Blacktip reef

    Carcharhinus melanopterus

    IUCN status: near threatened

    Size: up to 1.4m

    Known to nibble on people’s feet and legs in the shallows, this species is not generally considered
    dangerous. Although fairly common and wideranging in the tropics, it is fished and has a long gestation time, making it potentially vulnerable. It’s found in northern Australian waters from Shark Bay, WA, to Brisbane, Queensland, and eats reef fish, crustaceans and squid.

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    Blind shark

    Brachaelurus waddi

    IUCN status: least concern

    Size: up to 1.2m

    Named for its habit of closing its eyes when caught by fishermen, this shark is endemic to intertidal zones along eastern Australia, Mooloolaba, Queensland, and Jervis Bay, NSW. This relatively common and hardy species is not intentionally targeted by commerical fishermen or anglers, and isn’t common as bycatch, reef invertebrates and small fish.

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    Bronze whaler

    Carcharhinus brachyurus

    IUCN status: near threatened

    Size: up to 3m

    This species is potentially dangerous to humans and often occurs in pairs. It feeds on fish, squid and the occasional sea snake throughout its range, which takes in southern Australia from Jurien Bay, WA, to Coffs Harbour, NSW.

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    Bull shark

    Carcharhinus leucas

    IUCN status: near threatened

    Size: up to 3.5m

    This aggressive species has powerful jaws and eats almost anything: other sharks, dolphins, rays, fish, turtles, birds and molluscs. It can penetrate freshwater river systems and has been known to take cattle, dogs and people. It’s widespread in tropical and warm-temperate seas.

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    Great hammerhead

    Sphyrna mokarran

    IUCN status: endangered

    Size: up to 6m

    Easily identified by its broad, flat head, this large shark is found in northern Australian waters from Sydney to the Houtman Abrolhos, WA. While few attacks on humans have been recorded, the great hammerhead is considered dangerous. It feeds on fish, other sharks, crustaceans and cephalopods, but is best known for its appetite for rays, which it pins to the sea floor with its head before taking a bite out of the ray’s wing, incapacitating it.

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    Great white

    Carcharodon carcharias

    IUCN status: vulnerable

    Size: up to 6m

    Protected throughout Australian waters, the largest flesh-eating shark in the world’s oceans is responsible for the majority of unprovoked attacks on humans. It favours cool, shallow, temperate seas, and is most commonly found in southern Australian waters from Exmouth, WA, to southern Queensland. Feeds on fish and marine mammals such as seals.

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    Grey nurse

    Carcharias taurus

    IUCN status: vulnerable

    Size: up to 3.2m

    Protected in NSW and Queensland, the grey nurse looks fearsome thanks to its exposed, razor-sharp teeth, but is not considered dangerous. It’s found in all Australian waters except Tasmania. It eats fish, rays, squid and crustaceans, and is often seen near the sea floor.

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    Oceanic whitetip

    Carcharhinus longimanus

    IUCN status: vulnerable

    Size: up to 3m

    This shark prefers warm, deep waters and is found around Australia’s north from NSW to Perth, WA. It eats everything from fishes and squid to whales, sea birds and turtles. Many open-ocean attacks on humans after air or sea disasters are attributed to it.

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    Port Jackson

    Heterodontus portusjacksoni

    IUCN status: least concern

    Size: up to 1.65m

    With a pig-like snout, conspicuous ridges above the eyes and a harness-like pattern across the shoulder, this is a distinctive-looking shark. Frequently seen by divers in rocky gullies and caves throughout its range – south from the Queensland-NSW border to the Houtman Abrolhos, WA, including Tasmania – it feeds at night on starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and molluscs. It poses no threat to humans unless provoked.

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    Pygmy shark

    Euprotomicrus bispinatus

    IUCN status: least concern

    Size: up to 27cm

    Black with pale fins, an underslung jaw and a luminescent belly, the pygmy shark measures less than 30cm when fully grown and is harmless to humans. An open-ocean dweller, it spends its daylight hours in deep water (to depths of 1520m) and migrates after sunset to the surface in pursuit of bony fish, cephalopods and crustaceans. In Australian waters, it’s found in tropical and warm-temperate seas from
    Perth to Rowley Shoals, west of Broome, WA.

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    Thresher

    Alopias vulpinus

    IUCN status: vulnerable

    Size: up to 5.5m

    Immediately recognisable by its long tail – which it uses to herd and stun squid and schools of fish –
    this shark can leap up to 6m out of the water. It’s widespread and common in tropical and temperate waters worldwide; its Australian range stretches from Broome, WA, to Brisbane, Queensland, including Tasmania. While not aggressive towards humans, this is a large, powerful shark.

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    Tiger shark

    Galeocerdo cuvier

    IUCN status: near threatened

    Size: up to 6m

    The tiger shark is the tropical equivalent of the great white and highly dangerous. A true scavenger, it eats turtles, seals, whales, jellyfish and stingrays, plus livestock and people unlucky enough to fall overboard. It’s found in northern waters from NSW to Perth, WA, and from reefs to open ocean.

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    Whale shark

    Rhincodon typus

    IUCN status: vulnerable

    Size: up to 14m

    The world’s largest living fish, this gentle giant is often found near the surface, where snorkellers can swim alongside it. Highly migratory and found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide, it appears alone or in large groups. It filterfeeds on plankton, but also eats prawns, crabs, schooling fish and occasionally tuna and squid.

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    Tasselled wobbegong

    Eucrossorhinus dasypogon

    IUCN status: near threatened

    Size: up to 4m, but often much smaller

    Wearing a patterned suit that blends in with the reef floor, this bottom-dweller inhabits tropical waters from Port Hedland, WA, to Bundaberg, Queensland, as well as Indonesia and New Guinea. It feeds on fish and invertebrates, and can be dangerous when provoked or disturbed.

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    Zebra shark

    Stegostoma fasciatum

    IUCN status: vulnerable

    Size: up to 2.4m

    This harmless reef-dweller is charming in appearance and nature. Named for the stripes on juveniles, which morph to spots in adulthood, it’s often seen by divers resting on the sea floor and propped up on its pectoral fins, facing into the current. It eats gastropods, crustaceans and fish, and is found in Australian waters north from Sydney around to Port Gregory, WA.

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Gallery: All about Australian sharks

By AG STAFF | July 10, 2013

We shed light on the most fascinating and feared of all sea creatures.