Sharks are some of the most fascinating and misunderstood animals on the planet. Often mistaken for vicious killers, or human-eating predators, sharks actually tend to be docile and calm, and steer clear of humans when possible. There are more than 1,000 different species of sharks in the Earth's oceans and seas, from the tiny dwarf lantern shark, to the giant whale shark. Below is a list of ten unusual shark species that you may not know existed. Each is a unique type of shark named for its distinct appearance or an uncommon behaviour.
While perhaps not as rare as some others on this list, the leopard shark is nonetheless a lesser known shark species, mainly because it has a very limited habitat. Their main habitat ranges from the coast of Oregon, down to the Gulf of California. In warmer months they can be found in shallower bays and coves such as those in La Jolla, especially during breeding season.
Leopard sharks are so named for their dark saddle-shaped spots along their back and fins. The dark grey or black patterning on an otherwise silver body resembles a similar spotting to that of a leopard. Unlike real leopards though, leopard sharks live in nomadic schools, or groups. They can grow to be between four and seven feet, but are slender and relatively gentle, thus seeking security in a large group.
This particular species of shark may sound made up, but it is indeed a unique species scientifically known as Poroderma afriocanum. These sharks are striking due to the distinct stripes which run lengthwise along their bodies from head to tail. This pattern is likely what gave the sharks their name, as the dark and light striping resembles classic striped pyjamas.
Pyjama sharks also have two dorsal fins, which are located much further back on their bodies than most sharks - which have that infamous fin roughly midway along their bodies. These sharks are also on the smaller side, growing to roughly two to three feet when mature. Their primary habitat is in the southeast Atlantic and western Indian Oceans, and they are thought to be endemic to the South African coastline.
The basking shark is the second largest fish in the ocean, after the whale shark. They can grow to a massive size, measuring as long as 45 feet, or 15 meters, and weighing roughly 10,000 pounds, or 4.5 metric tons.
The basking shark got its name from its behaviour of drifting slowly along the ocean surface in warm summer months. The sharks appeared to be basking in the sun’s warmth, and were named after this tendency. Like their whale shark cousins, basking sharks eat by filtering massive amounts of water through gill-like filters in their mouth. They can filter as much as 4,000,000 pounds of ocean every hour, consuming plankton and tiny sea creatures.
Spotted wobbegong sharks are mottled sharks whose yellow-green and brown spots mimic a camouflage pattern. This colouration helps them blend into the reefs among which they live and hunt. Wobbegong have two dorsal fins, below the pelvis, short tail fins, and particularlly wide pectoral and pelvic fins.Their habitat ranges mainly within the eastern Indian Ocean along the coast of southern Australia. Wobbegong have a low flattened shape and flat head, resembling a catfish in many ways. Nasal barrels are present, as well as hanging tassels on their body and head.
The chain catshark is a type of ground shark that is biofluorescent, meaning it uses natural luminescence to attract others of its kind. The chain shark is light grey in color, like most sharks, but has a dark greyish black pattern across its body that resembles a chain link fence pattern. This patterning helps the shark to camouflage when it is resting on the bottom of the ocean amongst rubble and rocks, and the chain pattern also mimics reflective shapes made by light through the water. Chain catsharks live within western Central Atlantic and the northwest Atlantic Ocean, and can grow to be about two feet in length.
Zebra sharks are a confusingly named shark, as their patterns and markings differ with age. When young, the zebra sharks have a dark brown and yellow stripe, and it is these stripes that are thought to have given the shark its zebra name. Once the sharks reach maturity, however, their stripes fade away, and the sharks have a yellow-brown skin with dark circular spots much like a cheetah or a leopard.
This spotting pattern has led the zebra shark to occasionally be mis-identified as a leopard shark. On average, zebra sharks grow to be between five and six feet long, and live amongst coral reefs and continental shelves in the Indo-west Pacific, eastern Africa through to Japan and New Caledonia.
A sawshark is a distinct looking shark named for its long saw-like snout. The rostrum, which protrudes from its head, is long and slender, ridged with sharp saw-like teeth which it uses to slash at and strike down its prey. There are nine different types of sawsharks, but all have some form of this distinct saw-like snout.
Sawsharks can often be confused with a very similar looking creature, the sawfish, which also has a saw-like snout. A sawfish, however, is a ray, while the saw shark is firmly part of the shark family.
There are two main ways to distinguish between the two species. Firstly, pectoral fins (those on the animal's side) on sharks are not connected to a shark's head, which on rays, they are. Additionally, sawsharks have barbels on their saws, while sawfish do not.
Tiger sharks take their names for two reasons. Mainly, the tiger shark resembles the tiger when young, as infant tiger sharks have dark striped markings along their bodies. These stripes fade as the shark matures, leaving an all silver-grey appearance. The striped markings on the young help protect them by camouflaging them from prey until they are old enough to be large predators themselves.This leads into the second reason these species are named after tigers - they are ferocious hunters.
Though sharks generally do not attack humans unprovoked, tiger sharks are responsible for the second highest number of attacks on humans, after great white sharks. Tiger sharks can grow to be 10 to 14 feet in length, and weigh 850 to 1,400 pounds, and will eat just about any type of prey, another reason they are deemed to be so deadly. Generally, though, they steer clear of humans, hunting just about any other type of sea life from sea turtles to fish, to stingrays, to clams.
Epaulette sharks are small and slender, at about three and a half feet long, and are a unique type of shark for a few reasons. Firstly, their name comes from the presence of a large white rimmed black spot behind their pectoral fins which resembles a military epaulette. This is part of a large spotted appearance which helps them camouflage on the seafloor.
The large epaulette spots have the intention of appearing like large eyes, to scare off predators. Epaulette sharks are also one of the few sharks which can ‘walk’. Of course, these sharks are not actually walking in the same way legged creatures would, but epaulette sharks are able to use their extra strong pectoral fins to push themselves off rocks and coral as they hunt for food. This use of their fins makes it look like the sharks are walking along reefs and ocean floors with their fins.
Blue sharks live in open water and are very migratory. They can be found in almost all parts of the ocean, with a huge range. They live in both temperate and tropical oceans, and grow to be around ten feet long. The blue shark is long and slender in shape, with long pectoral fins.
These sharks get their name from their dark blue color, which blends in well while they are travelling through the open waters. Their bellies are very light, nearly white, to similarly blend in when being seen from below. Their long slender shape helps them move very quickly through water, when needed, and they can be speedy hunters. Blue sharks generally feed on smaller prey such as small fish and squid.