Shark Identification Guide

Hawaii’s approximately 40 species of sharks (see the species list) are each unique in their own way. There’s no mistaking a whale or hammerhead shark, and the characteristic blunt nose and dorsal stripes of a tiger shark make it fairly easy to recognize. But do you know how to tell the difference between a smooth hammerhead and a scalloped one?

Many of the more common inshore sharks, especially those of the family Carcharhinidae, are hard to distinguish from each other. But most have some kind of characteristic, often in the form of color patterns, that help in identification, if you can get a good look at them.

The offshore sharks are less frequently seen, but most are easy to recognize if you know what to look for. An exception is the silky shark, which has no particular markings. Some of the other sharks are rarely seen, especially the deepwater species. Most people never get the chance to try and identify them.

Some species of sharks change in appearance as they get older. These changes may include body shape or coloration. In the past, biologists have sometimes been confused by these changes, resulting in misidentification.

View the images and descriptive information about Hawaii’s various shark species below.