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U.S.V.I. Animal Fact Sheet #30
Shark species comprise 1% of all living fishes.
They are a member of the Chondrichthyes class and
are collectively known as elasmobranchs. There are
approximately 350 species of shark found
worldwide and they occur in both tropical and
Their skin is covered with ,
denticles, which are tooth-like
projections from the skin.
These denticles make the skin
rough and give it the texture of '
sandpaper. They have five to '--" -:""
seven gill slits and gill arches
per side. They have no swim bladder. To maintain
their position in the water column, sharks have an
asymmetrical tail fin and flattened pectoral fins to
propel them forward and upward in the water
column. A very oily liver also provides buoyancy
to compensate for the lack of a swim bladder.
Elasmobranchs also have a cartilaginous skeleton
rather than bones, making it difficult to find
fossilized records of their existence.
In the Virgin Islands, 11 species of shark may
be found. Of those 11, only two species have been
recorded to attack man. Those species are the tiger
shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and the bull shark
(Carcharhinus leucas). However, there have only
been 3 recorded shark attacks in the Virgin Islands
with the last one occurring in 1992. With one
exception, these attacks were caused by harassing
the shark. The incidence of shark attacks are
globally so low that it is 900 times more likely for a
person in New York to be bitten by another person
than for someone to be attacked by a shark.
Sharks have adapted to eating a wide variety of
organisms. One of the most
important adaptations is the
loosely attached lower jaw.
The jaw of a shark can be
unhinged to open very wide -
while feeding. They also can
have as many as 8 rows of
teeth. Whenever a shark
loses a tooth, another one moves up to take its
place. A shark can go through up to 2,400 teeth a
Some shark species have adapted to bottom
feeding and they are able to use their lower jaw to
pick up prey from the
floor bottom. Others
such as the basking
maximus) and the
pelagios) are filter
feeders. They strain plankton from the water using
gill rakers. The largest shark in the world, the
whale shark (Rhincodon typus), also filter feeds but
does not use gill rakers. They instead strain
plankton though spongy tissue supported by
cartilaginous rods between the gill arches.
Most sharks are predators and, as such, most of
them feed on other fish. Large sharks, such as the
tiger shark and the great white shark (Carcharodon
carcharias) feed on marine mammals such as seals,
dolphins, sea-lions, turtles, birds and other fish.
Sharks are generally not very selective in the
type of food that they eat. However, there are some
exceptions. Hammerhead sharks seem to prefer
eating stingrays, while bull sharks eat other sharks.
Tiger sharks, on the other hand, will eat both live
and dead animals and are known as the "garbage
cans of the sea", since they will eat just about
anything. This includes bony fishes, other sharks,
marine mammals, sea birds and invertebrates.
Depending on the shark, reproduction may
occur in one of three ways, they may lay eggs
(oviparity), bear live young (viviparity), or the
young may hatch from eggs within the mother
If the shark is oviparous, it means that the shark
will lay eggs like birds and the sharks will develop
within the egg. None of the sharks found in the US
Virgin Islands are
In this reproductive
method, sharks give
birth to live young.
Several of the sharks
found in the US Virgin
using this method.
They include the Silky (Carcharhinusfalciformis),
Bull (C. leucas), Blacktip (C. limbatus), Oceanic
Whitetip (C. longimanus), Reef (C. perezi), Lemon
(Negaprion brevirostris), Great Hammerhead
(Sphyrna mokarran) and the Dusky Smooth-hound
(Mustelus canis) sharks.
Ovoviparity occurs when young hatch from
eggs while still inside the mother. The embryos are
nourished by a yolk sac. As they develop the young
sharks will eat unfertilized eggs and other embryos.
Ovoviparous species found within the USVI are the
bluntnose six gill (Hexanchus griseus), the nurse
(Ginglymostoma cirratum), and the tiger
Sharks are very
overfishing and to
shark fining (where
the fins are cut off
and the shark is
thrown back into the water) sharks do not
regenerate their fins.. Since sharks take between 8-
20 years to reach sexual maturity, they take a long
time to reproduce. Also, some species only produce
a litter every two years. This reproductive strategy
makes sharks vulnerable to overfishing, which can
occur fairly easily and cause disastrous effects on
the shark population. Harvesting more sharks than
are actually being produced will eventually cause
the extinction of shark species being harvested.
Already several shark species are listed as being
either endangered, critically endangered or
vulnerable in several countries.
While shark attacks are very rare, there are a
few precautions that can be taken in order to reduce
the risk of any attacks. They are:
* Do not swim, dive or surf where dangerous sharks
* Always swim, dive or surf with other people.
* Do not swim in dirty or turbid water.
* If schooling fish are behaving strangely or are
grouping together in large numbers, leave the
* Do not swim near people line fishing or spear
* If a shark is sighted in the area, leave the water as
quickly and calmly as possible.
For more information on sharks and other local
species please refer to our website at:
WRITTEN BY CHRISTINE O'SULLIVAN IN 2005. THIS
PUBLICATION WAS PRODUCED WITH FUNDS FROM SPORT FISH
REFERENCES FURNISHED UPON REQUEST
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
DIVISION OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
6291 ESTATE NAZARETH, 101,
ST. THOMAS, VI 00802
PHONE 340-775-6762 FAX 340-775-3972
45 MARS HILL, ST. CROIX, VI 00840
PHONE 340-772-1955 FAX 340-772-3227