Forget outer space; there are aliens far closer to home! These bizarre looking and strangely fascinating sharks look like they’re from another world. And from poisonous flesh and electrical sensors to sneaky ambushes and the impaling of prey, their methods of attack and self-defense are just as extraterrestrial seeming. Without further ado, then, we list the 10 most bizarre looking sharks on planet Earth.
10. Cookiecutter Shark
The brilliantly named Cookiecutter sharks only grow up to 17 to 22 inches long, but what they lack in size they make up for with pure nastiness (as well as one weird looking profile!). You see, these cigar-shaped sharks hover in the water, waiting for larger prey to approach. Their bodies are luminescent, except for a dark collar behind their heads, and this dark section is thought to mimic the silhouette of a small fish, acting as a lure.
Although cookiecutter sharks can eat a squid whole, they’re best known as parasitic feeders. First, they attach themselves to a large creature by pressing their suctorial lips against the animal’s flesh. Then, once they have a tight seal, the sharks stab their teeth into the host. The upper teeth act as anchors, while the lower teeth vibrate back and forth like an electric carving knife. Next, the sharks twist and rotate, until they have scooped out a chunk of flesh around two inches wide and 2.8 inches deep.
Cookiecutters feed on practically every medium-to-large creature that shares their tropical-water habitat. Whales, dolphins, sharks, seals and bony fish have all been spotted with cookiecutter injuries. These fearsome little critters have also been known to bite into submarines, undersea cables, and even people.
9. Hammerhead Shark
Although hammerheads are better known than some of the other sharks on this list, no roll call of weird looking sharks would be complete without them. With eyes set on either side of their gigantic cephalofoils, or hammers, hammerheads have 360-degree vertical vision – which means they can see what’s above and below them at the same time.
The cephalofoil also gives hammerhead sharks a heightened sensitivity to electrical fields emitted by their prey – stingrays, for example, which often bury themselves in the sand. And although they have small mouths and teeth compared to other sharks, hammerheads are very flexible and can pivot in the water at high speeds.
Another unusual feature peculiar to hammerheads is that they form schools during the day. There are very strict hierarchies within these groups, and the sharks communicate with one another through complicated body maneuvers.
8. Longnose Sawshark
Take a look at this next odd-looking fellow! The longnose sawshark is one of six species of sawsharks, and it grows to up to four and a half feet long. Incredibly, its long, serrated snout, or rostrum, is lined with sharp teeth and accounts for a third of its entire body size.
Longnose sawsharks also have long barbels that hang down on either side of their rostrums – rather like mustaches – and these are used to search for food. The barbels can move around quite freely, and they sense vibrations and bioelectricity, similar to the hammerhead’s way of picking out its favorite stingray snack. What’s even more fascinating is that the barbels are sensitive to touch and taste – which makes them perfect for discovering delicious delicacies hidden in the sand!
When the longnose sawshark finds its prey, it slashes its rostrum around, injuring, and sometimes even impaling, its unfortunate victims. The shark shakes its head violently until the prey falls off its toothy snout, and then it sucks the food into its mouth and crunches it up with thorny teeth.
7. Frilled Shark
Frilled sharks look more like massive eels or strange, deep-sea lizards than sharks. This rare species of shark can be found in various locations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans but is most common in the waters off Japan. Frilled sharks’ main claim to fame is their weird shape and a whopping gestation period of up to 42 months (the longest of any vertebrate).
They also have 300 wickedly sharp forked teeth, which they bury into their slippery prey. And what’s more, their mouths can distend, which allows them to swallow prey up to half their size!
For a long time, scientists thought these critters moved by wriggling, since their fins are quite small. Later, however, it was discovered that the shark’s oily liver keeps it buoyant in water, allowing it to stay afloat and hover at depths of between 160 and 660 feet.
Although frilled sharks have never been caught feeding, it’s believed that they lie in ambush for their prey. When something tasty gets close, the sharks are thought to brace themselves against their fins and launch forward like a striking snake, teeth ready to bite.
6. Basking Shark
Check out the chops on this next chap! Weighing in at over five tons and measuring up to 33 feet long, basking sharks are the second largest sharks in the ocean (after whale sharks). These gentle giants troll through the water with their cavernous mouths wide open, using 5,000 gill rakers to filter plankton out of 1.5 million liters of water every hour.
Basking sharks have to swim in order to feed, because the swimming action pushes the water out through their gills. Although they travel at the leisurely pace of 3 miles per hour, they migrate thousands of miles and are known to dive to depths of almost 3,000 feet.
Sadly, these cool, harmless sharks have been dangerously overfished for their flesh, their gigantic oily livers, and their fins. At least they are protected in several places, including the Gulf Coast of the USA, Malta, and the UK.
5. Megamouth Shark
From one big mouth to another! Megamouth sharks are incredibly rare and are so strange that they have their own family classification: Megachasmidae. These flabby-bodied sharks are slow swimmers, with soft fins and asymmetrical tails. And because they are so uncommon, not a whole lot is known about them.
What we do know is that they are filter feeders and that they can grow to up to 18 feet long. Also, their huge mouths are surrounded by light-emitting organs (photophores), which are thought to attract plankton. Megamouths stay in deep water during the day and come up closer to the surface at night, following their food source.
Remarkably, there have only been 54 recorded sightings of these sharks since their discovery off the coast of Hawaii in 1976, when one got tangled up in the anchor of a U.S. Navy ship. They have been spotted in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
4. Ghost Shark
From their funny plow-shaped snouts to their silvery underbellies, ghost sharks are strangely beautiful from end to end. These ethereal creatures also go by the names elephant shark, makorepe, whitefish, and plownose chimaera. But although they’re called sharks, technically, ghost sharks aren’t actually sharks at all.
Like other sharks, ghost sharks share the name Chondrichthyes and are considered cartilaginous fish, but ghost sharks are in the subclass known as Holocephali.
Ghost sharks grow to about four feet in length and are most recognizable by their trademark snouts. These distinctive “noses” are covered in pores that help the sharks find food by sensing motion and electrical currents.
Ghost sharks have three tooth plates. The plates on their bottom jaws are perfect for crushing, while the plates on the upper jaw are sharp and serrated. Oh, and these fish live in temperate waters off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.
3. Greenland Shark
With an average speed of less than 1 mile per hour (and a top speed of 1.6 mph), Greenland sharks are among the slowest moving fish in the ocean. Not only that, but it takes them a full seven seconds just to move their tails back and forth. Yet, despite their gentle speed, these comical-looking sharks somehow manage to catch much faster prey. So how do they do it?
Well, scientists think that the sharks sneak up on seals while they’re sleeping. Fortunately, they don't have to snap up the whole seal in one bite. Instead, they use a sucking motion that draws their prey in. Still, that doesn’t explain how they catch polar bears and even reindeer!
Once their prey has been secured, Greenland sharks bury their top, dagger-like teeth into their victims. These hold the flesh in place while the jagged bottom teeth cut the food into bite-sized pieces.
Greenland sharks can grow to up to 21 feet long and weigh up to 2,250 lbs. They live at depths of between 600 and 2,400 feet, further north than any other shark species – and where the water temperature can be as low as 28 °F! Finally, unlike many sharks, their flesh is poisonous and smells like urine. Strange to taste as well as to look at, then!
2. Wobbegong Shark
Depending on the species, these strange, shaggy looking sharks can measure between four and just less than ten feet long. Wobbegongs, or “carpet sharks,” are masters of disguise, making good use of their speckled skin and whiskery barbs to blend in with the ocean floor and set up ambushes for prey. When an unsuspecting fish, crab, octopus, or even another shark swims close enough, the wobbegong attacks at speed, opening its large mouth and snapping its jaws closed.
Wobbegongs can also dislocate their jaws for a wider bite, and their teeth point backwards, making it nearly impossible for their prey to slip free. “With enough time,” says researcher Daniela Ceccarelli, “they can dismember and consume prey larger than themselves.”
Some wobbegongs have even been known to attack humans – although this usually only happens if they are stepped on by accident. These sharks are most common around Australia and Indonesia, and their name is thought to originate from the Aboriginal word for “shaggy beard.” Australians enjoy eating wobbegong meat, known as flake, with fries. Us? We’d rather spend time looking at these suckers than eating them.
1. Goblin Shark
Goblin sharks are as rare as they are hideous and inhabit the dark depths of the ocean – below 820 feet. These fascinating sea creatures have huge shovel-shaped snouts, which help them to sense food. But the most unusual feature of the goblin shark is its protrusible jaw.
Mostly, goblin sharks keep their jaws “folded” back at eye level. However, when food comes along, the jaws, armed with razor-like teeth, snap forward – a bit like a pair of tongs. At the same time, the shark uses its tongue to suck its hapless prey into its terrifying mouth.
Another odd and un-shark-like characteristic of goblin sharks is their pink skin and blue highlights. Capillaries that lie close to the surface of their bodies show through their translucent skin, giving them their distinctive coloring.
First discovered by fishermen in Japan, goblin sharks have since been found all over the world – from Australia to the Gulf of Mexico.