The Smallest Sharks in the World: Small Shark Facts

When you hear the word shark it conjures up images of huge and terrifying apex predators like the great white and the tiger shark, even the extinct megalodon that dominated the oceans for 13 million years. It certainly doesn’t make you think about the small shark species that won’t so much attack you in the sea but may lightly nibble the end of your finger if you let them… Read on to discover the fascinating world of the smallest sharks.

Sharks Sharks
13 October 2021

Mighty yet miniscule, in this case size definitely isn’t everything. There are over 500 species of shark and about half measure less than a metre long so the competition to be crowned the smallest shark in the world is fierce, unlike the sharks themselves!

How to Determine the World’s Smallest Sharks

When it comes to a comparison of shark species size, this is easier said than done. In fact there are so many different types of shark that for the smaller sharks scientists can’t even agree on a definitive chronological list of small shark species. For one thing, the difference in length between the sharks is very small and many live at depths which make sampling enough to take an average virtually impossible.

It’s also very difficult to determine precisely when the tiniest sharks are sexually mature, i.e fully grown adults. In addition, adult males are generally smaller than adult females but for some it’s the other way round. The issue is further clouded by the fact that scientists are continually discovering new small shark species (approximately eight a year over the last decade or so) to add to the list.

The search is fascinating and will keep ichthyologists and marine biologists busy for years but in the meantime, here are some of the world’s smallest sharks.

Lollipop Catshark

Catshark on the seafloor (Photography by Gerard Soury via Getty Images)

The lollipop catshark (Cephalurus cephalus) is a little-known species of deep-sea catshark that calls the Gulf of California down to the southern Baja peninsula home. Fully grown they are around 24-28cm long and are so called for their tadpole-like appearance – a flat, wide rounded head taking up a third of its body length, iridescent green eyes and a soft, almost gelatinous body.

Spined Pygmy Shark

Not quite the smallest shark in the world but certainly one of them. The spined pygmy shark (Squaliolus laticaudus) is found in cold deep water all over the world. With a dark-brown to black colouring, they grow to no longer than 28cm and are unique for the fact they have a pointed spine on the first dorsal fin but not the second.

Granular Dogfish

Almost nothing is known about Centroscyllium granulatum, or the granular dogfish, aside from the fact that it’s one of the smallest sharks in the world. It grows to a length of around 27cm and can be found off the Chilean coast and in the waters around the Falkland Islands at depths of around 450m.

Pygmy Shark

One of the world’s tiniest sharks, the cigar-shaped pygmy shark (Euprotomicrus bispinatus) is found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans at depths of over 1,500m. With large round eyes and a distinct collar mark around the gills, females reach maturity around 22-23cm while males reach a maximum of 20cm.

Green Lanternshark

A long-tailed species of dogfish found over 350m deep from the Gulf of Mexico down to the Caribbean Sea, the green lanternshark (Etmopterus virens) is feisty, known to attack much larger prey in angry mobs. Mature females reach an average of 24-26cm long.

Panama Ghost Catshark

Unsurprisingly, the panama ghost catshark (Apristurus stenseni) is found off the coast of Panama in the eastern Pacific at depths of around 950m. Mostly nocturnal, it has elongated cat-like eyes and grows to a maximum length of 23cm.

Pygmy Ribbontail Catshark

Eridacnis radcliffei, or the pygmy ribbontail catshark is one of the world’s smallest sharks. It is distributed across a wide area of the Indo-Pacific, from Tanzania in the west to the Philippines in the east at depths ranging from 70 – 750m. Dark brown with a ribbon-like tail fin, it grows to a maximum length of 24cm.

Dwarf Lanternshark

The dwarf lanternshark (Etmopterus perryi) is the most likely contender as the smallest shark in the world. It’s a little-known bioluminescent species of dogshark and can be found at depths of around 300 – 450m on the upper continental slopes off Venezuela and Colombia in the Caribbean Sea. Mature males reach 16 – 17.5cm and mature females around 15.5cm with a maximum length of 21cm.

Conclusion

While they may not be the most dangerous sharks in the world, these small shark species highlight the incredible diversity of sharks. Like their huge terrifying cousins, they hunt, these sharks don’t have bones, they inhabit the world’s oceans and have adapted over hundreds of millions of years to perfectly suit their environment. They’re just much, much smaller.

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