All About Sharks
The Surprising Places That Sharks Live
From the sunny shallows to the ocean deep, the sweltering tropics to frigid subarctic waters, and even freshwater rivers, sharks are found in a surprising variety of places.
Maps Where Sharks Are Found
Sharks are found in every ocean on earth, including the Arctic, and along nearly every continent’s coastline. Sharks disappeared from Antarctica 40 million years ago, but may soon return as global temperatures continue to rise.
TRUE TO THEIR NAME, OCEANIC WHITETIPS LOVE THE OPEN OCEAN
True to their name, oceanic whitetips are primarily found in open oceans, though they’re occasionally spotted in shallower water close to land. One of the most abundant apex predators in the ocean, they tend to prefer warm water to cold.
THE GREENLAND SHARK IS THE ONLY TRUE SUBARCTIC SHARK
Some like it hot, but Greenland sharks like it COLD. As its name indicates, the Greenland shark is found around Greenland, but it also exists in other parts of the North Atlantic, such as near Iceland.
GREAT HAMMERHEADS PREFER WARM, SHALLOW WATERS
Great hammerhead sharks live in warm and tropical waters all over the world, including off the coasts of the United States. They can be found close to shore as well as offshore, and commonly at depths from 3 to 300 feet, or as deep as 1,000 feet.
NOBODY KNOWS FOR SURE WHERE MEGAMOUTHS LIVE
The majority of the megamouth discoveries have been in equatorial regions of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but so few have been found that we still don’t know the exact habitat range of this species. Here’s where we think they live.
BASKING SHARKS ARE HIGHLY MIGRATORY
In summer, basking sharks are found near the surface in northern coastal waters. But in winter, they migrate to deep, offshore waters in pursuit of plankton. Many of them migrate south for winter, even crossing the equator.
Great White Sharks Probably Swim at an Ocean Near You
Great white sharks are found across the globe, from coastal temperate seas – home to the largest concentrations – to tropical and even sub-polar waters, and from shallow coasts to the deep open ocean.
SEVENGILLS LOVE COLD, SHALLOW COASTAL WATERS
With some exceptions, broadnose sevengills prefer cold, shallow coastal waters. They are usually found swimming slowly at depths of 160 feet or less along the rocky, muddy or sandy bottoms of continental shelves, bays, fjords and estuaries.
IF THE WATER’S WARM, IT MAY BE FULL OF TIGER SHARKS
Not a fan of the cold? Neither are tiger sharks! They’re common in coastal and oceanic regions of tropical and warm temperate seas. They have very wide ranges and may travel thousands of miles between continents. One of the only places where they are not found is the Mediterranean.
FALSE BAY’S SEAL ISLAND, SOUTH AFRICA
Great whites range over an enormous expanse of ocean, but there are several “hot spots” around the world where they can reliably be seen at certain times of year. Seal Island, located in South Africa’s False Bay, is one. Here, unique underwater geography allows these massive sharks to rocket completely out of the water when attacking seals at the surface.
GUADALUPE ISLAND, MEXICO
In a marine reserve 200 miles off the west coast of Mexico, great whites find sanctuary at the remote island of Guadalupe. Scientists are just starting to understand why they come here from all over the Pacific, and projects like the REMUS SharkCam are beginning to shed light on their unique hunting techniques.
STEWART ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND
Recently, shark experts have been turned on to a new great white hot spot: Stewart Island, New Zealand. The country’s third largest island, Stewart Island is home to robust seal colonies that all but guarantee a yearly visit from some of the largest great white sharks on the planet.
GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA
In a deserted part of South Africa, great white sharks sunbathe in water less than 6 feet deep. Gansbaai is home to Dyer Island and Geyser Rock, between which runs a shallow channel called “Shark Alley.” Great whites use this channel quite frequently, making it a very popular cage diving expedition spot.
CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
Nobody knows exactly how many great white sharks patrol the eastern shore of Cape Cod, but there seem to be five massive sharks that rule the area. The recent resurgence of gray seals at Cape Cod provides these sharks with plenty to eat during the summer months before they migrate south to Florida to feed on fish, including other sharks.
ANO NUEVO ISLAND, CALIFORNIA
Along the northern California coast, great whites migrate from as far away as Hawaii and Mexico to the tiny island of Ana Nuevo in late summer and early fall. Here, they hunt for northern elephant seals and California sea lions.
MOSSEL BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
East of False Bay (home of Seal Island) and Gansbaai (home of Dyer Island and “Shark Alley”) is Mossel Bay, South Africa. Here great white sharks swim just offshore of some of South Africa’s most crowded beaches, yet there’s only been a dozen shark attacks here in more than 150 years.
FARALLON ISLANDS, CALIFORNIA
Every fall, over 100 great white sharks roll in from the open Pacific to one of richest feeding grounds in the world. Located just off the California coast near San Francisco, the Farallon Islands are part of a “Blue Serengeti” – a Pacific Ocean food web fed by nutrient-rich waters like the California Current.
PORT STEPHENS, AUSTRALIA
If you want to see baby great whites, there’s probably no better place to spot them than Port Stephens, Australia. Located along the coast of New South Wales, it’s one of the few white shark nurseries that we know about.
SEA OF CORTEZ, MEXICO
Scientists and explorers recently discovered a great white shark breeding ground in the northern part of the Sea of Cortez, which separates the Baja California Peninsula from mainland Mexico. This previously hidden location offers food and protection for baby white sharks.
Many sharks, like bullheads and smoothhounds, stay near coastlines where there is a lot of food they like to eat. Other sharks, including threshers and oceanic whitetips, roam the open sea where they hunt for bigger fish across miles and miles of ocean. Here are 10 habitats where you can find sharks.
The intertidal zone is the area along the coast exposed by low tide. Intertidal zones are found along beaches and marshes, as well as rocky shores where tidal pools are formed. These are common breeding grounds for plants and small animals. The sharks that live here, including epaulette, Port Jackson and nurse sharks, patrol these shallow waters in search of clams, crabs, algae and starfish.
Estuaries are areas along the coast where freshwater meets saltwater. These areas are mostly enclosed by land, but connected to the sea and fed by freshwater rivers and streams. This results in a brackish mixture that supports a wide diversity of wildlife. A wide variety of sharks, including sandbar sharks, lemon sharks, bull sharks and bonnetheads, commonly hunt in estuaries.
Sandy plains are relatively shallow areas that make up a majority of the continental shelf (the edge of a continent that’s actually underwater). Characterized by soft sand and mud, these areas support a huge variety of small fish, crustaceans and other sea life. Great hammerheads, angel sharks, and sawsharks have keen senses that help them find prey here, even if it’s buried beneath the sands.
At first glance, rocky coasts seem inhospitable to life, but look below the surface and you’ll find most are actually teeming with it. As waves come crashing in to shore, rocks beneath the surface create shelter for tiny animals, and surface area for coral and algae to grow. Scalloped hammerheads, spiny dogfish, white sharks, and basking sharks often live and feed in these kinds of areas.
Kelp is a unique type of seaweed that lives in cool shallow waters. Like trees, they grow in thick, dense stands called kelp forests. Kelp is a source of food and shelter for many types of fish and other sea creatures. Leopard sharks and swellsharks stalk prey in the kelp forests. Hornsharks live here too, and even lay their young in corkscrew-shaped egg cases in the kelp.
Coral reefs cover less than 0.5% of the earth’s surface, yet experts estimate they’re home to 25% of all marine life. They’re second only to tropical rainforests in terms of size and complexity. Caribbean, blacktip, whitetip and gray reef sharks are common and active predators here. Even sharks that don’t have “reef” in their name, like zebra sharks, rely on coral reef communities for food.
The pelagic zone of the ocean is the biggest habitat on the planet—it has a volume of a whopping 330 million cubic miles! Fish that live in the pelagic zone live in large schools. In order to catch these fish, sharks that live in the open ocean are incredibly fast. Thresher, blue, silky, shortfin mako, and oceanic whitetip sharks are all perfectly designed for this challenging environment.
The ocean is really deep – over 2½ miles on average. Surprisingly, the dark depths are teaming with life – a startling variety of bizarre creature, many of which look like extras in a science fiction film. The sharks that live and hunt at these depths are eerie looking too, like the goblin shark with its nightmarish face, or the eel-like frilled shark, which looks like a miniature sea serpent.
While most sharks prefer warm or temperate water, one shark is built to withstand extreme cold. The Greenland shark lives in the northernmost waters of any shark – the icy seas of the Arctic Circle, where water temperatures can drop to 30° Fahrenheit. Its flesh is enhanced with chemicals that combine to create a natural antifreeze to help keep it from turning into an ice pop.
It’s hard to imagine sharks living in freshwater, but they’re there. There are 20 different shark species that can survive in freshwater lakes and rivers, including bull sharks, which have been found in unlikely rivers and lakes all over the world. While bull sharks have to migrate to saltwater to reproduce, five shark species actually live year-round in the rivers of Southeast Asia and Australia.
Sharks and coral reefs go hand in hand. These habitats are popular feeding grounds for sharks. But as shark populations decline, reefs are increasingly at risk of vanishing too. Coral reefs thrive when there are lots of fish to consume algae, which helps new corals to grow. But without sharks, fish disappear too and algae take over, suffocating the corals and turning the reef into a wasteland.