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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.