Ancient sharks

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'.

3D interactive model of a Helicoprion.

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.

Learn more about Helicoprions.

Render of the Megalodon. Image: Elena Regina © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Otodus megalodon

The Megalodon, Otodus megalodon (meaning 'giant tooth') lived between 20 to 3.6 million years ago and is the largest fish that ever lived. Believed to have grown up to 20m long, about three times the size of a Great White Shark, they were apex predators, preying on dolphins, seals and even whales.

Having evolved from a now extinct group of mega-toothed sharks called Otodontidae, their closest living relative is the Shortfin Mako Shark.

Learn more about Megalodons.

3D illustration of xenacanthus from the Triassic era. Image: Supplied by Shutterstock License supplied by Shutterstock.


Xenacanthus decheni

Xenacanthus (ancient greek for 'foreign spine') were freshwater sharks that lived 350 and 200 million years ago. One of the unique adaptations that Xenacanthus developed was a sharp dorsal spine that projected from their heads, protecting them from predators.

Reaching a maximum length of 2m, Xenacanthus were freshwater sharks that fed on small crustaceans and fish.

Learn more about Xenacanthus.

Weird and wonderful sharks

Epaulette Shark

Hemiscyllium ocellatum

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.

Learn more about Epaulette Sharks.

3D interactive model of an Epaulette Shark.
Junior synonym (2004) Etmopterus molleri. A larger tiff version of this file is available. Image: Mark Allen © Australian Museum

Moller's Lanternshark

Etmopterus molleri

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'.

Learn more about Moller's Lanternshark.

Head of a goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) with jaws extended. Image: Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria CC BY 3.0 AU (

Goblin Shark

Mitsukurina owstoni

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.

Learn more about Goblin Sharks.

Gulf Wobbegong, Orectolobus halei. Image: Tony Strazzari © CC BY-NC 4.0

Gulf Wobbegong

Orectolobus halei

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.

Learn more about Gulf Wobbegongs.

A Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark photographed at night off Kona, Hawaii. Image: Joshua Lambus © Joshua Lambus

Smalltooth Cookiecutter Shark

Isistius brasiliensis

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.

Learn more about Small Cookiecutter Sharks.

Bigspine Spookfish, Harriotta raleighana. Image: Unknown © Public Domain


Harriotta sp.

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.

Lean more about Spookfish.

Common Sawshark, Pristiophorus cirratus. Image: Becca Saunders License supplied by Auscape

Common Sawshark

Pristiophorus cirratus

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.

Learn more about Common Sawsharks.

A Prickly Dogfish caught north-east of Tuross, New South Wales, 18 July 1999. The fish is now registered in the Australian Museum Ichthyology Collection (AMS I.39544-001). Image: Carl Bento © Australian Museum

Prickly Dogfish

Oxynotus bruniensis

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.

Learn more about Prickly Dogfish.

Frill Shark

Chlamydoselachus anguineus

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.

Learn more about Frill Sharks.

3D interactive model of a Frill Shark.

Sharks of all shapes and sizes

Whale Shark

Rhincodon typus

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.

Learn more about Whale Sharks.

3D interactive model of a Whale Shark.
Great hammerhead shark. Image: Albert Kok Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Great Hammerhead Shark

Sphyrna mokarran

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.

Learn more about Great Hammerhead Sharks.

Scalloped Hammerhead, Sphyrna lewini. Image: David Kaposi © CC BY-NC 4.0

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Sphyrna lewini

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.

Learn more about Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.

Draughtboard Shark, Cephaloscyllium laticeps. Image: John Turnbull © CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Draughtboard Shark

Cephaloscyllium laticeps

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.

Learn more about Draughtboard Sharks.

Zebra Shark, Stegostoma tigrinum. Image: Courtesy Sunrise Divers Phuket © Sunrise Divers Phuket

Zebra Shark

Stegostoma tigrinum

Also known as Leopard Shark.

The Zebra Shark is a nocturnal species of Carpet Shark found throughout the tropical Indo-West Pacific. They are docile and slow-moving sharks that feed mainly on gastropod and bivalve molluscs.

Learn more about Zebra Sharks.

Shortfin Mako, Isurus oxyrinchus. Image: TBC © TBC

Shortfin Mako Shark

Isurus oxyrinchus

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.

Learn more about Shortfin Mako Sharks.

White Shark

Carcharodon carcharias

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.

Learn more about White Sharks.

3D interactive model of a White Shark.
Bull Shark Image: Chatchai Kusolsinchai © Chatchai Kusolsinchai

Bull Shark

Carcharhinus leucas

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.

Learn more about Bull Sharks.

Tiger Shark, Galeocerdo cuvier. Image: Gina Mascord © CC BY-NC 4.0

Tiger Shark

Galeocerdo cuvier

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.

Learn more about Tiger Sharks.

A Harrisson's Dogfish caught at a depth of 350m, East of Hawks Nest, New South Wales, 9 September 1975. Image: Mark McGrouther © Australian Museum

Harrisson's Dogfish

Centrophorus harrissoni

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.

Learn more about Harrisson's Dogfish.

Greynurse Shark, Carcharias taurus. Image: Rafi Amar © CC BY-NC 4.0

Greynurse Shark

Carcharias taurus

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.

Learn more about Greynurse Sharks.

Port Jackson Shark

Heterodontus portusjacksoni

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.

3D interactive model of a Port Jackson Shark.

Discover more about sharks

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