American Oceans

The Smallest Sharks Ranked by Size

Sharks have a daunting reputation, as many people only think of massive, intimidating sharks when they consider this animal.

top smallest sharks hold by human hand

But in reality, what makes a shark a shark isn’t sharp teeth, large bodies, or “killer” mentalities. A shark is simply a fish with a body made out of cartilage instead of bones, known as a cartilaginous skeleton.

Sharks also have around five to seven gill slits on each side of their heads, unfused pectoral fins, and other distinguishing characteristics.

Therefore, sharks can come in a wide variety of sizes, and they don’t all look like Hammerhead Sharks, Great White Sharks, or Whale Sharks, which can be up to 55 feet long.

smaller sharks swimming out in the ocean

Thus, there are many significantly smaller sharks out in the ocean, many of which are likely much smaller than people assume. So without further ado, here are the top 8 smallest sharks ranked.

1. Dwarf Lanternshark 

The Dwarf Lanternshark, or Etmopterus perryi, is, as its name suggests, a small lanternshark that has an average mature size of 7.4 inches for females and 6.3 inches for males. For comparison, these sharks tend to be smaller than the average human hand. 

They can typically be found in the Caribbean Sea along the continental slope regions off the coasts of Venezuela and Columbia. 

These sharks are similar to all other lantern sharks in that it is bioluminescent, meaning that there’s a chemical reaction that occurs within their bodies that produces light. 

More specifically, their organs, called photophores, are the objects that emit light outwards from within. This light helps Dwarf Lanternsharks attract their prey and lure them in. 

An additional feature for their hunting is their relatively big eyes, which help them see their prey better in the dark, murky water. 

While some sharks are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs, most sharks give birth to live young, and the Dwarf Lanternshark falls in the majority.

They typically have a litter of about two to three sharks, while some shark species give birth to hundreds of pups. 

This shark species currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest shark in the world. However, this is not a certainty since they are bottom-dwelling, deep-sea sharks that are hard to find, thus, difficult to study. 

2. Spined Pygmy Shark

The Spined Pygmy Shark, or Squaliolus laticaudus, used to be identified as the smallest shark in the world until the Dwarf Lanternshark took the top spot. 

At maturity, their size averages at about 7 inches for females and 5.9 inches for males. At birth, however, they can come out as small at only 3.5 inches long. 

These sharks are vast in their global distribution thus can be found in many more areas than the other small sharks on this list. They’ve been found along the continental and island shores across the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans.  

More specifically, they’ve been found off the coast of numerous countries such as Brazil, Argentina, France, Somalia, Bermuda, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and more.

Spined Pygmy Sharks are also relatively easy to find and study because they are not bottom-dwellers.

They can swim at a wide range of depths, between 30 and 5,900 feet, but are typically seen at moderate depths of about 200 – 2,500 feet.

Finally, these sharks are known not only for their small size but for their interesting appearance. Most of their bodies are black to dark brown, but their fins have light, sometimes white edges, which creates a striking contrast. 

3. Pygmy Ribbontail Catshark

Humans have found the Pygmy Ribbontail Catshark, or Eridacnis radcliffei, mainly in the Indian Ocean but also in the Indo-Pacific region. This includes the coastal slopes of Tanzania, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and the Philippines. 

They can also be found around Yemen and the Gulf of Aden, which is helpful for their population since there are no commercial fisheries in these areas. 

In terms of their size, the females tend to be a bit smaller than the males this time, reaching around 6.3 inches in size at maturity as opposed to 7.4 inches for the males. 

Notably, the largest Spined Pygmy Shark recorded was 9 inches, which is still tiny for a shark but quite large for this species. 

They also have a pair of spineless dorsal fins that are equal in size, triangular mouths, and a narrow, ribbonlike tail which is where the species gets its name from. 

They typically swim at more shallow depths than the Dwarf Lanternshark and even the Spined Pygmy Shark mentioned above, usually staying around 230 – 2,500 feet.

However, if they are striving to protect their population and not get preyed on by shrimp trawlers, they may temporarily retreat to a greater depth to protect themselves. 

4. Smalleye Pygmy Shark

The Smalleye Pygmy Shark, or Squaliolus aliae, goes deeper than wide. They only live in the Pacific Ocean and nowhere else, but they swim in all zone layers of the ocean above the abyssal zone, which begins at around 6,600 feet. 

Smalleye Pygmy Sharks average at about 8.7 inches in length once they reach maturity. They swim in deep water during the day then go up to the shallower, warmer water at night to feed.

This means that they can successfully swim from around 500 feet deep to around 6,500 feet deep each and every day. 

Although they are found solely in the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Ocean is sparse, so they are still relatively widespread for a species.

They are mainly located in fragmented groups around the continental slopes of Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia. 

Plus, because they can get to depths that are far too deep for human’s current level of discovery, there is suspicion that there are many more populations of them than we currently are aware of. 

Although they are not lanternsharks – like a few of these other small sharks – they also have bioluminescent photophores located on their undersides. 

5. Panama Ghost Catshark

The Panama Ghost Catshark, or Apristurus stenseni, are bottom feeders that typically reside in depths around 3,000 to 3,200 feet. They are small sharks that can grow only up to 9 inches.

panama ghost catshark apristurus stenseni with slender body

Additionally, as their name suggests, they are only found in one main area – off the coast of Panama. Because they are nocturnal, they do most of their hunting, feeding, breeding, and other life activities during the nighttime. 

In terms of appearance, the Panama Ghost Catshark is a very slender shark with a broad head and an elongated snout.

The mouth extends beyond its eyes, making it look even more narrow and slim, and its eyes are smaller and wider, making it look like a cake. 

panama ghost catshark with broad head appearance

As mentioned above, most sharks give birth to live young. However, the Panama Ghost Catshark is oviparous, meaning they lay eggs.

However, very little is known about this specific species, so it’s unclear what the average size of their litter is. 

6. Atlantic Ghost Catshark

The Atlantic Ghost Catshark, or Apristurus atlanticus, is closely related to the Panama Ghost Catshark discussed above.

That said, they are around similar length – about 9.25 inches at maturity -and they are also deep-water dwellers, residing in depths at around 4,900 feet. 

This species resides throughout the Atlantic Ocean. They’ve been found on the slopes of Massachusetts, USA, as well as Western Ireland. 

And although they can potentially be caught as bycatch from deep-water fisheries, there is no listed concern about their population and no conservation efforts in place to protect them. 

Sharks have two dorsal fins, and one is typically centered on their backs. However, with Atlantic Ghost Catsharks, both of their dorsal fins are positioned far back on their bodies. 

Additionally, the positioning of their eyes is also notable, as they are up to 5% of their total body length. This gives them a cat-like look, which is why they got the Catshark name. 

Like the Panama Ghost Catshark, there is plenty more to uncover about this mysterious and intriguing shark species. Currently, not much has been verified regarding their feeding, behavior, reproduction, and other traits. 

7. African Lanternshark

The African Lanternshark, or Etmopterus polli, are lantern sharks that can be found off the coast of Africa, usually the continental slope off of West Africa.  

Their average size is about 9.4 inches long at maturity, and they typically swim at mid-range to deep-range, between 980 – 3,280 feet. 

It’s helpful for them to stay as deep as possible because commercial fisheries threaten their population.

These fisheries aren’t looking to catch the Lanternshark, but this species tends to be swept up as bycatch from commercial boats trying to catch shrimp. 

Like many of these small sharks, there is not too much information about them. However, given that they are lantern sharks and have bioluminescent qualities.

It is suspected that they use their lighting gifts to either confuse or scare predators, lure in prey, or both. 

8. Green Lanternshark 

The Green Lanternshark, or Etmopterus virens, is the largest on our list of small sharks. The largest one recorded was 10.2 inches in length, which is sizable compared to the 6.3-inch Dwarf Lanternshark in our number one spot. 

However, the Green Lanternshark’s length typically averages about 9 inches for females and 7 inches for males.

And their newborns are just as small as the young Spined Pygmy Sharks, at around 3.5 inches long. 

This shark species resides in various areas, including the Central Atlantic Ocean, Northwestern Atlantic Ocean, The Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

They swim in the mid-deep ocean, ranging from 1,200 feet to 3,000 feet. Finally, just as large animals aren’t always aggressive, small animals aren’t always passive.

These small sharks use teamwork to gang up on larger prey, such as octopus and squid. This is very impressive for such a small shark species.

Final Word

As you now know, sharks can come in a wide range of sizes and even fit within the palm of your hand. 

These small sharks are variable as well, dwelling at different depths, reproducing different sizes and types of litter, and maintaining populations all over the globe. 

Some are nocturnal, some are bottom-dwellers, and some lay eggs. They are all unique in their own ways, but they are all considered sharks. 

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