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More than 400 species of sharks swim our global waters. Many lurk the temperate and tropical zones of the Atlantic Ocean, much to the trepidation of swimmers, surfers and divers. From as far north as New Brunswick to as far south as Brazil, the Atlantic serves as permanent address for some sharks and as seasonal residence for migratory species. The diverse collection includes the world’s largest, smallest, most aggressive and most placid shark species.
The whale shark earns the title of largest fish in the world. The migratory cosmopolitan shark is native to all of the world’s oceans, including the Atlantic. His spotted body can span 40 feet in length and weigh 20 tons. The gentle giant’s large mouth possesses tiny teeth since he feeds primarily on small fish and plankton. Conversely, the great white shark, growing up to 20 feet in length and weighing 6,000 pounds, has 300 serrated sharp teeth rooted in his powerful jaws to accommodate hunting and feasting on a diet that includes seals and sea lions. The film “Jaws” rendered the great white shark as the most feared shark. Another Goliath found in the Atlantic is the basking shark, measuring up to 30 feet long. The basking shark swims with his mouth open to receive his standard meal of plankton.
Tiny and Tenacious
One of the world’s smallest sharks is the spined pygmy shark. The spined pygmy thrives in deep waters of the tropical and temperate Atlantic Ocean. Measuring an average of 7 inches long, this tiny shark will fit in the palm of your hand. The predator’s preferred fare includes crustaceans, squid and fish. Another small shark whose body length averages 7 inches is the dwarf lantern shark, found primarily in the Caribbean waters surrounding Columbia and Venezuela.
Armed Head to Tail
The nine species of hammerhead sharks are so named for their bizarrely shaped heads whose protuberances resemble the double-ended heads of mallets, with eyes situated at the opposing ends. The hammerhead uses this unusual physique to seek out a wide range of prey to satiate his unfussy appetite -- and also as leverage to hold down his victim. The shark sporting the longest tail is the thresher shark. Half of his body length, which averages 8 feet, is devoted to the upper lobe of his tail that juts behind. This tail serves to whip and stun prey, and also to corral schools of smaller fish into its waiting jaws. The geographical range of both the hammerhead and the thresher shark spans the Atlantic seas.
Other Atlantic Sharks
Other sharks to appear in the Atlantic include the smooth dogfish shark, the bull shark, the lemon shark, the Atlantic sharpnose shark, the nurse shark and the aggressive oceanic white-tipped shark. The most common shark of all is the piked dogfish shark, also known as the spiny dogfish shark, particularly abundant in the northern Atlantic Ocean. The shortfin mako shark is the speediest swimmer, and the blue shark holds the title of longest migration, making his vacation travels between the coast of New York and Brazil.
- Sea World Orlando: Know Our Stars: Sharks
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Rhincodon Typus Whale Shark
- National Geographic: Animals: Whale Shark
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Carcharodon Carcharias - Great White Shark
- Enchanted Learning: All About Sharks! Spined Pygmy Shark
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- National Geographic: Animals: Hammerhead Shark
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Alopias Vulpinus
- N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources: Division of Marine Fisheries: Sharks
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images