For hundreds of millions of years, early shark ancestors adapted to changes in oceans and rivers that helped them survive. About 359 million years ago an extinction event killed off many other types of fish and gave rise to the period known as 'the golden age of sharks' where new species like the the Megalodon, Xenacanthus and Helicoprion appeared and ruled the oceans.
Helicoprion were the world's first mega predator that lived 290 to 270 million years ago during the Devonian period. They had a unique morphological feature of whorls of elongated teeth in their lower jaw called 'tooth whorls'.
Almost all Helicoprion specimens are fossilised records of their 'tooth whorls', that scientists have studied to determine their evolutionary biology and how they used their peculiar teeth to consume prey. Recent application of biomechanical principles have revealed that this predator consumed both hard and soft prey using different feeding techniques.
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Weird and wonderful sharks
The Epaulette Shark is a bottom-dwelling, mostly nocturnal shark species that is endemic (only found in) the Great Barrier Reef. They are characterised by a large black ocellus (white ringed black spot) behind their pectoral fins.
To navigate their complex reef environment, they have adapted a unique ability to 'walk' using their paddle-shaped fins.
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Moller's Lanternsharks are deep-sea, bioluminescent sharks that have a unique ability to emit their own light. This special adaptation allows them to disguise their silhouette from predators, a common camouflage method called 'counter illumination'.
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The Goblin Shark is a rare deepwater shark characterised by a long snout and protrusible jaw with nail like teeth that are used to strike and capture prey. The pores on the underside of their snout, called ampullae of Lorenzini, are also used to detect their prey's electric fields.
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The Gulf Wobbegong is a species of Carpetshark with distinctive colouring and patterns that serves as excellent camouflage against the sea floor. They are a nocturnal species that live in temperate and subtropical waters in southern Australia.
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Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark
Named after the cookie-shaped wounds it leaves on larger animals, the Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark suctions itself to it's prey with its lips and spins to gouge round plugs with its teeth.
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Spookfish belong to the family Rhinochimaeridae and have evolved from an ancient shark group. They are deep-sea fish that feed on shellfish and crustaceans and are found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.
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The Common Sawshark has a slender body and a long tapering saw-shaped snout with 19 - 25 large teeth on each side and a pair of barbels. This species is endemic to Australia and can be found along Australia's southern temperate waters.
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Prickly Dogfish live in deepwater temperate marine waters around Australia and New Zealand. They have a prominent hump-backed body and very rough skin. The hump-backed shape is an energy efficient adaptation for deepwater fish.
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Frill Sharks have distinctive slender eel-like bodies, wide jaws and three-pronged teeth. They live in deep-sea waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at depths of 120m to 1500 m. The Frill Shark is considered a living fossil and can trace its lineage to the Carboniferous period.
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Sharks of all shapes and sizes
The Whale Shark is the largest fish in the world. Using filtering screens on its gills, the Whale Shark feeds by swimming with its huge mouth open, consuming small crustaceans, squid and fish. Easily recognised by its enormous size and distinctive colour pattern, they live in tropical and warm temperate waters.
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Great Hammerhead Shark
Great Hammerhead Sharks have a distinct hammer shaped head and are found in warm temperate seas worldwide. They are the largest species of Hammerhead Shark and have the most complex brains of all sharks, able to process a wide range of sensory information.
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Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks are often seen in large schools during the day that disperse at night to feed in deeper waters. They can be identified by the undulating scalloped margin to the front of its head and low second dorsal fin. They have adapted specialised binocular vision that gives them almost 360o range.
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The Draughtboard Shark is characterised by a short broad head and mottled dark blotches across its stocky body. This species is endemic to Australia and is the most common catshark in coastal southern Australia.
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Shortfin Mako Shark
Considered the fastest of all sharks, the Shortfin Mako can reach speeds of up to 70km/hr. It has adapted a circulatory system which keeps its body temperature higher than that of the surrounding water and helps its muscles work more efficiently.
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Alternative name: Great White Shark
Arguably the most recognised of all shark species, the White Shark is an apex predator found worldwide in temperate, coastal waters. Their diet consists of fish and marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, dolphins and whales. The species is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and protected in Australian and other international waters.
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Bull Sharks are an aggressive shark species with distinct stout bodies and a broad blunt snout. They have an omnivorous diet that includes fish (including other sharks), dolphins, turtles and birds, molluscs and even plants and algae.
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Named after the dark stripes along its body that resemble a tiger's pattern, the Tiger Shark is a scavenger species that feed on a wide variety of prey including turtles, sea snakes and other fish. They are found mainly in tropical and subtropical waters throughout the world and can live for over 30 years.
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Harrison's Dogfish are small grey sharks found off the eastern coast of Australia and New Zealand. The last few decades have seen a 99% decline in population due to overfishing and they are now considered to be critically endangered.
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Found in the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Indian and western Pacific oceans, the Greynurse Shark is characterised by its conical snout and long pointed teeth. Although once labelled as being a 'maneater', it is now known they are generally slow-moving and rarely attack humans.
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Port Jackson Shark
The Port Jackson Shark is characterised by a broad, blunt head and harness-like patterns that run across its body. They are endemic to the temperate waters of Australia and feed on sea urchins, crustaceans and fishes.
Learn more about Port Jackson Sharks.