From great whites to whale sharks, there’s no denying that some sharks are true behemoths of the sea. But how do sharks measure up against us humans? And are they really as imposingly large as you might think?
To find out, we’re taking a look at 10 different species of sharks to find out how they size up against both us and each other, with a visual representation of a human to give you a side-by-side comparison.
Redefining the term ‘gentle giant’, the majestic whale shark is the largest fish in our seas, coming in at 10 times the length of us puny humans. Nevertheless, these huge filter feeders are entirely harmless, and their gentle nature means they’re one of the most popular sharks to dive with. Remarkably, some of the largest whale sharks weigh in at 30 tonnes – four times heavier than an African bull elephant.
Basking sharks have one of the most impressive mouths of the deep, with their jaws able to open over a metre wide. Happily, like their slightly larger cousins, they’re filter feeders and pose little risk to humans – which is a good job, because they’d almost certainly be able to swallow a person whole. As illustrated in our fact file above, basking sharks travel vast distances on their annual migration, and have been sighted in UK waters.
As its name suggests, the megamouth shark is known for its large mouth, which, like basking and whale sharks, it uses for swallowing up masses of plankton in one tremendous gulp. Despite its cool name and large size, little is known about the megamouth, and it wasn’t discovered until 1976. Believed to be migratory, most sightings of the megamouth have occurred in the Pacific Ocean, where it’s known to feed on plankton and jellyfish.
Like the megamouth, little is known about the Greenland shark – save for the fact that they live a very, very long time. This is thought to be due to the cold waters in which they live slowing their metabolism, meaning they reach maturity much later than other sharks. The largest Greenland shark ever recorded was 7.3 metres, but biologists agree that there may be much bigger individuals in the deep.
Size, strength and over 300 razor-sharp teeth; great white sharks are truly formidable predators. On average, adult great whites measure in at around 4.5 metres, though many grow much bigger, up to 6 metres. But while they may be one of the ocean’s top apex predator, great whites are not innately aggressive to humans, and attack out of curiosity rather than the want of a meal. Instead, they prefer to feed on fattier prey, like seals, sea lions and even small whales.
The otherworldly great hammerhead is one of the most unique species of shark, for obvious reasons. Native to tropical waters, these unusual creatures feed from the seabed, using their excellent vision and electrical signals to hunt their preferred meal, stingrays. Sadly, their long fins make them a lucrative target for the shark fin trade, meaning they’re now classified as critically endangered.
The bluntnose sixgill shark is the largest species of fossil sharks – a family of primordial marine creatures which have been around since the Jurassic period. Deep-water predators, the sixgill is identified by its flat head, yellow teeth, long tail and its unique row of six gill flaps. Despite its size, the sixgill isn’t an apex predator, and is vulnerable to a handful of other animals, including killer whale, great white sharks and the Steller sea lion.
Another shark species often sighted in UK waters; the common thresher shark is a member of the thresher family, a genus of shark recognised for their long tailfins. Found throughout the world’s oceans, except for the polar regions, the common is the largest of the thresher species, with its tail alone being longer than the average human. The thresher’s greatest strength is its speed, with its massive tailfin helping it glide through the water at eye-popping pace.
Native to the subtropical and temperate waters of the continental shelf, the sand tiger shark is a relatively placid, slow-swimming shark which is regularly sighted in the waters of Japan, South Africa and some parts of the Mediterranean. Visitors to Blue Planet Aquarium can get up close to this wonderful species, which is the main attraction in our Underwater Shark Tunnel exhibit.
As a means of demonstrating the remarkable biodiversity of sharks, here we have the dwarf lanternfish, the smallest shark species in the world. Native only to the continental slopes of Colombia and Venezuela, this little-known creature is a type of dogfish shark, which grows to a maximum of 20 cm. Compare this to the mighty whale shark, and it’s hard to believe that these remarkable animals are part of the same group.
At Blue Planet Aquarium, we always believe that sharks of all shapes and sizes are incredibly fascinating – from the smallest species to the biggest predators.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this in-depth look at different shark species and how they measure up against us humans. For close encounters with sharks and other creatures of the deep, join us for an educational visit to Blue Planet Aquarium. Find ticket and visitor information on our homepage.