One of the most recognizable sharks in the ocean is the hammerhead shark. I feel like most people in the world are familiar with that crazy-shaped head of the hammerhead. But does anyone really know that much about them? I certainly didn’t before writing this post.

I didn’t know that there’s more than one species of hammerhead — in fact there are nine species of hammerhead, grouped in the family Sphyrnidae. Today I’m just going to focus on the great hammerhead though, because it is the biggest species of hammerhead, which makes it the best. Great hammerheads can be found all over the world, in tropical waters. They are mostly found near coral reefs and coastal waters, but can be seen in the open ocean.

A great hammerhead swimming along.
Image by Josh Hallett from Winter Haven, FL, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As I mentioned, great hammerheads are the biggest of the hammerhead sharks, with an average size of 3.5 meters. Female sharks are bigger than the males, with the largest female ever recorded being 6.1 meters long. Great hammerheads are dark coloured on top — ranging from an greenish olive to grey — and white on the bottom. They have large, very serrated teeth which you definitely do not want to mess with. The most prominent feature of the great hammerhead is, of course, its hammer-shaped head, which can be almost as wide as the one-third of the hammerhead’s body.

The exact function of the hammerhead’s oddly shaped head is still not fully understood. One explanation is that the hammerhead’s head — known as the cephalofoil — helps increase the shark’s sensory abilities. It does this by providing a wider range in which the shark’s ampullae of Lorenzini (which can detect electrical signals) can act. The position of the eyes on the shark’s cephalofoil is also important, giving the shark an incredible field of vision, especially above and below it. Another possibility is that the specific shape of the cephalofoil is designed to increase the shark’s maneuverability in the water. Finally, it’s thought that the cephalofoil may aid the shark in prey capture, as the great hammerhead has been known to use its head to hold down stingrays, its favourite type of prey.

They’re pretty big, aren’t they? Image by Stevelaycock21, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Great hammerheads are usually solitary, coming together only to mate. Females give birth to live young, turning their yolk sacs into something like a placenta to keep the babies alive inside of them. After eleven months, they give birth to anywhere from 6-55 young, though a range of 20-40 is more normal.

Though great hammerheads are fearsome sharks, thanks to their massive size and vicious teeth, tales of their viciousness may be exaggerated, as is the case with most sharks. There’s no doubt they certainly could be deadly, and caution should be used around them, but I feel like sharks are very misunderstood. Unfortunately for the hammerhead shark, their fins are also considered a delicacy by many, and so they are hunted for those. Because of the rumours of their fierce nature and their tasty fins, hammerheads have been hunted regularly and are now considered endangered. Maybe with some education and awareness we can protect these odd creatures.

Cover image by Albert kok, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons