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8 Weird Facts About Sharks

Introduction

Great white shark being captured and tagged

'Lydia' the great white shark aboard the OCEARCH research vessel during a tagging expedition.
(Image credit: OCEARCH/Robert Snow)

From glowing underwater to hunting with whips of the tail, sharks are fascinating and weird creatures. Here are eight strange facts about sharks.

The megamouth shark

megamouth shark

The megamouth shark, shown here, is an extremely rare species of deepwater shark. The megamouth swims with its mouth wide open, catching and sucking in fish and krill as it glides along. Its massive mouth extends past its eyes and is equipped with about 50 rows of small, sharp teeth on each jaw.
(Image credit: NOAA)

One of the rarest sharks is the megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios, meaning "giant mouth of the deep"). Fewer than 100 specimens of the beast have ever been seen. It was first discovered in in 1976 when struck by and tangled in the anchor of a Navy ship off Hawaii. The animal can grow up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) long and is a filter feeder, siphoning plankton from the water.

The cookiecutter shark

Two pictures of the white shark with bite and scar inflicted by a cookiecutter shark. To the right of the fresh bite (see arrow) is a suspected crescent-shaped scar from an earlier bite.

Two pictures of the white shark with bite and scar inflicted by a cookiecutter shark. To the right of the fresh bite (see arrow) is a suspected crescent-shaped scar from an earlier bite.
(Image credit: Mauricio Hoyos-Padilla et al / Pacific Science)

The cookiecutter shark can take ice-cream-scoop-shaped bites out of other sharks, including great whites, which are many times larger. They also have been known to bite holes in cables and other materials used by U.S. Navy submarines, which has necessitated a switch to a fiberglass, bite-proof coating.

Thick skin

There are more shark attacks in U.S. waters than in any other region of the world.

There are more shark attacks in U.S. waters than in any other region of the world.
(Image credit: NOAA photo library. Used with permission.)

The skin of a female shark is much thicker than that of a male because males bite females during mating, said David Shiffman, a shark researcher and doctoral student at the University of Miami. Pregnant females appear to avoid males on migration routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean, perhaps to avoid being bitten, studies have shown.

Slow-moving killer

slow swimming shark

A Greenland shark with a data logger on its back is shown swimming
(Image credit: NRK/Armin Muck.)

The Greenland shark is one of the slowest-moving fish ever recorded and has been found with reindeer, polar bears, and fast-moving seals in its stomach, Shiffman said. It's thought that Greenland sharks prey upon sleeping seals, which snooze in the water to avoid polar bears.

Cavity-proof teeth

Teeth such as this from the extinct 40-foot-long shark Carcharocles megalodon are common in the Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed because, like modern sharks, these extinct sharks also shed teeth throughout their lives.

Teeth such as this from the extinct 40-foot-long shark Carcharocles megalodon are common in the Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed because, like modern sharks, these extinct sharks also shed teeth throughout their lives.
(Image credit: UC Berkeley)

Shark teeth are covered in fluoride, making them cavity-resistant. One 2012 study published in the Journal of Structural Biology found that sharks' enamel is made up of a chemical called fluoroapatite, which is resistant to acid produced by bacteria. This, combined with the fact that most sharks replace their teeth throughout their lives, means that sharks have excellent dental health.

Glowing in the deep

The glowing parts of the velvet belly lanternshark, as seen from the side.

The glowing parts of the velvet belly lanternshark, as seen from the side.
(Image credit: Dr. Jérôme Mallefet FNRS - UCL)

Lantern sharks can glow to disguise themselves in the deep ocean, producing and emitting the same amount of light as that which is filtering down from above; this way they don't create a "shadow." Velvet belly lantern sharks Velvet belly lantern sharks have glowing spines have glowing spines that may be used to ward off predators.

Cloned sharks

Hammerhead shark in Bahamas

Laura Rock also took second in the student category for her image of a cruising hammerhead in Bimini, Bahamas.
(Image credit: Laura Rock, Florida)

Some captive female sharks have been known to reproduce without the aid of a male, essentially cloning themselves, Shiffman said. In 2001, a female hammerhead shark gave birth in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska without mating with a male, taking researchers by surprise. It's an example of parthenogenesis, wherein embryos can be created with external fertilization, and has been seen in all types of animals except for mammals.

Tail-whip hunting

thresher shark swimming

Thresher sharks use their long tails to smack and stun fish before they eat them.

Thresher sharks can flail their tails to stun prey, cracking it like a whip, Shiffman said. The behavior was captured on film and described for the first time in a PLOS ONE study last month. The tail-whip also creates bubbles that can stun prey.