10 Facts You Didn't Know About Sharks

1. They come in a range of shapes and sizes

The dwarf lantern shark is thought to be the smallest species, growing up to approximately 20 cm in length. Not much is known about this species as so far it has only been found in 200-400m of water off the coasts of Colombia and Venezuela.

The largest shark is the whale shark which can grow up to 9m (some have been recorded at over 12m). Just like the large whales, the whale shark also feeds on the smallest creatures in the ocean – plankton! It can be found in the open waters of tropical and sub-temperate oceans. There are even reports of these sharks in the Summer of the Northern North Island. 

2. They have no bones

Sharks are a type of fish known as elasmobranchs. This means that instead of bones, their skeleton is made up of cartilage (what your ears are made of).

3. They can detect electricity

Sharks use their ability to detect electrical currents to pick up on the small movements made by their prey. This is called electroreception. The sensors, known as ampullae of Lorenzini are small pores on the snout and other areas of the body. 

4. You can hypnotise them

Sharks, if flipped upside down, go into a trance-like state similar to that of being hypnotised. This is called tonic immobility. New Zealand coastal orca use this to their advantage when hunting sharks and rays (who also have tonic immobility). 

5. Some feed on the flesh of living whales

Cookie-cutter sharks live in tropical and temperate open ocean waters. They feed by latching on to whales and other large animals and scooping out a circular chunk of skin and blubber. The result is a cookie-cutter shaped hole in the whale which eventually heals over time. 

When we are on safari, we often see Bryde’s whales with fresh or recently-healed cookie cutter scars. This can help us gauge if particular individuals have recently spent time away from the Hauraki Gulf in deeper waters.

6. They are one of the oldest living animals on the planet

Sharks have been around for approximately 450 million years, well before the first dinosaurs who only appeared 230 million years ago! The hammerhead group is the youngest and first appeared on the scene about 195 million years ago.

7. Sharks are amongst the most threatened animals

Unfortunately, sharks are considered to be ‘Threatened’ by the IUCN. Many species are classified as ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’.  They are threatened for many reasons, including fishing pressure. Sharks are either caught as bycatch or targeted for their alleged medicinal properties and as a delicacy in different areas of the world. 

8. They are super important for the world’s oceans

Sharks are key to keeping everybody else in the ocean in check. As an apex predator, they help to regulate the lower levels of the food chain by limiting other species distribution, predating on the weak, ill and vulnerable and on various different prey types

Without sharks, the rest of the food chain and the ecosystem would be altered. In fact, it has been shown that areas with sharks have a greater number of different species living within it.

9. Shark ‘attacks’ are rare

The majority of shark attacks are a case of mistaken identity. Generally, if a shark does bite a human, it bites only once before realising its mistake. 

Worldwide, there are approximately four fatalities caused by these mistakes each year. On the other hand, it is estimated that approximately 100 million sharks are killed per year through human activity. 

10. You can see them in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park

We encounter sharks in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park right next to Auckland City. They are mostly seen during the summer when adults come into the shallower, coastal areas to give birth to their pups. Sharks don’t parent their young, so once the pups are born, the mothers generally head back into deeper waters, while the pups may stay around to feed and grow.