360 view of their surroundings when doing this. This ensures they do not miss prey items …or become prey themselves!
Quite shy sharks, hammerheads will usually keep their distance or leave when multiple divers are in the area, Hammerheads are often seen on deep drop offs and areas with lots of current. They also like sandy areas where they hunt for their favorite food: stingrays.
Up to 5.5m (18ft) long, hammerheads are usually found from depths of between 3-30m (10-100ft). Scuba diving, freediving, and snorkeling all allow viewing opportunities.
- Commercial finning.
- High mortality rates after recreational fishing release.
Remember, sharks are generally peaceful creatures and we are not usually on their menu. However, we must always respect these huge, powerful, and unpredictable beings. We advise you to only enter the water with a trained professional when sharks are around. Always stay close to your dive buddies, leave shiny items on the boat/shore, and do not panic or splash in the water.