By Blaise Jones
With new shark species being discovered all the time, the exact number of shark species can vary, but one thing that cannot be debated is the vast variety that exists in hundreds of shark species. Though the Smithsonian Institute claims there are more than 500 shark species alive today, most researchers agree that the inexact total is more likely less than 500, with many leading research groups putting the current number at 495, though barely.
A Shark for Every Occasion
Different species of sharks display adaptations that cross into the extremes of all spectra. There are huge sharks, such as the whale shark, sleeper shark, and great white shark. Each of these species have been recorded to reach lengths of 13 feet (4 m) and longer.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the smallest species of shark, such as the dwarf lantern shark, the spined pygmy shark and the pygmy ribbontail catshark, each of is 11 inches or shorter.
There are the fast moving, energetic sharks, such as the mako and oceanic whitetips sharks, which can travel as far as 30 miles in a single day. In addition to covering large distances, the mako shark is also one of the fastest animals in the ocean (and the world), reaching bursts of 60 mph (97 kmh) and averaging approximately 35 mph (56 khm) in regular activity. At the same time there are sluggish, slow-moving sharks, such as the Greenland shark, Nurse Shark, and megamouth Sharks. (5) Though the nurse shark will max out at approximately 15 feet (4.5 m), both the Greenland and megamouth shark have been documented at more than 20 feet (6 m).
Who wants to be Normal?
In addition to the extreme differences in size and speeds found across shark species, sharks display a wide range of body types. The Angel Shark is a flat, wide bottom feeder that looks like someone took a shark and flattened it with a steam roller. The Frill Shark looks like it could be some type of eel. The upper lobe of the Thresher Shark’s caudal fin is elongated to be as long as the rest of the shark’s body, and it uses this odd adaptation like a bullwhip when it hunts. The Hammerhead Shark has a large, wide head not found in any other type of shark.
The specific breakdown of the 495 shark species according to Shark Savers:
Ground sharks – 277
(Ex: bull sharks, hammerheads)
Dogfish sharks – 119
(Ex: spiny dogfish, cookiecutter shark)
Carpet sharks – 39
(Ex: Japanese wobbegong, zebra shark)
Angel sharks – 19
(Ex: sand devil, Japanese angel shark)
Mackarel sharks – 15
(Ex: mako, thresher)
Bullhead sharks – 9
(Ex: horn shark, Galapagos bullhead shark)
Sawsharks – 9
(Ex: longnose sawshark, Japanese sawshark)
Cow sharks – 4
(Ex: broadnose sevengill shark, bluntnose sixgill shark)
Bramble sharks – 2
(bramble shark, prickly shark)
Frilled sharks – 2
(frilled shark, South African frilled shark)
More to Come
As time goes on and technology grows ever more impressive, scientists are identifying more and more new species of shark. In the past century alone over 180 new species were discovered. Included amongst these species is the giant Megamouth Shark, not identified until 1975 when one was found tangled in an anchor line. To date, only 60 specimens have been observed. In 2011, a new species of swell shark, the Steven’s Swell Shark, was identified by the discovery of 5 specimens found in a deep-water crustacean trap. As technology allows us to delve into the ocean with greater ease, who knows what new species and discoveries await.
The thresher shark uses its long tail to stun fish, using it like a long whip that curls up over its dorsal fin.
“Sharks: The Mysterious Killers” by Downs Matthews
“Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide” by Gene Helfman and George H. Burgess
“The Encyclopedia of Sharks: by Steve Parker