Shark Identifier

Learn to distinguish between shark species with this handy guide.
Anglers have always had a love/hate relationship with sharks, also referred to as the "Tax Man." While we can all revel in the shark's power and prowess, we've all lost a few choice catches to the Tax Man as well. This photo essay provides biological information and species identification tips for some of the most popular sharks. All imagery courtesy of
The blacktip shark is well known off the coast of Florida, where they have accounted for many "attacks" on surfers, the majority of which were not deadly. The species is also prevalent in northern Australia and the South Pacific. Most blacktips are under 100 pounds, but they're capable of reaching 250-plus. They are most recognizable by the persistent black mark on the tips of their dorsal fins, pectoral fins and anal fin.
The bonnethead shark resembles a hammerhead, but the front of its head is semicircular in shape. It only grows to about 25 pounds and can be found in shallow waters from North Carolina to Brazil in the Atlantic and Southern California to Ecuador in the Pacific.
The aggressive bull shark lives in both saltwater and freshwater environments. Its broad, triangular teeth are heavily serrated for taking apart prey. They mostly inhabit estuaries and bays, but have been known to move far into rivers and lakes. Even though they like the shallows, they can grow to be a beast. The all-tackle world record bull shark weighed nearly 700 pounds.
Found throughout the world, the hammerhead is immediately recognizable because of its hammer-shaped head also called a cephalofoil. It was long believed that the head evolved into this shape to improve the sharks vision and allow it to see above and below. However, scientists now believe the head shape mostly serves to improve sensory inputs to help find prey. The hammerhead is known to school during the day and often hunt in small groups or alone at night. They can reach sizes of more than 1,000 pounds.
The lemon shark's yellow coloring acts as a camouflage when cruising sandy bottoms or shallow reefs. Common along the U.S. East Coast and Caribbean, this shark is found along mangrove fringes, docks, sand or coral mud bottoms in enclosed bays or  river mouths. It may enter fresh water and occasionally moves into the open ocean. Often found resting motionless on the bottom. They grow to about 10 feet long.
The mako is a pelagic shark found offshore and one of the most sought-after sharks by big-game anglers. They are believed to be the fastest of all the sharks, and often make huge leaps during a fight. They have a sharp snout and hooked teeth with smooth edges. The mako can grow to 1,200-plus pounds. They are also a desirable food fish, with their meat tasting a lot like swordfish, which is ironic because mako sharks are one of the few species that actively hunt swordfish.
The bottom-dwelling nurse shark is found in shallow waters and reefs. It uses the barbels under its snout to help find food at night. They feed on a mix of crustaceans and fish. They have small jaws and use their large throat cavities to suck prey into their mouths.
The oceanic whitetip is a deepwater predator, and feeds on fish such as tuna and mahi. It's an active shark and charged with many human deaths during naval battles and shipwrecks. Because it lives mostly in the upper layers of the ocean, it is very susceptible to longline hooks. The stocky shark has a huge, rounded first dorsal fin, and long, wide pectoral fins that are usually tipped in white or with white spots.
A popular game fish, the thresher shark has an exceptionally long tail that can be as long as the shark's body. They are mostly pelagic, and found along the continental shelf. There are three species of thresher sharks: common thresher, pelagic thresher and bigeye thresher. The common thresher is the largest, reaching 15-plus feet.
The skin of a tiger shark is striped and spotted, resembling that of a tiger. This pattern helps it hunt, especially at night, as it can swim underneath its prey and go almost undetected. The tiger shark is found throughout the world's tropical and subtropical waters. They've been known to reach sizes of more than 15 feet and they'll eat just about anything, including jellyfish.
Because of its size, the great white has been vilified for years in books and movies. However, the white shark plays an important role at the top of the food chain. It can grow to 20-plus feet and more than 7,000 pounds. The 2,664-pound world record stands as the largest fish caught on rod and reel in accordance with IGFA rules. And, even larger ones have been taken. Satellite tags have unveiled the white sharks long migrations, which will help scientists understand their behavior and better protect them.

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