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DIVE's Top Ten Sharks

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Do you have a favourite shark? What species is at the top of your bucket list of must-sees? Here is a rundown of our pick with a video on each with some fascinating insights into their behaviour, where to encounter them in the water and their conservation status. In reverse order DIVE's Top Ten Sharks…

10: SAND TIGER SHARK

Despite its name, it isn't related to the tiger shark – in fact, it is a close cousin to the great white shark. Sand tigers or grey nurse sharks or ragged-tooth sharks (raggies in South Africa) live in subtropical and temperate waters worldwide. They are often seen by divers as they live in the relatively shallow waters of continental shelves. Although they look quite fearsome, with their sharp pointy head and a mouth over full with teeth, they are in fact extremely placid.  Unlike other sharks, sand tigers gulp air from the surface, turning their stomachs into air pockets to regulate their buoyancy allowing them to hover around motionlessly.

9: THRESHER SHARK

There are three species of thresher shark - the common, big eye and pelagic. They can be found in most tropical and temperate waters across the world but tend to stay in deep (500m+), cooler waters only rarely venturing to the surface.  One of the most reliable places to encounter them is at Monad Shoal near the island of Malapascua in the Philippines. They use their elongated tail fins to beat the water to stun prey.  Although rarely seen in Britain, in 2018 a common thresher was seen jumping out of the water off the coast of Devon. 

8: OCEANIC WHITETIP SHARK

These pelagic wanders are found near the surface over deep water. They are generally solitary animals, searching vast areas of ocean for their prey and are extremely opportunist hunters, making them one of the most inquisitive species of sharks. Sadly their numbers have dramatically declined in recent years due to longline fishing with stocks in the Atlantic down by as much as 95 per cent.  One of the best places to encounter them is a unique aggregation in the deep waters off Cat Island in The Bahamas each April and May. You also come across them diving from liveaboards around the offshore reefs of the Egyptian Red Sea.

7: REEF SHARKS

Reef sharks, by virtue of their chosen habitat, are the types of shark most commonly encountered by divers. Caribbean reef sharks, grey reef sharks and blacktip reefs sharks are closely related members of the genus Carcharhinus (which also includes oceanic whitetips and bull sharks), whereas the whitetip reef shark, although a member of the same family, is a more distant cousin. Grey reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks and whitetip reef sharks are distributed throughout the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea to the remote islands of French Polynesia, and Caribbean reef sharks inhabit the sea for which they are named, with a range that extends to the southern shores of Brazil. Although their primary habitat is coral reefs, reef sharks are often found around seagrass beds and mangroves. As the apex predators of their environment, they play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy coral ecosystem, from keeping fish populations in check, to fertilising the reef with their poop. 

6: BULL SHARK

The bull shark, named after and known for its bull-like features and aggressive behaviour, is found worldwide in warm, shallow water along coasts and rivers. They can live in both salt and freshwater and can travel up rivers, even being spotted 700 miles from the ocean in the Mississippi River. Bull sharks have been recorded as diving to a depth of 150m but don't usually swim deeper than 30m. 

5: BASKING SHARK

For our Top 5 spot, it's the basking shark, the second largest-living shark after the whale shark and also a plankton-eating species, using it greatly enlarged mouth for filter feeding. Basking sharks are coastal pelagic and can be found worldwide in temperate waters including around the west coast of the UK - particularly Cornwall and Western Scotland. 

4: TIGER SHARK

Named after their tiger-like stripes, the tiger shark is the fourth largest species of shark, capable of growing to more than 5m in length. They are primarily found in temperate and tropical climates, especially around the central Pacific islands, and have been found as far north as Japan and as south as New Zealand. The tiger shark is an apex predator and will eat almost anything, giving it the reputation of 'garbage eater'. Known for their wide food spectrum, from other sharks to sea turtles, it is solitary, mostly only hunting during the night.

3: HAMMERHEAD SHARK

Known for the distinctive structure of their heads, hammerhead sharks can be found worldwide along coasts and near continental shelves. The two main species encountered by divers are the great hammerhead and the scalloped hammerhead. Different to most sharks, they can be found in schools during the day, sometimes in groups of 100 or more, and hunting alone at night. Their hammer-shaped head is called a cephalofoil and is thought to improve their ability to find prey. The length of the head and wide-set eyes give them a better visual range than most other sharks and by spreading their sensory organs they can more effectively scan the ocean for food.

2: WHALE SHARK

The whale shark is a slow-moving, filter-feeding shark and is the largest known living shark, with the largest confirmed specimen having a length of 18.8m. It is usually found in warm open waters and tropical oceans. Being a primarily pelagic species, it is found in the open ocean and while it doesn’t often venture to the depths of the ocean, it is known to occasionally dive to depths of 1,500m.  Unlike other sharks, whale sharks mouths are located at the front of the head rather than the underside and they can open to a width of 1.5m. Despite their size, whale sharks are very docile creatures.

1: GREAT WHITE SHARK

Notable for its size, the great white shark can reach lengths of up to 6.1m and is the third-largest shark in the ocean, just falling short of the whale shark and the basking shark. They can be found in most coastal and offshore waters, with great concentrations in the Eastern Pacific, South Africa and Australia. They have been recorded to dive to depths as great as 1,200m.


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