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Shark Identification

Updated on October 6, 2014

Tips for Shark Identification

This page has shark identification information.

Sharks, along with rays, skates, and deepwater chimaeras (ratfishes) belong to the class Chondrichthyes.

These magnificent predators are found in oceans, bays, and saltwater estuaries worldwide.

Occasionally sharks even enter rivers and travel miles upward, into areas of brackish or nearly fresh water.

Successful shark identification usually requires paying attention to coloration, fins (size and orientation), body shape, head shape, eyes, gill slits, teeth, location, and other features.

great white shark feeding
great white shark feeding

Great White Sharks

Great white sharks are found in much of the world's oceans. These are among the largest predatory sharks, preying on large fish, seals, young dolphins and other sea life. The species became known worldwide due to the series of "Jaws" books and movies.

Great white sharks are identified by their triangular shaped head (when viewed from above), black eyes, outward facing teeth, and immense size. Great whites are gray above with a white underside.

Bull Sharks

Notice the stout body, blunt head, large dorsal fin and arched back of the bull shark. Bull sharks are large, heavy bodied sharks that often move into shallow water. They may cruise alone or feed in groups. Bull sharks are another known maneater.

Sand Tiger Sharks

Sand tiger sharks are fairly easy to recognize. Look for the brown color, teeth that hang down and notice how the pectoral, dorsal and caudal fins are roughly the same size and shape. Also notice the distinctive shaped tail.

Sandbar Sharks

Sandbar sharks are common along the USA east coast. Their color varies from gray to brown. They are commonly 3-4 feet in length in inshore estuaries and are often caught in the open ocean in the 5-6 foot range.

Shark Identification by Color

When identifying sharks in the field, one of the first charactoristics to notice is color.

Is it blue? silver-gray? brownish? brownish-tan? spotted? solid? striped? mottled?

Along the USA Atlantic coast, sharks with blue coloration are usally either blue sharks or mako sharks. The 2 fish share some common traits, but have easily distinguishable features.

Mako sharks can be easily identified by looking for the snout that is pointed and appears triangluar from above, the black eye and tail fin lobes that are near equal lengths.

Nurse Sharks

Nurse sharks have the disctintive catlike face, whiskers, small eyes and fins. Nurse sharks tend to lie on the bottom motionless for long periods of time.

Rhode Island Sea Grant Shark Identification Placards

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)announces the availability of a shark identification placard for recreational fishermen.

This placard provides information on the shark species that can be legally retained by recreational anglers in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea.

Please note that recreational vessels must possess a valid Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Angling or HMS Charter/Headboat permit to fish for sharks.

Additionally, federally permitted recreational vessels must comply with federal HMS regulations, regardless of where they are fishing unless a state has more restrictive regulations. In that case, the fishermen must follow the more restrictive regulations.

For more information see the Atlantic HMS website at:

or contact the HMS Management Division at (301)713-2347 (phone) or (301)713-1917 (fax)

Download pdf versions of the placards directly here:

Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Saltwater Fish
Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Saltwater Fish

The definitive field guide to North American saltwater fish-from the absolute authority on sportfishing Before you head out to the open seas, listen up: Your tackle box is not complete without Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Saltwater Fish! Written by one of the foremost experts in sportfishing, this colorful reference provides anglers and fish enthusiasts of all levels an easy-to-use, indispensable guide to help you identify and learn about the most common species found off the North American coastlines-from albacore to yellowtail. Based on the award-winning reference book Ken Schultz's Fishing Encyclopedia, this handy field guide compresses the essence of its bestselling predecessor into a more manageable, compact size. Arranged alphabetically by species, each entry covers the identification, size/age, distribution, habitat, life history/behavior, and feeding habits of each fish. This fully illustrated, full-color guide makes it easy to identify what's at the end of your line. You'll learn how to distinguish an Atlantic mackerel from a Spanish mackerel, for instance; why you might mistake a cobia for a shark or a remora; how the red grouper's saddle spot will help you tell it apart from a Nassau grouper; and so much more. Written for the 16 million people who enjoy saltwater fishing, Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Saltwater Fish features: * 227 of the most common saltwater fish * Large, full-color illustrations to help you identify your catch * Approachable organization in a compact, take-along size * A comprehensive glossary that explains the terms used in the species profiles * Overview and anatomy sections written in layman's terms Ken Schultz's Field Guide to Saltwater Fish is a must-have for any fan of America's favorite pastime: fishing!

spiny dogfish
spiny dogfish

Spiny Dogfish

The spiny dogfish is a small, slender shark with a flattened head and a snout that tapers to a blunt tip. Like the smooth dogfish, its mouth is full of low, flat, grinding teeth, but it also possesses an extra set of teeth that are small, yet very sharp.

Although spiny dogfish and smooth dogfish are around the same size on the average (about 3 feet long, 7-10 pounds), the spiny dogfish has two distinguishing features: rows of small white dots run along its slate-gray sides, and a sharp spine is found in front of each of its two dorsal fins.

Shark DVDs

Shark Week: 20th Anniversary Collection
Shark Week: 20th Anniversary Collection

Lurking silently beneath the ocean's placid surface is one of nature's most terrifying creatures a powerful predator who can rip its prey apart in a matter of seconds! Now experience actual shark attacks and rescues captured on film. Learn why these attacks are increasing at an alarming rate and see the awe-inspiring lengths sharks will go to when they're after prey. Swim with this misunderstood marvel in the world's most beautiful places and discover the shark's secrets as we peer into its home in the sea's dark depths. Go shark hunting with the man whose legendary adventures may have inspired the infamous character Quint from Jaws the movie that has scared millions out of the ocean. Explore the science myths and mystery of this fearsome predator in 14 favorite Discovery Channel programs from Shark Week--the series that has been exciting and intriguing fans for 20 years!4-DVD Set includes the following episodes: "Shark Attack Rescuers" "Shark Attack Survivors" Anatomy of a Shark Bite" "Prehistoric Sharks" "Future Shark" "Bull Shark: The World's Deadliest Shark" "Jaws of the Pacific" "Sharks in a Desert Sea" "Air Jaws: Sharks of South Africa" "Air Jaws II: Even Higher" "American Shark" "Shark Rebellion" "Shark Hunter: Chasing the Great White" and "Shark Bite! Surviving Great Whites."System Requirements:Running Time: 177+ Mins.Format: DVD MOVIE Genre: TELEVISION/SERIES & SEQUELS Rating: NR UPC: 014381401622 Manufacturer No: DIS4016DVD


USA Shark Conservation Act

Scientists estimate that more than 100 million sharks are killed annually around the world including tens of millions for just their fins.

In the USA, the Shark Conservation Act includes requirements to land sharks whole, as well as a new prohibition on the transfer of fins at sea. The law seeks to help end shark finning by U.S. fishing vessels.

The act improves the existing law originally intended to prevent shark finning. It also allows the U.S. to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous.

The Shark Conservation Act was originally introduced by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and passed the U.S. House of Representatives in both the 110th and 111th Congress (H.R.81). A version of the bill, introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-MA), passed the U.S Senate on December 20, 2010.

Rare Sharks

The megamouth shark is one of the most unusual species of sharks. The first one was discovered in 1976, but the species did not become known outside the science community until 1983. Since their discovery, megamouth sharks have been documented between 50 and 60 times.

Similar to by whale sharks and basking sharks, megamouth sharks use their wide jaws to filter for plankton in the deep-sea. Through tagging research, biologists found that megamouth sharks vary their depths at night. Despite recent discoveries, much of their behavior remains a mystery.

Shark Feedback

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    • Alberto-K profile image


      4 years ago

      Very interesting!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great Lens! I went to Chatham, Mass. a few summers ago to find some great white sharks. I thought it was a bust, found plenty of friendly seals to try and chase down but no white sharks... They closed the beach the next day because seal carcasses were washing up but they left me alone!

    • DailyRogue profile image


      6 years ago

      My kids are fascinated with sharks, so I shared this lens. Very educational with great links. Good job putting all of this info together.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I ran from a shark in shallow water once. Cool lens.

    • WayneDave LM profile image

      WayneDave LM 

      6 years ago

      Great lens. Really enjoyed reading through this so thanks a lot for sharing. There is some fantastic information here.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you so much for this valuable information. Will try and implement it. I enjoyed it thoroughly!!!

    • tvyps profile image

      Teri Villars 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Where's the music? Da Da, Da Da, Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da...... Interesting info, I had no idea.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image


      7 years ago

      I went swimming with sharks on Isla Mujeres, which made it clear that its a good idea to be able to tell them apart.

    • TheGoodSource101 profile image


      7 years ago

      So many Sharks even more Teeth!

    • LisaDH profile image


      9 years ago

      I saw a leopard shark once while diving. It was beautiful, but did make my heart skip a beat.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens. Sharks are one of the most feared predators of the sea. The fascinate us as much as they frighten us.




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