Shark Adaptations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Hance

Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.

In this lesson you will learn about the many ways that sharks have adapted to become fearsome predators. Sharks have special senses, coloring, and body parts that allow them to hunt and keep them from being hunted.

Adapt or Die

The planet earth can be a difficult place to survive. Animals must adapt, or change to fit their environment, in order to make it. Sharks are an apex predator, which means that they are at the top of their food chains: no one (except humans) can hunt most sharks. Other apex predators include lions, bald eagles, and crocodiles. But to be at the top of the food chain, sharks have had to develop many unique adaptations that allow them to hunt without being hunted.

Spectacular Swimmers

A shark moves smoothly through the ocean
shark

One of the most important adaptations that sharks have is the shape of their bodies and fins. Their fins have special shapes and sizes that allow them to move quickly through the water. The caudal fin of sharks, which is similar to the tail in other animals, has a special shape. The top of this 'V' shaped fin is larger than the bottom, which allows sharks to swim more efficiently.

Notice that this bull shark has a caudal fin that is larger on top than bottom
bull shark

Sharks are also different from other fish in that their skeletons are made of flexible cartilage (similar to the stuff your ear is made of - notice how you can bend and fold it). The cartilage is light, which allows sharks to move quickly. It is important that sharks can move easily because they need to move in order to breathe. Like many fish, sharks breathe by moving through water, absorbing oxygen from water as it passes over their gills. but they can take in more oxygen than other fish because they usually have five to seven gills, instead of just one.

A Sixth Sense

You probably know that you have five senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. But sharks actually have a sixth sense! They can sense the electricity that all living things make using special organs called ampullae of Lorenzini. This electrical sense allows them to hunt their prey and find animals that might be hiding. Sharks also have amazing sense of smell. The Great White Shark can smell blood in the water from miles away.

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