In honor of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week it seemed appropriate to look at the deadliest sharks in the world. Despite popular belief, shark attacks are much more rare than people realize. Humans kill more than 100,000 times more sharks than sharks have killed humans throughout history. According to record, there are about 6 recorded shark attacks on average per year, whereas there are more than 6,000,000 sharks which humans kill on an annual basis.
Grey Reef Shark
Found primarily in southeast Asia and off the coast of India and eastern Africa, the grey reef shark primarily lives in shallow water near the drop-offs of coral reefs. Most grey reef sharks are about 6 feet long and weigh about 70 pounds. In general, grey reef sharks are fast-swimming, agile hunters that primarily feed on free-swimming bony fishes and cephalopods. As a result of their aggressive demeanor, grey reef sharks dominate many of the other shark species on the reef. The grey reef shark grows to be about 4.5 feet long and can weight up to 75 pounds. Interestingly, grey reef sharks tend to be very curious. In several observations, divers report grey reef sharks initially approach them quite closely when entering the water.
The lemon shark primarily lives in the subtropical and tropical regions of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North and South America. Typically lemon sharks grow to be between 8 and 10 feet long and weigh up to around 200 pounds. The largest recorded length and weight is 11.3 feet and 405 pounds respectively. Lemon sharks got their name because of their unique yellow coloration. They are considered to be one of the most well-studied shark species due to their ability to survive well in captivity, unlike many other shark species. Famous shark specialist Samuel Gruber at the University of Miami has studied the Lemon Shark since 1967 and as a result the lemon shark is one of the most well-understood shark in terms of behavior and ecology. An interesting fact about lemon sharks is they have electroreceptors in their head which allows them to detected the electrical impulses emitted by potential prey. This is especially useful because lemon sharks are bottom dwellers and have extremely poor eyesight.
The hammerhead shark is perhaps one of the most unique and easily recognizable of all shark species. The unique shape of their heads is termed a “cephalofoil” and enables them to maneuver through the water with greater agility. Hammerhead sharks are found worldwide along coastlines and continental shelves. Unlike most other shark species, hammerheads typically swim in schools during the day, but become solitary hunters at night. One of the favored prey of hammerheads are stingrays. A hammerhead was once found with more than 30 stingray barbs in its mouth. Luckily, hammerheads are immune to the venom of stingrays. Typically hammerhead sharks range between 3 and 20 feet long and weigh anywhere between 6 and 1,300 pounds depending on age and environment.
Shortfin Mako Shark
The shortfin mako shark is the fastest species of shark in the world. Its speed has been recorded in excess of 31 mph and in bursts more than 46 miles per hour. They have also been observed leaping more than 30 feet or higher into the air. The average adult mako measures around 10 feet long and weighs around 200 pounds. The shortfin mako is considered a migratory shark species and will travel long distances to seek prey and mates. One shortfin mako was tracked having traveled more than 1,332 miles in 37 days.
Sand Tiger Shark
Based purely upon looks, the sand tiger shark would appear to be one of the most deadly sharks in the ocean. The sand tiger shark can grow to be nearly 10 feet long and weight nearly 300 pounds. They also feature needle like teeth which protrude from their jaw, giving them a very intimidating appearance. However, contrary to appearance, in general the sand tiger shark is relatively docile and doesn’t have a large enough jaw to cause a human fatality. It is also the most widely kept shark in public aquariums due to their stereotypical shark-like appearance and their good tolerance of captivity. The sand tiger shark prefers subtropical and temperate waters and can be found along coastlines around the world.
White Tiptip Shark
The oceanic whitetip shark is found around the globe in deep open water. The famous oceanographic researcher Jacques Cousteau described the oceanic whitetip as “the most dangerous of all the sharks.” Although not officially confirmed on record, ocean whitetips may have been responsible for the largest aggregated shark attack in history. During World War II when the Nova Scotia steamship was sunk near South Africa by a German submarine carrying more than 1,000 people, it is believed the oceanic whitetip is responsible for hundreds of deaths, as only 192 people in total survived. Due to several similar reported incidents, the oceanic whitetip is recognized as being especially dangerous to shipwreck or air crash survivors. The largest specimen observed was 13 feet long and weighed close to 370 pounds.
Being one of the most widespread species of sharks, the blue shark inhabits deeper waters around the world. They are noted for migrated long distances. One shark was tracked traveling from New England all the way down to South America over the course of a year. Blue sharks are typically lethargic, but when chasing prey have the ability to move very quickly. The average blue shark is about 8 feet long and weighs several hundred pounds. Blue sharks are noted for large litters of between 25 to 100 pups. Like many fish species, blue sharks often school together and travel segregated by both sex and size which has led to their nickname as the “wolves of the sea.”
Widely considered to be one of the most aggressive of all sharks and the only shark which can survive in freshwater, the bull shark is a natural hunter. Bull sharks have been found as far up rivers as Kentucky and Illinois in the Ohio River in the United States. Many experts speculate bull sharks are responsible for the majority of the near-shore shark attacks around the world. The average size of a bull shark is about 7.5 feet long and weighs upward of 240 pounds. Pound for pound, the bull shark has the strongest bite of all shark species. Typically bull sharks are solitary hunters, but they have been spotted hunting in pairs.
The tiger shark is one of the largest sharks living in today’s world. They commonly attain lengths upward of 10 to 13 feet and weigh between 850 and 1,400 pounds. The tiger shark is most commonly found close to the coast in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They often hunt in shallow reefs, harbors, and canals, which create a high potential for encounter with humans. The tiger shark is a solitary, mostly nocturnal hunter. Its typical diet includes a wide variety of prey including crustaceans, fish, birds, sea snakes, squid, turtles, dolphins, and even smaller species of sharks. Due to the cryptic coloration of tiger sharks from which they get their name, in certain habitats they can be difficult to be detected and blend in exceptionally well with their surroundings.
Great White Shark
The most iconic and largest of all shark species, the great white shark is also the most deadly. The largest great white sharks exceed 20 feet in length and weigh more than 5,000 pounds making them one o f the largest predators on Earth. Great white sharks live in almost all coastal and offshore waters around the world. The only creature in the seas that poses any threat to the great white shark is the killer whale, which in one documented case was able to kill a moderate sized great white.
Featured image: Flickr by Florida Fish and Wildlife