Types of Sharks

List of Shark Species and Facts About Each

Sharks are cartilaginous fish in the Class Elasmobranchii. There are about 400 species of sharks. Below are some of these species, with facts about each.

Whale Shark / KAZ2.0, Flickr
Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus). Courtesy KAZ2.0, Flickr

The whale shark is the largest shark species, and also the biggest fish species in the world. Whale sharks can grow to 65 feet in length and up to about 75,000 pounds in weight.Their back is gray, blue or brown in color and covered with regularly-arranged light spots. Whale sharks are found in warm waters in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Despite their huge size, whale sharks feed on some of the tiniest creatures in the ocean, including crustaceans and plankton. More »

Basking shark image showing head, gills and dorsal fin
Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), showing head, gills and dorsal fin. © Dianna Schulte, Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation

Basking sharks are the second-largest shark (and fish) species. They can grow to up to 40 feet long and weigh up to 7 tons. Like whale sharks, they feed on tiny plankton, and may often be seen "basking" at the ocean surface while they feed by slowly swimming forward and filtering water in through their mouth and out their gills, where the prey is trapped in gill rakers.

Basking sharks may be found in all the world's oceans, but they are more common in temperate waters. They may also migrate long distances in winter - one shark tagged off Cape Cod was recorded as far south as Brazil. More »

Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)

Shortfin Mako Shark image
Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). Courtesy of NOAA

Shortfin mako sharks are thought to be the fastest shark species. These sharks can grow to a length of about 13 feet and a weight of about 1,220 pounds. They have a light underside and a bluish coloration on their back.

Shortfin mako sharks are found in the pelagic zone in temperate and tropical waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

Guess the Creature / NOAA Image
Can you guess this species?. NOAA

There are 3 species of thresher sharks - the common thresher (Alopias vulpinus), pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus) and the bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus). These sharks all have big eyes, small mouths, and a long, whip-like upper tail lobe. This "whip" is used to herd and stun prey. More »

Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

Bull Shark / SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC
Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas). SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, Flickr

Bull sharks have the dubious distinction of being one of the top 3 species implicated in unprovoked shark attacks on humans. These large sharks have a blunt snout, a gray back and light underside, and can grow to a length of about 11.5 feet and weight of about 500 pounds. They tend to frequent warm, shallow, often murky waters close to shore.

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Tiger Shark / Stephen Frink, Getty Images
An inquisitive tiger shark investigates a diver in the Bahamas. Stephen Frink / Getty Images
Tiger sharks have darker stripe on their sides, especially in younger sharks. These are large sharks that may grow over 18 feet in length and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Although diving with tiger sharks is an activity some engage in, these are another shark that is one of the top species reported in shark attacks.
Great Whtie Shark / Getty Images
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Stephen Frink / Getty Images

White sharks (more commonly called great white sharks), thanks to the movie Jaws, are one of the most feared creatures in the ocean. Their maximum size has been estimated at about 20 feet in length and over 4,000 pounds in weight. Despite their fierce reputation, they have a curious nature and tend to investigate their prey before they eat it, so some sharks may bite humans but not intend to kill them. More »

Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks / NOAA Central Library Historical Fisheries Collection
Oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) and pilotfish photographed from the raft NENUE in the Central Pacific Ocean. NOAA Central Library Historical Fisheries Collection
Oceanic whitetip sharks usually live out in the open ocean far from land. Thus they were feared during World War I and II for their potential threat to military personnel on downed planes and sunken ships. These sharks live in tropical and subtropical waters. Identifying features include their white-tipped first dorsal, pectoral, pelvic and tail fins, and their long, paddle-like pectoral fins.

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)

Blue shark (Prionace glauca) in the Gulf of Maine
Blue shark (Prionace glauca) in the Gulf of Maine, showing head and dorsal fin. © Dianna Schulte, Blue Ocean Society
Blue sharks get their name from their coloration - they have a dark blue back, lighter blue sides and a white underside. The maximum recorded blue shark was just over 12 feet in length, although they are rumored to grow larger. They are a slender shark with large eyes and a small mouth, and live in temperate and tropical oceans around the world.

Hammerhead Sharks

Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks / Jeff Rotman, Getty Images
Juvenile Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrna lewini), Kane'ohe Bay, Hawaii - Pacific Ocean. Jeff Rotman / Getty Images

There are several species of hammerhead sharks, which are in the family Sphyrnidae. These species include the winghead, mallethead, scalloped hammerhead, scoophead, great hammerhead and bonnethead sharks. These sharks differ from other sharks, as they have very unique hammer-shaped heads. They inhabit tropical and warm temperate oceans around the world.

Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Nurse Shark / David Burdick, NOAA
Nurse shark with remora. David Burdick, NOAA
Nurse sharks are a nocturnal species that prefer to live on the ocean bottom, and often seek shelter in caves and crevices. They are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Rhode Island to Brazil and off the coast of Africa, and in the Pacific Ocean from Mexico to Peru.
Blacktip Reef Shark / David Burdick, NOAA Photo Library
Blacktip Reef Shark, Mariana Islands, Guam. Courtesy David Burdick, NOAA Photo Library
Blacktip reef sharks are easily identified by their black-tipped (bordered by white) fins. These sharks grow to a maximum length of 6 feet, but are usually about 3-4 feet. They are found in warm, shallow waters over reefs in the Pacific Ocean. More »

Sand Tiger Shark (Carcharias taurus)

Sand Tiger Shark / Peter Pinnock, Getty Images
Sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus), Aliwal Shoal, KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa, Indian Ocean. Peter Pinnock / Getty Images

The sand tiger shark is also known as the gray nurse shark and ragged tooth shark. This shark grows to about 14 feet in length. Its body is light brown and may have dark spots. Sand tiger sharks have a flattened snout and long mouth with ragged-looking teeth. Sand tiger sharks have a light brown to greenish back with a light underside. They are found in relatively shallow waters (about 6 to 600 feet) in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and Mediterranean Sea.

Blacktip Reef Shark / David Burdick, NOAA Photo Library
Blacktip Reef Shark, Mariana Islands, Guam. Courtesy David Burdick, NOAA Photo Library
Blacktip reef sharks are a medium-sized shark that grows to about 6 feet maximum length. They are found in warm waters in the Pacific Ocean, including off Hawaii, Australia, in the Indo-Pacific and Mediterranean Sea. More »

Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)

Lemon Shark / Apex Predators Program, NOAA/NEFSC
Lemon Shark. Apex Predators Program, NOAA/NEFSC
Lemon sharks get their name from their light colored, brownish-yellow skin. They are a shark species that is most commonly found in shallow water, and which can grow to a length of about 11 feet.

Brownbanded Bamboo Shark

Brownbanded Bamboo Shark / Jonathan Bird/Photolibrary/Getty Images
Juvenile Brown-banded Bamboo Shark, Chiloscyllium punctatum, Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Jonathan Bird/Photolibrary/Getty Images

The brownbanded bamboo shark is a relatively small shark found in shallow waters. Females of this species was discovered to have an amazing ability to store sperm for at least 45 months, giving them the ability to fertilize an egg without ready access to a mate.

Megamouth Shark

Megamouth Shark Illustration / Dorling Kindersley/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images
Megamouth Shark Illustration. Dorling Kindersley/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images

The megamouth shark species was discovered in 1976, and only about 100 sightings have been confirmed since. This is a relatively large, filter-feeding shark that is thought to live in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.