Which fish is named after a tool, can scan the sea floor like a metal detector, and is harmless to humans?
The Hammerhead Shark!
Hammering the Name Down
As you might imagine, the Hammerhead Shark was named after the shape of their heads. All sharks have electroreceptors which can detect signals that living organisms radiate. However, the long length of this shark’s head means more space for more receptors. Since Hammerhead Sharks hunt alone and at night, these receptors are necessary for finding their favorite meal: stingrays. They also eat bony fishes, squid, lobsters, crabs, and other sharks.
This iconic head is also used to pin down prey to the sea floor. This tactic allows the shark to slow down its prey for enough time to grab a bite. Since the eyes of the Hammerhead Shark are widely spaced out, they can also scan more space in a shorter amount of time compared to other sharks.
If that doesn’t demonstrate the beauty of evolution, I don’t know what does.
To see these creatures’ electroreception put to the test, check out this video:
An Adaptable Fish
There are nine species of Hammerhead Sharks, each with varying lengths. They can be found in shallow, tropical waters and deep, temperate regions worldwide. They have successfully adapted to these drastically different environments.
Although Hammerheads are solitary, nocturnal hunters, during the daytime they join to form schools. To see them gather in numbers, you can visit Colombia, Costa Rica, or Hawaii (as if you need another reason to visit these gorgeous places).
A distinct face isn’t the only feature that differentiates Hammerhead Sharks from other fish. Most fish lay eggs, but most sharks, including Hammerheads, actually give birth to live young. Pregnant females carry eggs for 8-10 months and can give birth to up to 50 pups in one litter!
How are human activities impacting Hammerhead Sharks?
Unfortunately, all sharks are threatened by shark-finning. This practice consists of capturing sharks and removing their fins, which are then sold for a variety of purposes. Of course, without fins, sharks are unable to swim, so this practice leads to a slow, painful death.
Bycatch is another way commercial fisheries impact shark populations. Sharks are not the target of many fisheries, but enormous fishing nets will trap excess animals called bycatch. Even if sharks are later released by fishermen, throwing sharks back into the water does not guarantee their survival. The same way SCUBA divers become gravely sick from rushing to the surface after a dive, ocean creatures cannot rush from the ocean depths to shallow waters without experiencing fatal consequences.
Luckily, more people are spreading awareness on these topics and advocating for sharks. We can all help sharks by appreciating them and recognizing that the myths surrounding them, including ones that depict them as serial man-killers, are false. We are not on a shark’s menu. Even though sharks have bitten humans before, marine biologists emphasize that these events usually occur when a shark mistakes a person for a different animal, such as a seal.
Humans don’t tend to look like stingrays, so when it comes to Hammerhead Sharks we are in the clear!
In celebration of our Blue Planet,
Tania graduated from Tufts University with a Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy. Her academic research projects focused on wildlife conservation efforts, and the impacts that human activities have on wild habitats. As a writer and activist, Tania emphasizes the connections between planet, human, and animal health. She loves hiking, snorkeling, and advocating for social justice.