The underwater world is full of mysteries and various unique creatures. Among the most intimidating sea creatures is certainly the shark. These predators have fascinated people with their strength, power, and ferocity.
While sharks may seem like solitary creatures, they actually do mate and reproduce. But how do sharks mate anyway? Let’s take a peek and find out!
Do Sharks Mate?
Of course, how do you think baby sharks are born?! While it’s true that sharks are not social creatures like humans and they’re often seen as loners (dare we say, introverts?), they still need to mate in order to continue their species.
And contrary to popular belief, sharks are not immune to emotions and they do form bonds with other sharks, even if it’s just for a brief moment during mating. Even if they don’t stay together for long, the breeding process itself is quite an incredible feat to behold.
How Do Sharks Mate?
Generally speaking, there are four main ways that sharks mate, depending on the method of reproduction and how the young ones are born.
This is a form of reproduction where the baby sharks are born live, as opposed to being laid as eggs. This is the most common form of shark reproduction, similar to how other mammals reproduce.
The female shark has an opening near the end of its tail that’s known as a cloaca. Males have two claspers in the same area on their body, which are basically the fish version of a human penis. They only use one at a time though, depending on which side of the female’s body they find themselves in.
Whenever a female shark is ready to mate, she sends off chemical signals known as pheromones to attract any males nearby. Once a contender comes by, a series of rather complex mating rituals ensues – from aggressive rolling around and thrashing to biting each other’s fins – sharks know how to party.
All of this happens with a simple end goal in sight – fertilizing the female’s egg internally. Once it has occurred, the little ones take their nutrients and oxygen through the umbilical cord and use the placenta for protection.
While the process of how sharks mate is quite complex, the act itself takes a few seconds to complete. It also happens quite often in the wild as sharks are constantly on the prowl for a mate. Some species of sharks can even mate every year, resulting in the birth of hundreds of baby sharks.
Oviparity occurs when the eggs are laid by the female and fertilized externally. This process happens without assistance from the male shark and is considered a primitive form of reproduction.
The female usually carries these eggs for about a month before depositing them in a safe location, such as inside a carcass, on the ocean floor, or on a reef. The embryos develop inside the egg case and hatch when they are ready.
This one’s a mix of both viviparity and oviparity, where the female lays fertilized eggs but doesn’t release them into the open water. Instead, they’re incubated inside her until they’re ready to hatch.
This usually happens inside the oviduct and is common in smaller species of sharks. The young ones take their nutrients through the yolk sac until they’ve been carried long enough to be born.
Last but not least is a form of asexual reproduction and is seen in species that don’t have access to males of their kind. In this case, the female can produce eggs that don’t need to be fertilized in order to hatch and produce young.
While this is a fascinating way for sharks to keep their species alive, it’s not exactly ideal since it leads to genetic defects and a weaker gene pool. This is largely due to the fact that there’s no genetic diversity since it’s only coming from one parent.
How Do Sharks Have Babies?
Once fertilization has occurred, female sharks will then carry the embryo inside her until they are ready to hatch. Depending on the species of shark, the gestation period can last anywhere from 5 to 22 months.
During this time, the female will often find a safe place to rest and wait for her babies to be born. Physical changes will also occur at this point as the female’s body will start to produce a type of milk that will nourish the little ones.
Once the eggs are ready to hatch, the baby sharks will then make their way into the open water where they will start their life. They will be on their own from the very beginning and will have to fend for themselves against the many dangers of the sea.
Despite the many challenges, baby sharks have a pretty good chance of survival, even with limited parental care, as they are born ready to take on the world. These little predators are already equipped with sharp teeth and a powerful tail that can help them escape danger.
From the time they are born, sharks will start to grow at a rapid pace. They can gain up to 3 feet in length in just one year and will continue to grow until they reach adulthood.
Shark Mating Facts
Aside from the physical aspects of how sharks mate, there are also a few interesting facts that you might not know about this process. Here are some quick shark mating facts that you might find interesting:
- Shark mating usually takes place in the spring and summer months.
- The female will often choose the mate based on size. The bigger the male, the more attractive he is to her.
- Male sharks will often travel long distances to find a mate. Sometimes, they will even travel to different oceans.
- Mating season can be a dangerous time for sharks as they are often killed by humans or predators. They may even become aggressive and increase the chances of shark attacks. To prevent this, many of them mate in areas that are off-limits to humans.
- The female shark will often mate with multiple males. This is to ensure that she can have the best chance of producing healthy offspring.
- They can quite easily mate with other species of sharks. This often happens in captivity as there are limited mates to choose from. The result is a hybrid shark that has characteristics of both parents.
- Female whale sharks can give birth to 300 babies at once.
So, how do sharks mate? Well, sharks aren’t your standard animals, and being complex as they are, there isn’t just one way in which they mate, but four. Viviparity, oviparity, ovoviviparity, and parthenogenesis are the four different reproduction methods, all of which are explained in detail above.