8 smallest sharks in the world

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  • The world's smallest shark, recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records, is the pygmy lantern shark, with an average length of 6.3 inches for males and 7.4 inches for females. In general, lantern sharks are bioluminescent.
  • The smalleye pygmy shark lives only in the Pacific Ocean and inhabits all layers of the ocean next to the deep pelagic zone. At night, they migrate to warmer, higher ground to feed, then return to depths as low as 6,500 feet during the day.
  • Found off the coast of Panama, the Panamanian ghost catshark, like all catsharks, is benthic, frequenting depths of 3,000-3,200 feet. These sharks are nocturnal and, unlike most shark species, lay eggs containing young.

You all have heard about the gigantic sharks in the oceans of the world and past. The Megalodon, Great White and Whale Sharks get the most attention, but did you know that there are an astonishing number of shark species that can all fit in the palm of your hand?

These fascinating creatures possessed the same speed, agility, and hunting ability as their larger relatives, and because of their smaller size, they required less of their food supply.

The challenge with ranking these small predators is that they are extremely difficult to catch, and the true size of the sharks when sexually mature is even more difficult to discern.

#1 Smallest Shark in the World: Pygmy Lantern Shark

The pygmy lantern shark ( Etmopterus perryi ) is held by Guinness World Records as the world's smallest shark. Once discovered, it replaced the spiny dwarf shark as the previous record holder. These sharks matured to 6.3 inches for males and 7.4 inches for females, making their average size smaller when both sexes are considered. Like all lantern sharks, the pygmy lantern shark is bioluminescent.

These sharks give birth to live pups, but they only give birth to two or three pups at a time. They also have a much smaller range than many of the other species mentioned, as they have only been confirmed to inhabit the continental slope regions around Colombia and Venezuela.

Like many other species, the pygmy lantern shark is easily caught bycatch in deep sea fisheries. Although studies of this species are lacking, they are thought to be able to avoid the loss of threatened populations because the lower limit of their depth range is below the depth of the region's unregulated commercial fisheries at around 2,000 feet.

The real challenge with accurately ranking the world's smallest sharks is the lack of verifiable information for almost all related species. Because they are deep-water or bottom-dwelling sharks, it is extremely rare even for scientists to study them. Many of the species mentioned above have been assigned as separate species, based on the discovery of only one animal known as the holotype.

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Like many other lanternsharks, the pygmy lanternshark is the smallest shark in the world and emits light from light organs in its stomach and fins. These help them camouflage themselves when foraging in shallow water. The brightly lit underbelly blends with the natural sunlight streaming down from above the water. The light attracts smaller animals, which the shark then feeds on.

As the oceans are explored more and more information is available about known species, it's only a matter of time before more data comes to light on these tiny sharks.

The world's smallest 8 big sharks 1
The bioluminescent dwarf lantern shark is a rare find.

© Javontaevious – took a photo Previously posted: Javontae [email protected] Facebook, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37516033 – License

#2 Smallest Shark in the World: Spiny Pygmy Shark

The spiny dwarf shark (Squaliolus laticaudus) has a far wider distribution than any shark we've discussed before. Although their populations remain scattered, they can be found along the coasts of all continents and islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are found at depths between 30-5,900 feet, spending most of their time at more moderate depths of 200-2,500 feet.

These baby sharks give birth to live pups in litter of between three and five members, which are only 3.15 inches long at birth. At sexual maturity, males measure approximately 5.9 inches and females 6.7-7.8 inches. The spiny dwarf shark was once thought to be the smallest shark in the world until it was discovered to be the number one shark on our list.

The smallest shark - the spiny dwarf shark
Although it can be found in many areas around the world, the spiny pygmy shark rarely comes close to the surface.

© SEFSC Pascagoula Lab; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

#3 World’s Smallest Shark: Pygmy Ribbon Catshark

The pygmy bandtailed catshark ( Eridacnis radcliffei ) lives in the shallow waters of the Indian and Indo-Pacific regions. They mainly inhabit the continental shelf and upper slopes between depths of 230-2,500 feet. Areas around India and other Southeast Asian countries are threatened by deep-sea shrimp trawlers, and it is suspected that these small sharks can avoid population declines by retreating below depths where they can be trawled. The pygmy bandtail catshark also maintains populations off the coast of Yemen and in the Gulf of Aden where there is no commercial fishery.

These small sharks reach sexual maturity at about 7.4 inches in males and 6.3 inches in females, but the largest recorded specimens reach about 9 inches.

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#4 Smallest Shark in the World: Microphthalmia

The small-eyed pygmy shark ( Squaliolus aliae ) is next in the line of the world's smallest sharks, and this small shark is the first to live exclusively in the Pacific Ocean. Smalleye pygmy sharks grow to only about 8.7 inches and inhabit virtually all ocean layers next to the deep pelagic zone, depending on the time of day.

They migrate to warmer, higher ocean layers to feed at night and return to the deep pelagic zone during the day. These small sharks efficiently migrate from depths of about 500 feet all the way to over 6,500 feet in a single day.

The microeye pygmy shark is another species that makes its home on the continental slopes and is capable of impressive migrations. They exist in extremely dispersed populations around Australia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Japan, but this separation has not affected their population numbers as they are considered widespread and of little concern. Since they can be found at extreme depths, it is suspected that there are many habitats that have not even been discovered yet.

#5 World’s Smallest Shark: Panamanian Ghost Catshark

A close relative of the Atlantic ghost catshark is the Panamanian ghost catshark ( Apristurus stenseni ), which, as its name suggests, is only found off the coast of Panama. These catsharks do not exceed 9 inches in length. Like all catsharks, the Panamanian ghost catshark is benthic; however, this species is usually found at depths ranging from 3,000-3,200 feet.

Panamanian ghost catsharks are nocturnal and do almost all hunting and other activities at night. Unlike most shark species, this shark lays eggs containing young. The exact size of their litter is unknown due to the lack of available information on this particular species. So little is known about these catsharks that their IUCN conservation status is listed as data deficient.

#6 World’s Smallest Shark: Atlantic Ghost Catshark

The Atlantic ghost catshark ( Apristurus atlanticus ) is another deep-water resident of the Atlantic Ocean. This shark lives on the continental slopes of the British Isles and Madeira region, primarily at depths no lower than 4,900 feet. They can be identified by the most forward position of the two dorsal fins. The length of their elongated eyes is equal to 5% of the total body length, which gives them a cat-like appearance, which is where their name comes from.

These small sharks are extremely rare, and little is known about their feeding, reproductive or behavioral habits. They are believed to feed on small bait fish, measuring around 9.25 inches in length, which earns them a place in the ranking of the world's smallest sharks.

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#7 Smallest Shark in the World: African Lantern Shark

The African lantern shark ( Etmopterus polli ) averages about 9.4 inches in length and is found off the coast of Africa. This species is native to the continental slopes of the West African coast, where they can be found at a wide depth range of 980-3,280 feet. The African lantern shark is benthic and is known to be a by-catch of the commercial shrimping industry.

As bottom dwellers, they spend most of their time in the dark, but it is suspected that they may use their inherent bioluminescence to confuse predators or attract prey. The blue glow of lantern sharks acts as camouflage, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings and become essentially invisible.

Like many of the animals found on this list, African lantern sharks are rarely seen and studied, but they are believed to give birth to live young, unlike many of the other shark species we will discuss later.

#8 World's Smallest Shark: Green Lanternshark

The green lantern shark is a species of dogfish.

© SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC/Public Domain – License

The green lantern shark (Etmopterus virens) is the smallest shark listed in the world, with the largest specimens on record measuring up to 10.2 inches in length. They live in the Northwest Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Seas. Males of this species average about 7 inches long, with females being even larger at 9 inches. Meanwhile, little green lantern sharks are about 3.5 inches long and are known as pups.

Despite its small size, this shark will gang up on larger prey. Squid and octopus are their favorite food sources, and some green lantern sharks have eyes and beaks in their stomachs that are so large that they have to open their jaws to swallow them. These sharks are bioluminescent and typically live at depths below 1,200 feet all the way up to 3,000 feet.

Top 8 Smallest Sharks In The World Summary

Here's an overview of the 8 smallest shark species in the world's oceans:

rank shark size
1 Pygmy Lantern Shark 6.3-7.4 inches long
2 spiny dwarf shark 5.9-7.8 inches long
3 Pygmy Ribbon Catshark 6.3-7.4 inches long
4 Small-eyed pygmy shark 8.7 inches long
5 Panamanian Ghost Catshark 9 inches long
6 Atlantic Ghost Catshark 9.2 inches long
7 african lantern shark 9.4 inches long
8 green light shark 10.2 inches long


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