The hammerhead sharks are a group of sharks in the family Sphyrnidae, so named for the unusual and distinctive structure of their heads, which are flattened and laterally extended into a "hammer" shape called a "cephalofoil". Most hammerhead species are placed in the genus Sphyrna while the winghead shark is placed in its own genus, Eusphyra. Many, not necessarily mutually exclusive, functions have been proposed for the cephalofoil, including sensory reception, maneuvering, and prey manipulation. Hammerheads are found worldwide in warmer waters along coastlines and continental shelves. Unlike most sharks, hammerheads usually swim in schools. Some of these schools can be found near Malpelo Island in Colombia, Cocos Island by Costa Rica and near Molokai Island in Hawai'i.
The nine known species range from 0.9 to 6 m (3.0 to 20 ft) long and weigh from 500 to 1000 pounds. They are usually light gray and have a greenish tint to them. Their bellies are white which allows them to be close to the bottom of the ocean and blend in to sneak up on their prey.Their heads have lateral projections which give them a hammer-like shape. It was determined recently that the hammer-like shape of the head evolved to enhance the animal's vision. The positioning of the eyes give the shark good binocular vision, as well as 360-degree vision in the vertical plane, meaning they can see above and below them at all times. The shape of the head was previously thought to help the shark find food, aiding in close-quarters maneuverability and allowing sharp turning movement without losing stability. However, it was found that the unusual structure of its vertebrae was instrumental in making the turns correctly, more often than the shape of its head, though would also shift and provide lift. From what is known about the Winghead shark, it would appear that the shape of the hammer-head has to do with an evolved sensory function. Like all sharks, hammerheads have electroreceptory sensory pores called ampullae of Lorenzini. By distributing the receptors over a wider area, hammerheads can sweep for prey more effectively. These sharks have been able to detect an electrical signal of half a billionth of a volt. The hammer also allows the nostrils to be placed farther apart, increasing its ability to detect chemical gradients and localize the source. Hammerheads have disproportionately small mouths and seem to do a lot of bottom-hunting. They are also known to form schools during the day, sometimes in groups of over 100. In the evening, like other sharks, they become solitary hunters. Hammerheads are one of the few animals that acquire a tan from prolonged exposure to sunlight. Tanning occurs when a hammerhead is in shallow waters or close to the surface for long periods.
Taxonomy and evolution
Since sharks do not have mineralized bones and rarely fossilize, it is their teeth alone that are commonly found as fossils. The hammerheads seem closely related to the carcharhinid sharks that evolved during the mid-Tertiary Period. Because the teeth of hammerheads resemble those of some carcharhinids, it has been difficult to determine when hammerheads first appeared. It is probable that the hammerheads evolved during the late Eocene, Oligocene or early Miocene. Using mitochondrial DNA, Andrew Martin constructed a phylogenetic tree of the hammerhead sharks that showed the winghead shark as its most basal member. As the winghead shark has proportionately the largest "hammer" of the hammerhead sharks, this suggests that the first ancestral hammerhead sharks also had large hammers.
Reproduction only occurs once a year for hammerhead sharks and usually occurs with the male shark biting the female shark violently until she agrees to mate with him. The hammerhead sharks exhibit a viviparous mode of reproduction with females giving birth to live young. Like other sharks, fertilization is internal with the male transferring sperm to the female through one of two intromittent organs called claspers. The developing embryos are at first sustained by a yolk sac. When the supply of yolk is exhausted, the depleted yolk sac transforms into a structure analogous to a mammalian placenta (called a "yolk sac placenta" or "pseudoplacenta"), through which the mother delivers sustenance until birth. Once the baby sharks are born, they are not taken care of by the parents in any way. There is usually a litter of 12 to 15 pups; except for the Great Hammerhead, there are usually 20 to 40 pups. These baby sharks huddle together and swim toward warmer water and stay together until they are older and bigger to be on their own. In 2007, the bonnethead shark was found to be capable of asexual reproduction via automictic parthenogenesis, in which a female's ovum fuses with a polar body to form a zygote without the need for a male. This was the first shark known to do this. Diet Hammerhead sharks are known to eat a large range of items including fish, squid, octopus, crustaceans, and other hammerhead sharks. Stingrays are a particular favorite. These sharks are found many times swimming along the bottom of the ocean and stalk their prey. Their unique head is used as a weapon when hunting down prey. The hammerhead shark uses its head to pin down stingrays and eats the ray when the ray is weak and in shock. There is a species of the hammerhead shark that is more aggressive and large in size: the Great Hammerhead. These sharks tend to be more aggressive and eat squid, octopus, and other hammerhead sharks. They are also known to eat their own young.
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Great White Shark · Hammerhead Shark · Mako Shark · Tiger Shark · Ragged Tooth Shark · Zambezi Shark· Whale Shark