Identifying sharks

Below is a list of the most common sharks encountered in South Australian waters. Report a shark sighting.

Learn more about shark handling procedures.

Dusky Shark

Dusky shark

Description

The Dusky Shark is found in continental shelf and gulf waters of South Australia. The species ventures into temperate waters during the warmer periods of late spring, summer and early autumn, yet is mostly found in tropical, sub-tropical waters. They range in size up to 3.5 m and live for up to 55 years. Dusky Sharks produce around three female pups per year, reach sexual maturity at 20 years of age and grow very slowly. Dusky Sharks are occasionally captured in the same places where Bronze Whalers are found.

Dusky Sharks can easily be differentiated from Bronze Whalers by their distinct ridge running between the two dorsal fins on their back towards their tail. Sometimes the ridge also has small wavy lines running away from it. Some Dusky Sharks are covered in a distinct, slimy coating on the upper side of their body. Dusky Sharks feed on a wide variety of invertebrates, fish, squid, other sharks and rays, and marine mammals. Like the Bronze Whaler, tracking shows Dusky Sharks are highly migratory and large juveniles move between South Australia and Western Australia in autumn. Dusky Sharks are characterised by:

  • dark brown to grey in colour on the dorsal side
  • pale to white underside
  • charcoal to black tips on the underside of most fins
  • short, broadly rounded snout
  • long upper tail lobes
  • triangular, serrated teeth.

Bronze Whaler

Bronze whaler

Image © NSW DPI

Description

Bronze Whalers are found in continental shelf and gulf waters of South Australia. The species is highly mobile and has a strong seasonality in South Australian waters. Bronze whalers are most commonly sighted and captured between spring and autumn. They range in size up to 3.2 m and live for up to 32 years. Bronze whalers mostly feed on fish and squid. Litter sizes are generally very small with the annual number of female pups produced equal to <5, size at sexual maturity is ~16 years, and growth is slow in this species. Tracking shows individuals migrate to Western Australia and eastern Australia, with large adults leaving the gulfs in autumn to seek out warmer shelf waters. Bronze whalers are characterised by:

  • bronze, copper in colour on dorsal side
  • pale cream to white undersides
  • long upper tail lobes
  • hook-shaped, non-serrated upper teeth.

White Shark

White shark

Description

White Sharks are protected in all South Australian waters. The species is warm-blooded, and both the juvenile and adult life history stages are found in Southern Australian gulf, shelf and oceanic waters throughout the year. White sharks are highly mobile individuals migrate between South Australia and Western Australian waters. They range in size up to 6 m, live for up to 70 years. Juvenile white sharks (<3-4 m) mostly feed on fishes and squids, and as they become larger, their diet changes to incorporate other sharks, rays, and marine mammals. Large white sharks are often associated with floating or beached whale carcasses. White sharks are born at ~1.3 m in size and Litter sizes are small, with the annual number of female pups produced equal to <2. Litter sizes can be up to 17, but gestation may be 1.8 months with a 3-year reproductive cycle. Size at sexual maturity is ~4.5 m at 15 years of age, and growth is slow. White sharks must be treated with caution, and most bites on humans, some of which are fatal in SA waters have been linked this species. White Sharks are characterised by:

  • conical snout
  • triangular serrated teeth
  • dark grey, sliver grey to bronze on upper (dorsal) side
  • white underside
  • black tips on the underside of large, white pectoral fins
  • large tail, pectoral and dorsal fin, with a distinct keel-like feature where the body joins the tail.

Smooth Hammerhead

Smooth hammerhead

Description

In South Australia, the Smooth Hammerhead is found in waters of both gulfs and continental shelf waters out to depths of ~500 m. The species is most commonly sighted swimming at the surface in gulf waters during calm, hot weather in summer. Smooth Hammerheads range in size up to ~3.5 m and females mature at ~2.7 m. Litters sizes are generally larger than for the whaler sharks (20-50 pups) and gestation periods have been found to span 10-11 months. The species feeds on squids, prawns, crabs and pelagic fish, with large individuals sometimes associated with tuna and mackerel schools. The species is considered to be slow growing as found for other members of the genus. Highest estimated ages for specimens considerably smaller than the known maximum size have exceeded 20 years.

Smooth Hammerheads are characterised by:

  • olive to grey-brown back
  • white underside
  • dusky tips on ventral fins
  • long upper lobe of tail with large upright dorsal fin that appears over-sized compared to the length of the shark
  • small angular serrated teeth
  • hammer-shaped with eyes on each end of head that bulges forward with no central indentation (as found for scalloped hammerhead).

Sevengill Shark

Sevengill shark

Description

Sevengill Sharks have:

  • greyish brown or black back, sometimes with dark spots or blotches
  • 7 gills
  • extremely long lobe on their upper tail.

Size

Up to 4.8 metres.

Thresher Shark

Thresher shark

Description

Common threshers grow up to 5.5 m in length. They have a distinctly long upper tail lobe that is approximately the same overall length as the body from the snout to the origin of the tail. Common threshers are found in both gulfs, in shelf waters and along the continental shelf slope. The species is most commonly captured in spring and autumn. Tracking has shown they move between inshore and outer shelf waters, and move rapidly throughout the water column on a daily basis. The regularly associate with river mouths, reef slopes and banks where small pelagic fishes aggregate. The species is warm blooded, capable of very high swimming speeds and is known to jump out of the water either when hooked or whilst feeding. They have very large eyes, a small mouth with small sharp cutting teeth. Common threshers are specialist feeders that mostly prey on small pelagic fishes and squids. They often whip and stun their prey with their tail before consuming it. They grow slowly, reach sexual maturity at ~3.5 to 4 m and only produce small litters of 2 to 7 pups.

Common threshers are characterised by:

  • grey, grey, to silver/purple on dorsal side
  • white underside
  • very long upper tail lobe with small curved cusp near the tip.
  • some individuals have distinctive blotchy ‘cow hide’ pattern from dark to down flanks near anal fin and tail.

Shortfin Mako

Shortfin mako

Image © NSW DPI

Description

The shortfin mako is a warm-blooded and highly migratory species found in South Australian shelf and oceanic waters throughout the year. Some juvenile and adult shortfin makos also sometimes visit reefs in southern Spencer Gulf. This species is capable of very high swimming speeds and can jump out of the water either when hooked or whilst feeding. Individuals migrate between South Australia and Western Australian waters, and south of the continent into cool, sub-tropical waters, south of 43-degrees latitude. They range in size up to 4 m, live for up to 30 years. Their diet comprises, fish, other sharks and rays, pelagic squids, and marine mammals. The species is born at 60-70 cm in size and litter sizes are 12-16 pups, with a 18 month gestation and a 3-year reproductive cycle. Size at sexual maturity is ~2.8 m at 18 years of age and they grow slowly. Live shortfin makos must be released unharmed to the water in Commonwealth managed fisheries operating off South Australia (outside 3 nm). Recreational fishers can currently take shortfin makos in South Australian waters.

Shortfin makos are characterised by:

  • indigo/dark blue fading to light blue, silver and white underside
  • sharply pointed conical snout
  • long slender body
  • long slender inward curving teeth
  • distinct keel-like feature where the body joins the tail.

Port Jackson Shark

Port Jackson shark

Description

Port Jackson Sharks are bottom feeding sharks that are found throughout South Australian gulf and shelf waters out to depths of 275 m. The species grows to ~1.65 m, yet most specimens are less than 1 m in length. Port Jackson sharks have relatively small home ranges compared to many other shark species, but are capable of movements in the scale of 100s of km. Individuals are slow growing and live for up to 18 years. Females mature at 75 cm and between 12 and 17 years of age and adults have lifespans of up to 35 years. They position their spiral shaped eggs under ledges and in caves, and cracks during Spring. Embryos have incubation of 10–11 months, and four months into this period, the egg capsule opens subsequent to hatching of the pup. The species produced an average of 16 eggs per breeding cycle, and pups are born at sizes from 18-32 cm.

Port Jackson Sharks are characterised by:

  • large blunt heads
  • two thick spines on the front edge of their first and second dorsal fins
  • a combination of small triangular teeth and crushing plates.
  • spiral shaped brown egg cases that they lay on the bottom during Winter-Spring
  • brown backs with dark brown stripes.

Wobbegong

Wobbegong

Image © NSW DPI

Description

Wobbegongs have:

  • flattened bodies
  • camouflaged markings
  • dermal lobes in the front of their mouth
  • sharp conical teeth.

Size

Up to 3 metres.

Gummy Shark

Gummy shark

Description

Gummy Sharks are grey in colour and have small white spots. The Gummy Shark is characterised by having small, flat teeth for crushing prey, rather than typical triangular teeth of many other species. They are found in gulf, shelf and shelf slope waters out to ~350 m. They attain size up to ~1.9m born at 35 cm and females reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age and 1.1 m in length. Litters sizes are generally about 14 pups, yet can also reach up to 57 pups, and gestation periods span ~12 months, with a year reproductive cycle. The species mostly feeds on octopus, small crabs and other crustaceans.

Gummy Sharks are characterised by:

  • grey colour on dorsal side and white on underside
  • small white spots on dorsal side
  • long and slender body
  • second dorsal fin nearly as large as the first.

School Sharks

School sharks

Description

The school shark forms aggregations and are found in gulf, shelf and shelf slope waters out to ~600 m. The species is sometimes caught when targeting Snapper and Whiting in gulf and coastal waters. School sharks are born at 30 cm in length and range in size up to ~1.9 m. The school shark is slow growing and long-lived (60 years). Females mature at ~1.3 m. Litters sizes are generally 30 pups and gestation periods have been found to span 12 months, with a 3-year reproductive cycle. They are a highly mobile species capable of long distance migrations across the central and eastern Great Australian Bight. The species mostly feeds on squids and small to medium sized pelagic fish. Nursery areas are thought to be limited to the south-eastern Australian range, with very few small juveniles (neonates) found in other southern Australian regions where mature adults tend to be caught. The school shark is classified as Conservation Dependent under the Australian Commonwealth Government Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act (EPBC Act) (1999). Fisheries that take the species as bycatch are currently managed via a stock rebuilding strategy, and bag limits need to be low to ensure the recovery of the stock is successful.

School Sharks are characterised by:

  • grey back and slender shape
  • slanted eye
  • second dorsal fin smaller than the first
  • tail upper lobe larger than lower lobe.
  • small sharp angular, hooked teeth with three large serrations.
Page Last Reviewed: 28 Nov 2019
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