Weird Sharks: The Strangest Sharks in the World

Over the course of almost half a billion years, sharks have adapted perfectly to suit their environment. Some have evolved into perfect, torpedo-like apex predators while others make the list of the world’s strangest sharks. Extendable jaws, heads shaped like the contents of a toolbox and one oddball who will keep prey in its mouth for days, waiting for it to die. Welcome to the wacky, wonderful world of weird looking sharks!

Sharks Sharks
5 October 2021

All animals are weird in their own way and some are weirder than others but in the underwater world, the word weird takes on a whole new meaning. There are some very weird looking sharks in the sea!

You think you know sharks? Think again… Here’s our list of some of the strangest sharks in the world.

Wobbegong

Tasselled wobbegong shark on the ocean floor (Photo: Getty Images)

Any list of weird looking sharks has to include the wobbegong, meaning ‘shaggy beard’. Found mostly in temperate and tropical Indo-Pacific waters from Japan down to Australia, they are flat, around 1.5m long and don’t look like sharks at all. They lie on the ocean floor using their spotted, carpet-like skin and tasselled face as camouflage and pounce on their prey with incredible speed and accuracy. They have been called the greatest ambush hunter of all sharks and if their prey is too big to swallow, they’ll hold it in their teeth until it dies, then eat it in chunks.

Hammerhead Shark

A great Hammerhead shark lurking (Photo: Getty Images)

One of the most famous sharks on our list, the hammerhead looks pretty normal until you get to it’s bizarrely-shaped head, known as a cephalofoil. It’s eyes are on either side of the ‘hammer’ which gives it almost 360° vision and an almost perfect sense of distance which is crucial for hunting. They can grow up to a length of almost 6m and they are found all over the world in warm, coastal waters.

Saw Shark

The Saw Shark showing exactly why it got its name (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca via Getty Images)

One of many strange looking sharks in the sea, the saw shark has an incredibly long snout (known as a rostrum) with sharp teeth on each side. They use it for digging into the ocean floor for crustaceans or more ominously, for viciously slashing their prey from side to side ready to eat. You’d think this was based on a pretty solid skull but in fact like other sharks they have no bones at all but instead a cartilaginous skeleton. They can grow to almost 2m and as recently as 2020, two new species were identified off the coasts of Madagascar and Zanzibar.

Frilled Shark

There are certain sharks that don’t look like sharks at all, and the frilled shark is no exception. As weird sharks go, Chlamydoselachus anguineus is a contender for the weirdest. It has the head of a snake and the body of a huge eel and it has been slithering through the seas unchanged for 100 million years. It’s called the frilled shark because of the red frilly margins on it’s gill slits but it’s primary weapon is it’s teeth. It’s massive mouth is home to 300 trident-shaped teeth and on each backwards-facing tooth there are three razor-sharp hooks. The phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’ is perfect for the unfortunate prey of this ocean-going ogre.

Goblin Shark

Mitsukurina owstoni, otherwise known as the goblin shark is not only one of the world’s weird sharks, it’s one of the scariest and ugliest looking beasts in the sea. Largely unchanged for 125 million years, it has a pinkish hue, a powerful jaw that distends away from its body, a rubbery snout and it looks like a prosthetic model from an underwater alien film.

Cookiecutter Shark

Relative to body size, the cookiecutter has the largest teeth of any shark, but that’s not what sets it apart as one of the ocean’s most strange looking sharks. Cigar-shaped and about 50cm long, it’s called the cookiecutter because of the way it feeds. It latches on to much larger sharks and whales with it’s big rubbery lips (and on occasion will mistakenly lock on to a submarine) and takes a perfectly round bite of flesh, as if made by a cookiecutter.

Ninja Lanternshark

In any list of the strangest sharks, the fantastically-named ninja lanternshark is a serious contender. It was only discovered in 2015, it grows to around 50cm, it has jet-black skin, bulbous eyes and photophores in its skin that allow it to glow in the dark. This combination means that it can creep up on unsuspecting prey whilst avoiding predators.

The best part of the ninja lanternshark story is that it’s scientific name is Etmopterus benchleyi, named for Jaws author Peter Benchley and it’s common name was coined by four, 8-14 year old cousins of the original identifier Vicky Vasquez. They originally wanted to call it the ‘super ninja shark’ but common sense prevailed!

And there’s more

It’s clear there are some very weird sharks in the sea! Beyond even those highlighted above there are even more odd sharks that could easily have made the list. Special mention therefore should also go to the ghost shark, cyclops shark, angel shark, horned shark and megamouth shark who didn’t quite make the cut but who are all strange in their own unique ways.

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