Sharks have always been seen as big scary fish that would gobble you up as soon as look at you. Many sharks are indeed terrifying, growing great sizes and having rows and rows of razor sharp teeth. However, what about those oddballs that are just plain weird rather than scary? Here I will be showing you some, many are extinct so do not worry; you’re not going to bump into them whilst having a nice swim!
Please note: I will not be writing about the Megalodon; I know it’s a very popular prehistoric shark but it’s definitely more terrifying than it is weird.
The Whorl Shark
This bizarre shark lived from the Carboniferous to the Triassic, and went extinct 225 million years ago. The Whorl Shark, or Helicoprion, is known for its distinct lower jaw. Most sharks shed their teeth throughout their life and have a constant conveyor belt of new teeth coming through. However, this shark maintained all its teeth, and just continued to grow more behind it, creating this spiral jaw. Fossil evidence shows it may have grown up to 20ft long!
As sharks’ skeletons are made of cartilage, only their teeth will be preserved. So, when fossil evidence of this monster was found, most scientists thought it was the ancient cephalopod, the ammonite (the resemblance is there). As you can see by the image here, many different ideas were put forward as to where this whorl went. But, it was not until studying the jaw of a relative, Ornithoprion, was it found that the whorl shark’s teeth belonged to the lower jaw.
The Frilled Shark
This strange creature is said to be a living fossil and growth up to 2m long. Its relatives lived some 400 million years ago. The Frilled shark is said to live at great depths in the ocean, about 200m down, and enjoys very cold water. So cold in fact, that bringing it up to shallow water killed it because it was too hot and was cooked alive! It was given its name because of the 6 pairs of long frilly gill slits. But, in my opinion that is not the distinguishing feature of this shark. I think it should be called the ‘Weird Creepy Eel Shark’ because of its serpent-like body. This creature looks like God got bored one day and stuck a fish’s head to and eel’s body. However, don’t let the frilled shark’s appearance fool you. In that flattened head is rows and rows of razor sharp teeth, like many other sharks.
I definitely think George Lucas got some inspiration from this monster…doesn’t it look similar to a creature from The Phantom Menace? There’s always a bigger fish…
This shark must have been a clean freak because it had a brush attached to its head! This shark lived in the Carboniferous, 360 million years ago. Fossils have been found all over North America and Europe. It wasn’t a giant shark, only about 70cm long, but had unusual spikes on its hind dorsal fin.
No one is exactly sure why this shark had a flat dorsal fin with spikes on. It may have been to latch onto the belly of its prey, trapping them. It may have been to ward off other sharks or it may have been a way of showing off to lady sharks.
The Greenland Shark
This sort of cute looking creature is native to waters around North America, Iceland and obviously, Greenland. It is the only sub-Arctic species of shark and can grow to 6.4m in length. It is a lot stouter than other typically streamlined sharks. So far, there have been no records of these sharks eating humans but…they can be cannibals, eating other Greenland sharks when needed. There are a couple of strange things about this shark. The first that its flesh is poisonous, containing a high urea content. This gave rise to the Inuit legend that an old woman washed her hair in urine (gross) and dried it with a cloth. The cloth blew into the ocean and became the Greenland shark. The second strange this is that the Greenland shark is blind; it has parasitic worms attached to its eyes, which really just makes you feel sorry for it.
The Cookiecutter Shark
Don’t let the cheesy grin and cute name fool you, the cookiecutter shark is not one you want to run, or swim, into. Although it can only reach 56cm in length, it gouges chunks, like a cookie cutter, out of its prey and swims off, leaving the injured marine animal to bleed out. And it’s fearless; the cookiecutter does this to prey much larger than itself…even humans.
It is a very deceptive shark as it just looks like a regular fish, it even travels in schools like normal fish, but has a band-saw row of lower teeth. In short, this shark hasn’t been given its name for its great baking skills!
The Spined Pygmy Shark
This is a type of dogfish shark. Dogfish are known for having soft eggs called ‘Mermaid’s Purses’, not that mermaids would keep sharks in their handbags, of course. But this is the smallest known shark, only reaching 28cm in length. They live in pretty much every ocean but very rarely come up to the surface. They have a spine running along the first dorsal fin, not the second like most other sharks. One of the interesting things about this shark is that that have many bioluminescent organs, omitting light to disguise their silhouettes from predators.
The Megamouth Shark
Yes, you guessed it; this shark has a really big mouth. The megamouth is an incredibly rare deep water shark; since its discovery in 1976 only a few have ever been seen. It can grow to 5.5m in length. It swims around with its large mouth open, feeding on plankton and jellyfish that are unlucky enough to float in. The inside of the gill slits can also trap food. The megamouth shark’s soft, flabby body means it isn’t a great swimmer. Even though the mouth is so huge, it contains small teeth; large teeth are not needed when you’re a filter feeder. One cool mechanism to lure prey is that the megamouth shark has luminous lips to attract plankton.
The Goblin Shark
Finally, this goblin shark looks like something straight out of a children’s nightmare. This is also a living fossil; its lineage reaching 125 million years back. This deep-sea shark can be about 4m in length and its most distinguishing feature is the fact that it literally throws its jaw out to catch prey. The goblin’s long snout can detect minute electric fields produced by its prey, which it then creeps up on and rapidly juts its jaw out to catch the prey. Not only are the goblin shark’s snout and jaw bizarre, but its teeth are also odd. Unlike most sharks that have triangular, serrated teeth, the goblin’s teeth are thin, nail-like and somewhat sporadically arranged. This shark is truly is only something its mother could love.
So there you have it, a handful of strange and weird sharks, some alive today, some extinct. This just shows that not all sharks are the typical scary predators that everyone thinks of.
Garman, S. (January 17, 1884). “An Extraordinary Shark”. Bulletin of the Essex Institute 16: 47–55.
“Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group”. Geerg.ca. Retrieved 2011-05-23.
Kyne, P.M. and G.H. Burgess (2006). Squaliolus laticaudus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
Martin, R.A. “Biology of the Goblin Shark”. ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
Megamouth shark media at ARKive
Mills, Patrick (2006). “Somniosus microcephalus”. In Dewey, Tanya. Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan
Stevens, J. (SSG Australia & Oceania Regional Workshop, March 2003) (2003). Isistius brasiliensis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved January 26, 2010.