Hammerhead Shark Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

The hammerhead shark is one of the most recognizable creatures in the ocean. Its wide head may look strange, but you might be surprised at what it can do. Read on to find out more about hammerheads, their unique features, and what they eat.

Hammerhead: A Recognizable Shark

What if your eyes stuck out on the sides of your head instead of sitting in the front of your face? Then you would have something in common with one of the most recognizable sharks in the ocean: the hammerhead shark! The hammerhead has one of the most unusual head shapes around. Is it just for looks, or does it have a purpose? Learn more in this lesson as we discover facts and features of the hammerhead.

Illustration of a hammerhead shark
Hammerhead shark

Hammerhead Shark Features

The hammerhead shark, like other sharks, is a cartilaginous fish. This means that it doesn't have bones like we do. Instead, it's made of cartilage, the same stuff that makes up your ears and nose. Hammerheads are usually brownish-gray or olive green in color and have a whitish belly. And yes, they have the pointy dorsal fin that pokes out of the top of the water and scares away swimmers!

Notice the dorsal fin on the back of the hammerhead shark.
hammerhead shark

There are nine different species of hammerhead. They are typically around 11 feet long. But the largest is the great hammerhead, which can grow as long as 20 feet, longer than many great whites!

Now let's get to that crazy head that gives this shark its name. The hammerhead is well-known for its 'hammers.' A beady eye peers out from the end of each hammer. On the front of the head are two large nostrils that help the shark sniff out its prey. Its mouth is tucked underneath. And if you've ever seen a shark tooth, you can imagine the triangular blades inside that mouth. They are as serrated as a bread knife!

Why the Hammer-Shaped Head?

Many scientists have studied hammerhead sharks to understand why their heads are shaped that way. They have found a few answers. It turns out that by having eyes on the sides of the head, the hammerhead can actually see better! It can see 360 degrees around, meaning the shark can see above, below, and around without moving its head.

Hammerheads, like other sharks, also have sensory organs called ampullae of Lorenzini. These are tiny holes filled with a jelly-like substance. They sense the electrical field coming from other animals. Hammerheads are lucky because their ampullae of Lorenzini are spread all across their wide head. It would be like if you had 10 nostrils spread across your face instead of just two. Imagine what you could smell!

Another reason to have a hammer-shaped head has to do with attacking prey. Hammerheads use their wide head to attack and pin unsuspecting sea creatures down for their next meal. Pretty good way to use your head!

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