Whether you’re an avid fan of The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week or the idea of Jaws sends shivers down your spine, it’s hard to deny the fact that sharks are amazing animals.
Although they’re often thought of as aggressive and scary, there are actually hundreds of different types of sharks out there, some of which are no more dangerous than a playful dolphin.
In this article, we will introduce you to 25 of the coolest types of sharks that swim through our planet’s oceans. From the infamous great white to the friendly whale shark, we’re going to do a deep dive into all things shark-related.
Let’s get started.
What is a Shark?
It turns out that the word “shark” actually refers to a large collection of fish that are known as elasmobranch fish. These fish are distinguished from other fish species by the fact that they have:
- Skeletons made primarily of cartilage
- 5 to 7 pairs of gill clefts
- Rigid dorsal fins
- Placoid scales (i.e., fish scales)
- Upper jaws that aren’t fused to the cranium
- Multiple series of teeth
- No swim bladder
Sharks are closely related to rays, however, rays have flattened bodies and much larger pectoral fins. Molecular studies suggest that sharks and rays diverged from a common ancestor within the last few hundred million years.
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25 Different Species of Shark List
There are more than 500 recognized species of sharks out there, so we can’t possibly discuss them all here. Here’s a closer look at 25 of the most incredible types of sharks that swim through the Earth’s oceans.
1. Great White Shark
Easily the most famous shark on the planet, the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) first rose to prominence in popular culture through the movie adaptation of the 1974 novel Jaws.
With an average adult size of about 1,100 to 1,700 lbs (500 to 770 kg), the great white shark is certainly one massive fish. But, it’s not quite the aggressive human-hunting predator that Jaws might have you believe.
In fact, there have only been about 50 confirmed fatal unprovoked attacks by great whites on humans since the year 1580. While any death from a shark attack is a tragic event, great whites simply aren’t as keen on hunting humans as we often think.
Nevertheless, great white sharks have long been persecuted by humans. The species is now listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
2. Goblin Shark
One of the world’s rarest sharks, the goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) is a deep-sea fish that normally lives at depths greater than 330 ft (100 m).
The goblin shark boasts a peculiar facial structure with a very long, flat snout, and a set of jaws that it can retract and extend as needed. Some researchers call it a “living fossil,” as it is the only living member of the family Mitsukurinidae, which dates back at least 125 million years.
Here’s a video that gives you a closer look at these fascinating creatures:
There’s relatively little data about goblin shark populations due to the remoteness of the species’ range. However, the IUCN lists the species as being of least concern even though it is sometimes killed through accidental bycatch during deepwater fishing operations.
3. Speartooth Shark
One of the few river-dwelling shark species, the speartooth shark (Glyphis glyphis) primarily inhabits coastal and tidal rivers in New Guinea and northern Australia.
In many ways, the speartooth shark looks like a great white from a distance due to its grey coloration. But it has a much smaller build and it has rarely ever shown aggression toward humans. These sharks tend to swim quite slowly, so they often move with the flow of the tides to conserve their energy.
The IUCN currently lists the spearhead shark as vulnerable with a decreasing population. It’s believed that the global population of spearhead sharks is less than 2,500 mature individuals. Bycatch by the fishing industry, intentional hunting, and habitat degradation are three of the species’ biggest threats.
4. Spotted Wobbegong
Boasting a unique coloration, the spotted wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus) is one of the most easily identifiable shark species on the planet.
The spotted wobbegong is a type of carpet shark that lives in the waters around southern Australia. It tends to have a brown, yellow, or green coloration with a unique pattern of O-shaped spots down its backside.
Currently, the spotted wobbegong is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. It rarely ever causes injuries to divers, but it has been known to be aggressive toward humans from time to time. The spotted wobbegong is also commercially fished, though it’s unclear if these activities are having a major negative impact on the species’ long-term well-being.
5. Tiger Shark
Known for its distinctive tiger-like stripes, the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is a large apex predator that lives primarily in tropical and temperate waters.
Technically, the tiger shark is second only to the great white shark in terms of total confirmed fatal shark attacks on humans. But attacks by tiger sharks are still exceptionally rare. Most tiger sharks are more focused on hunting sea snakes, crustaceans, seals, turtles, and dolphins than on chasing humans.
The tiger shark is currently listed as near threatened by the IUCN. It is frequently hunted as its liver, fins, and flesh are considered delicacies in many parts of the world. Overfishing is driving a rapid decline in the species’ population, though the tiger shark is protected in some areas, such as Australia.
6. Scalloped Hammerhead
The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is one of many species of hammerhead shark. It features a classic hammer-shaped head; however, it is much smaller than the great hammerhead, which can be up to 20 ft (6 m) long.
Sometimes called the bronze hammerhead, the scalloped hammerhead normally lives in temperate and tropical coastal areas. It mostly feeds off of fish such as herring, sardines, and mackerel, but it’s also known to hunt other shark species, including the blacktip reef shark.
Although the scalloped hammerhead is arguably the most common hammerhead species, it is listed as critically endangered with a decreasing population. The species’ biggest threat is commercial fishing as hammerhead fins and liver oil can fetch very high prices in seafood markets.
7. Basking Shark
The world’s second-largest shark species, the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is a truly massive fish that lives in nearly all temperate waters.
Adult basking sharks can grow to be up to 45 feet (15.2 m) long and they can sometimes weigh as much as 10,000 lbs (4,500 kg). But unlike other large sharks, basking sharks pose no threat to humans. That’s because they have very small teeth and they primarily filter feed for small plankton while swimming casually through the water.
Unfortunately, basking sharks are currently listed as endangered with a decreasing population. The basking shark has long been a popular species in the commercial fishing industry due to its slow speed, thick hide, and exceptionally large liver. Many countries now have laws protecting the basking shark, but it is still widely hunted in much of the world.
8. Silky Shark
Also known as the blackspot shark, the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) is a large requiem shark that’s found primarily in tropical waters.
The silky shark gets its name from the fact that it has very smooth skin that feels a lot like silk. It is one of the most mobile shark species, frequently migrating hundreds, if not thousands of miles in large schools from feeding grounds in the open ocean to more sheltered areas near continental shelves.
Silky sharks are one of the relatively few viviparous shark species, which means that the embryo eventually develops a placental connection to the mother before birth. The silk shark is also one of the most heavily hunted shark species. It is now listed as vulnerable after years of overall population decline.
9. Bonnethead Shark
Interestingly, the bonnethead is the only known shark species to display sexual dimorphism of the head. While female bonnetheads have a very round head, males have a large bulge on the front of each cephalofoil (the ends of a hammerhead’s head).
Additionally, the bonnethead is the only known shark species that’s truly omnivorous. Although it primarily eats crustaceans, the bonnethead also likes to forage on seagrass. Some researchers believe that the species eats seagrass to help protect its stomach from the spines of the blue crab, which is one of its favorite foods.
10. Frilled Shark
The frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) is one of the world’s many deep-water shark species. It’s often called a living fossil because it’s one of only two living members of the Chlamydoselachidae family, which dates back to the Carboniferous period.
When compared to other shark species, the frilled shark is easy to identify. It has six pairs of gill slits (instead of the normal five), and it has an eel-like physique that makes it look less like a shark and more like a mythical sea creature.
Frilled sharks aren’t widely hunted except in certain parts of the northwestern Pacific Ocean. However, they are frequently killed as bycatch, which remains a major threat to the species’ long-term survival. Nevertheless, the frilled shark is currently listed as a species of least concern.
11. Common Thresher Shark
Sometimes referred to as the Atlantic thresher or the fox shark, the common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus) is a widely distributed fish species that lives throughout the world’s tropical and temperate waters.
With an average length of around 16 feet (5 m), the common thresher is the largest of the so-called thresher sharks, which feature distinctive long tails. The common thresher uses its long tail to physically slap schools of fish and render them incapacitated while hunting.
The IUCN currently lists the common thresher as vulnerable with a decreasing population. The species’ biggest threat is overfishing as the common thresher is a popular delicacy in many parts of the world. In fact, it is one of the relatively few shark species that’s legal to hunt in US waters.
12. Sandbar Shark
Aptly named, the sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) is a type of requiem shark that primarily lives in muddy and sandy areas around bays, harbors, estuaries, and river deltas.
The sandbar shark prefers to live in tropical and temperate waters around the world. It feeds mostly on a variety of fish and crabs, but it’s been known to eat rays from time to time. Additionally, the sandbar shark is sometimes preyed upon by great white and tiger sharks.
Over the years, the commercial fishing industries around the world, particularly in the US, have targeted the sandbar shark due to the species’ high fin-to-body weight ratio. However, the species is now listed as endangered due to decades of overfishing. It is currently protected in US waters.
13. Lemon Shark
Despite its name, the lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) doesn’t actually eat lemons (nor does it look like one). But the lemon shark does have yellowish skin that, in the right lighting, can vaguely resemble that of a lemon.
Researchers actually believe that the lemon shark’s yellow skin color helps it camouflage when swimming through areas with sandy seafloors. The lemon shark’s primary range is limited to the coastal waters and continental shelf of the subtropical and temperate Atlantic. That said, some populations of lemon sharks live along the Pacific Coast of Mexico and Central America.
The lemon shark is currently listed as vulnerable with a decreasing population. Its main threat is overfishing from the commercial shark fishing industry. The lemon shark’s fin and meat are considered to be delicacies in many communities while its thick skin is used to create leather products.
14. Broadnose Sevengill Shark
The broadnose sevengill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) is one of only two shark species with seven gill slits. It is closely related to the only other seven-gilled shark, the sharpnose sevengill shark, but the two are easy to distinguish based on physical characteristics alone.
Researchers believe that the broadnose sevengill shark is also closely related to a number of ancient shark species. Fossil records indicate that many sharks that lived during the Jurassic also had seven gill slits. So the fact that most modern sharks have five gill slits may be a more contemporary adaptation.
The IUCN currently lists the broadnose sevengill shark as vulnerable. Its biggest threats have historically been from overfishing, which is an ongoing concern in many parts of the world where shark meat is in high demand.
15. Japanese Sawshark
Found only in the western Pacific Ocean around Japan, the Korean Peninsula, and northern China, the Japanese sawshark (Pristiophorus japonicus) is a funky-looking shark with an exceptionally long rostrum.
Like other sawsharks, the Japanese sawshark uses its long rostrum to attack its prey. It primarily eats bottom-dwelling creatures, such as crustaceans, but relatively little is known about the species as a whole.
Currently, the Japanese sawshark is listed as a species of least concern. But many researchers believe that the Japanese sawshark population could be at risk in the long term due to accidental bycatch by local fishing operations.
16. Whale Shark
With a maximum length of around 60 feet (18 m), the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is easily the world’s largest fish. But, despite its massive size, the whale shark poses no threat to humans because it’s a slow-moving filter-feeder whose favorite food is tiny plankton.
The whale shark generally lives in warmer tropical waters where they casually feed on hundreds of pounds of plankton in a single day. But, unlike other filter-feeding sharks, the whale shark is an active feeder that purposefully seeks out and targets large concentrations of plankton and other small fish.
Although more research is needed to fully understand global whale shark populations, the IUCN lists the species as endangered. It’s highly protected in many countries, however accidental bycatch and habitat degradation (primarily through oil spills) are the whale shark’s biggest threats.
17. Nurse Shark
The nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum) is among the best-studied sharks on the planet. It lives mostly in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but there is also a population of nurse sharks that lives in the tropical eastern Pacific.
It’s unclear where the name “nurse shark” came from. But some people believe that this is a reference to the sucking noise that the shark makes when it hunts for crustaceans and bottom-feeders.
While the nurse shark is widely believed to be of little threat to humans, it has been known to attack people when provoked. These sorts of incidents usually happen when divers and snorkelers get too close to nurse sharks, causing them to feel threatened or trapped.
18. Dwarf Lantern Shark
With a maximum recorded length of just 8 inches (20 cm), the dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi) is easily the smallest known shark species.
The dwarf lantern shark is a poorly studied species, so not much is known about its habitat or behavior. However, scientists believe that it lives primarily in the Caribbean between depths of about 930 and 1,140 feet (280 to 350 m). It’s also capable of producing its own light through a set of photophores on its underside.
According to the IUCN, the dwarf lantern shark is a species of least concern with a stable population. Most researchers think that it has no real commercial value due to its small size, though it could be at risk in the long term of accidental bycatch.
19. Cookiecutter Shark
Sometimes called the cigar shark, the cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis) is a medium-sized fish that lives in tropical, subtropical, and temperate oceanic waters around the world.
The cookiecutter shark is perhaps best known for its band saw-like teeth and jaws. When the cookiecutter shark feeds, it uses its lips to latch onto a fish or marine mammal so it can take a circular bite out of its prey. As a result, it leaves behind distinctive round wounds on its prey that look oddly like they were made by a cookie cutter.
There have been a few recorded attacks by cookiecutter sharks on humans completing open-ocean swims and dives, though these incidents are rare. Most researchers believe that the cookiecutter shark isn’t particularly dangerous, but it can damage inflatable boats, fishing nets, and other similar equipment.
20. Megamouth Shark
The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) is a rarely-seen filter-feeding shark that lives primarily in deep-sea environments. It was first identified in the 1970s after being tangled in a ship’s sea anchor.
To date, only a few hundred megamouths have ever been caught or sighted in the wild, so it’s unclear how widely distributed the species actually is. But, researchers were able to attach a tracking device to a megamouth in the 1990s, which helped them learn more about how the species travels through the water column.
Even though there’s a lack of data on megamouth population numbers, the species is listed as being of least concern. It’s rarely ever caught as bycatch by fishing equipment, so it’s unclear what threats the megamouth might face in the long term.
21. Australian Angelshark
Although it looks suspiciously like a ray, the Australian angelshark (Squatina australis) is a modestly sized shark species with a flat body that lives in the waters surrounding southern Australia.
Like other angelsharks, the Australian angelshark is mostly a bottom-feeder that likes to swim semi-submerged on the seabed and eat whatever comes its way. It can dive to depths of over 400 feet (120 m), but you’ll normally find it near rocky reefs.
The Australian angelshark is commercially fished in Australia. But, it’s confusingly often labeled as monkfish when it’s sold for human consumption. Despite the fact that it’s called monkfish, Australian angelshark isn’t related to actual monkfish. True monkfish are a type of deep-sea anglerfish that live in the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
22. Leopard Shark
One of the most easily identifiable shark species, the leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata) is best-known for its distinct leopard-like spotted pattern.
Leopard sharks primarily travel together in large schools through estuaries and bays. They prefer to live in shallow coastal waters near kelp beds and large reefs where they can hunt for clams, shrimp, crabs, and fish eggs.
Despite its ferocious-sounding name, the leopard shark isn’t considered to be dangerous to humans. The species is actually widely fished, particularly in the US, and it is a popular sport fish among keen anglers.
23. Greenland Shark
Known as eqalussuaq in much of its range, the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) is a large, deep-diving fish that prefers cold polar waters. With an estimated average lifespan of between 250 and 500 years (yes, you read that correctly—500 years!), the Greenland shark is the longest living vertebrate in the world.
Since the Greenland shark lives for so long, researchers need to use radiocarbon dating to determine the approximate age of individual sharks. Scientists believe that Greenland sharks don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re about 150 years old, but more research is needed to truly understand the life cycles of these incredible animals.
Greenland shark has long been an important food in Iceland even though it’s actually toxic to eat. Icelanders traditionally ferment Greenland shark by buying it underground for months at a time to remove the toxic compounds from the shark. In Icelandic restaurants, Greenland shark is called kæstur hákarl and it is considered to be a delicacy.
24. Shortfin Mako Shark
Of all the world’s sharks, the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) is one of the most heavily fished among commercial and sport anglers. It lives in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters around the world at depths of no more than about 500 feet (150 m).
The mako shark is normally around 10 feet (3.2 m) long with a weight of less than 300 lbs (136 kg) when fully grown, but it can be much larger. It is a popular target among sport anglers because of its tasty meat, though it is tough to catch due to its fast swimming speed.
Due to the effects of overfishing, the shortfin mako is listed as endangered with a declining population by the IUCN. That said, it is still legal to fish in many countries. US regulators actually consider it to be a sustainable and “smart seafood choice” despite its decreasing population numbers.
25. Horn Shark
Found only off the coast of California and western Mexico, the horn shark (Heterodontus francisci) is a slow-moving fish with a funky-looking face and body.
Although it doesn’t have any proper horns, the horn shark does have a wide head with large bumps over each eye. It also has two big dorsal fins, each of which boasts spines along its front edge.
Horn sharks are considered to be harmless toward humans unless they’re threatened and provoked, in which case they might bite. The IUCN lists the horn shark as endangered, mostly due to the effects of accidental bycatch.
Shark Species Classification
Classifying hundreds of shark species is no easy task. Thankfully, some of the world’s leading taxonomists have done the job for us.
All sharks are part of the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, and the class Chondrichthyes. This means that sharks are a type of animal known as a cartilaginous fish. As a result, all sharks have a skeleton that primarily consists of cartilage, rather than bone. This makes them different from bony fishes, which are part of the superclass Osteichthyes.
Below the class Chondrichthyes, sharks are grouped into a subclass known as Elasmobranchii. This subclass contains all of the sharks as well as skates, rays, and sawfish.
They’re further grouped into an infraclass called Euselachii, which contains only sharks and rays. However, some taxonomists debate whether the infraclass Euselachii is a valid taxonomic group.
Either way, there are 8 orders of sharks that belong to the superorder Selachimorpha. These include:
- Carcharhiniformes – Commonly referred to as the ground sharks, the 270+ species in the order Carcharhiniformes include everything from the requiem sharks to the hammerhead sharks. They’re defined by having two dorsal fins, five gill slits, a nictitating membrane, and an anal fin. However, this order may be revised in the future due to new evidence from recent DNA studies.
- Heterodontiformes – The order Heterodontiformes contains 9 living species that are known as the bullhead sharks. They tend to be fairly small fish and they all live in tropical and subtropical waters. The bullhead sharks are primarily bottom feeders.
- Hexanchiformes – Sometimes considered to be the most primitive type of shark, the 7 living species in the order Hexanchiformes are defined by their single dorsal fin and six to seven sets of gills. This order contains the species that are known as the frilled sharks and the cow sharks.
- Lamniformes – More commonly called the mackerel sharks, the 17 living species of the order Lamniformes are defined by their two dorsal fins, five gill slits, anal fin, and eyes without nictitating membranes. This makes them similar to the members of the order Carcharhiniformes, but the DNA studies suggest that these two orders should be separated. The order Lamniformes includes the great white shark.
- Orectolobiformes – The order Orectolobiformes includes all of the sharks that are commonly known as the carpet sharks. There are about 43 species in this order, most of which feature interesting patterns on their backs that look like ornate carpets. Some of these species are also referred to as wobbegongs.
- Pristiophoriformes – Generally called sawsharks, the order Pristiophoriformes contains 8 species that live in most of the world’s waters. They all feature long barbels, which are sensory organs that look like whiskers, as well as two dorsal fins. However, some sawsharks have six gill slits instead of five, and relatively little is known about the life cycles of the species in this order.
- Squaliformes – The order Squaliformes contains approximately 126 shark species that are grouped together because of DNA similarities. These sharks live in salty and brackish waters around the world. They normally have two dorsal fins, no anal fin, and no nictitating membrane over the eyes.
- Squatiniformes – Also called the angelsharks, the 24 recognized species in the order Squatinidae are sharks with flat bodies that look physically very similar to rays. These sharks used to live in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters, but most angelshark species are now endangered and are primarily found in tropical areas. Most of these species live in shallow waters, but some prefer deep water environments.
Keep in mind that the taxonomy of sharks is a matter of much debate. Taxonomists and marine biologists often disagree with each other over how sharks should be classified.
These debates have only intensified in recent years as more researchers are focusing their efforts on understanding the DNA differences between shark species. As a result of this new DNA research, some types of sharks might be reclassified into different genera, families, or orders in the near future.
Species of Shark FAQ
Here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions about sharks:
How many shark types are there?
There are more than 500 recognized species of sharks swimming on our planet Earth. But, there may be many more types of sharks that haven’t yet been identified due to a lack of research on life in the deepest parts of the ocean.
Are sharks considered fish?
Yes, sharks are a type of fish. In particular, sharks are a type of cartilaginous fish, which means that their skeletons are primarily made up of cartilage, rather than bone. Like other fish, sharks have gills that they use to get oxygen from seawater. This makes them different from whales and dolphins, which are mammals that breathe oxygen in the air through blowholes.
What is the rarest shark?
It’s hard to know what shark species is the rarest due to a lack of research on global shark populations. That said, some of the rarest sharks include the scoophead shark and the Ganges shark, both of which are endangered. Other sharks, such as the megamouth, are also considered rare, but this may be because they live in deep waters and are infrequently seen by humans.
Is the megalodon still alive?
No, the megalodon is not still alive. Researchers believe the megalodon species went extinct around 3 million years ago, so there are no remaining individuals swimming around our oceans today.
What is the coolest shark?
There are many shark species that could be considered the coolest shark. In our opinion, the shortfin mako shark is one of the coolest shark species because it can swim at incredible speeds of up to 45 mph (74 km/h)!
What is the friendliest shark?
While it’s difficult to crown one shark species as the “friendliest shark,” there are many types of sharks that pose little threat to humans. These include whale sharks, nurse sharks, basking sharks, and angelsharks
What is the biggest shark?
The whale shark is by far the biggest shark species on the planet. It can grow to a maximum length of about 60 feet (18 m), making it slightly longer than the average-sized humpback whale. However, despite its size, the whale shark isn’t dangerous to humans as it’s a filter feeder that primarily eats plankton.