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Great Hammerhead Shark

With an unusual head shape, the great hammerhead shark is an excellent hunter and apex predator of the oceans.

Great hammerhead shark closeup
Great Hammerhead

Great Hammerhead Shark

Sphyrna mokarran

Great Hammerhead Shark Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Chondrichthyes
  • Order: Carcharhiniformes
  • Family: Sphyrnidae
  • Genus: Sphyrna
  • Species: Sphyrna mokarran

Great Hammerhead Shark Appearance

Great hammerhead shark foraging food
  • Lifespan: 20-30 years
  • Length: 15-20 feet
  • Weight: 500-900 pounds
  • Top speed: 25 mph

When you come across ‘the great hammerhead shark,’ the first thought that crosses your mind is – why this peculiar name?

Well, the amusing name of this shark species comes from the unusual shape of their heads! The fantastic bone structure of the hammerhead shark’s heads, which differentiate it from the Smooth Hammerheads and Scalloped Hammerheads sharks, makes it easier for them to hunt and look for their prey, primarily stingrays.

Therefore, a hammerhead shark uses its broad head to trap stingrays and other fish.

The outward extensions of a hammerhead shark are extended, which gives them a wide head. The width of the head is 23-28% of the hammerhead shark’s body length.

The great hammerhead sharks vary in colors – you’ll find them in shades of dark brown, olive to light gray, with a typical colored white underside. 

The average length of hammerhead sharks spans from 15 to 20 feet, with an average weight of over 500 pounds. Typically, the females are heavier as compared to the male hammerhead sharks. 

Did you know? The longest great hammerhead shark ever recorded was 20 feet long, while the heaviest great hammerhead shark ever recorded was 991 pounds.

Great Hammerhead Shark Range & Habitat

Great hammerhead shark with mouth open

Great hammerhead sharks are found in coastal waters worldwide, including the Atlantic Sea, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.

They are also found in inshore and offshore waters, but the probability is low. Hammerhead sharks love tropical waters and coral reefs, so you’ll find plenty of them near coral reefs all over the globe.

These sharks are migratory species and swim towards the poles to find cooler waters when the temperatures get hotter.

Distribution

  • Oceans: Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian

Habitats

Marine Neritic | Marine Oceanic

Great Hammerhead Shark Behavior and Lifestyle

Great hammerhead shark closeup

Whether for hunting or migration, the hammerhead is a species of shark that gather in large schools for all social purposes.

They have a unique body language, using which they indicate the social hierarchy and communicate orders to the entire school.

Some commonly used communication signs include swimming in circles, torso thrusts, and head shakes. As these sharks are nocturnal, they are primarily active during the night.

Great Hammerhead Shark Diet

Great hammerhead shark closeup

As they are carnivorous, hammerhead sharks are aggressive hunters and active predators. And they have the right set of physical features – sharp teeth, body structure, heightened senses, and other behavioral hunting tactics.

Hammerhead sharks chase their prey, unlike other sharks that will choose to either ambush or stalk their prey. Once they find their target, the hammerhead sharks stun the game with a bite or a bump.

Apart from this, they also use other techniques to hunt their prey down before eating it. Like other sharks, hammerhead sharks use minimal energy to hunt and instead rely on their agility, body weight, speed, and sharp teeth to attack their prey.

The great hammerhead sharks are nocturnal, which means they also hunt for food at night. They choose to feed at night during the low or high tide and will be typically found in shallow reef waters as they go out hunting.

They prey on a wide variety of marine species, from invertebrates to bony fishes and sharks. Still, stingrays are their favorite foods, but these sharks also feed on squid, octopuses, crustaceans, and other fish in their absence.

These sharks represent no danger to humans but may attack when provoked. Usually, the larger hammerhead sharks with bigger mouths are the ones that strike, though few shark attacks on humans have been recorded. 

Great Hammerhead Shark Reproduction and Mating

Great hammerhead shark with mouth open

The energy that hammerhead sharks save from hunting is used for migrating, hunting, and mating. The male hammerhead shark bites the female aggressively until the female finally agrees to mate.

Then, they use electroreception to reproduce and engage in intercourse facing each other. The male sperms are transferred from claspers to the female reproductive organ known as the cloaca.

The sharks mate for a minute, after which the male shark swims away, and the process of fertilization begins within the female. 

Following a gestation period of approximately 11 months, birth occurs during the spring or summer in the Northern Hemisphere. One litter of hammerhead sharks consists of 20 to 40 pups.

Shark pups are left to be independent the moment they are born. These pups are not funded by their parents in any way. The juvenile sharks then group and move towards warmer waters.

They then stay there until they get older and bigger, after which they move to live independent lives of their own. However, they are often preyed upon by larger sharks such as bull sharks.

Great Hammerhead Shark Conservation Status

Critically endangered[1]

Great Hammerhead Shark Predators and Threats

Great Hammerhead shark photographed from below

Sharks are considered apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain in the ocean, which means they don’t have many natural predators.

The same applies to hammerhead sharks, whose only predators are larger sharks, like tiger sharks, great white sharks, and killer whales, and of course, humans.

Humans are the biggest threat to sharks, and if at all the species is on the verge of extinction, it is because of commercial fishing by humans who use their skin used for leather, their liver oil for vitamins, and their carcasses for fishmeal.

Thankfully, the fishing of sharks has been forbidden in s United States, Australia, and the European Union. The great hammerhead sharks are preferred for the large size of their fins and are also threatened by the global shark fin trade.

Great Hammerhead Shark Facts

Here are some fun facts about the great hammerhead sharks:

  • While stingrays are known to be poisonous, they do not affect hammerhead sharks! Stingray barbs can prove to be deadly to humans and other aquatic life, but not to hammerhead sharks. These sharks are often found with stingray barbs embedded in their mouths! 
  • Hammerhead species can get tanned! When they swim for a long while in shallow waters, the color of some hammerheads turns from a lighter shade to black. 
  • The eyes of hammerhead sharks are located at the end of their head extension. This gives them a wide field of view, allowing them to see nearly everything around them at any given time. This 360-degrees vision is an attribute found only in hammerhead sharks, in the entire shark family.
  • There are ten different species of hammerhead sharks, of which the Great Hammerhead Shark is the largest.
  • The hammerhead shark’s head is a lot more than just a head – it offers binocular vision to the sharks, which is super useful when hunting. As the size of the hammerhead is pretty large, hammerhead sharks have a higher number of electroreceptor organs. This helps them navigate vast distances and detect prey easily.