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member of a group of almost exclusively marine and predaceous fishes. There are about 250 species of sharks, ranging from the 2-ft (60-cm) pygmy shark to 50-ft (15-m) giants. They are found in all seas, but are most abundant in warm waters. Some may enter large rivers, and one ferocious freshwater species lives in Lake Nicaragua. Most are predatory, but the largest species, the whale sharkwhale shark,
large, plankton-eating shark, Rhincodon typus, found in all tropical seas of the world. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. A female typically reaches about 46 ft (14 m) in length, and a male about 26 ft (8 m); the largest known specimen was about
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 and the basking sharkbasking shark,
large, plankton-feeding shark, Cetorhinus maximus, inhabiting many oceans of the world, especially in temperate regions. Found singly or in schools of up to 100, it spends much of its time on or just below the surface, cruising slowly with its dorsal fin
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, are harmless plankton eaters, and the small bonnethead shark eats seagrass as well as crustaceans and other prey. Dogfishdogfish,
name for a number of small sharks of several different families. Best known are the spiny dogfishes (family Squalidae) and the smooth dogfishes (family Triakidae). Spiny dogfishes have two spines, one in front of each dorsal fin, and lack an anal fin.
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 is the name for members of several families of small sharks; these should not be confused with the bony dogfishes of the mud minnow and bowfinbowfin,
primitive freshwater fish found in the Mississippi basin, the Great Lakes, and E to Vermont. The bowfin has a light covering of rounded, overlapping scales, a large mouth, and sharp teeth.
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 families. See also hammerhead sharkhammerhead shark,
active, surface-living shark, genus Sphyrina. Its curious head has lateral projections resembling the crossbar of a T, and its eyes and ears are located in the outer tips of the projections.
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 and thresher sharkthresher shark,
long-tailed, warm-water shark, genus Alopias. The upper fork of its tail is slender and sickle-shaped and is about equal in length to the rest of the body.
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Shark meat is nutritious and is used for human food. In Asian cuisines a prized gelatinous soup is made from the fins of certain species; many of the millions of sharks landed annually are taken just for the fins, and finning is now believed to threaten such species. The flesh is also sold for poultry feed, and shark oils are used in industry; shark-liver oil was formerly used as a source of vitamin A. The rough skin is used as a sandpaper called shagreen, and tanned sharkskin is a durable leather. A decrease in shark populations due to overharvesting has led a number of nations to establish shark sanctuaries in their waters.


Sharks are heavy fishes, possessing neither lungs nor swim bladders (see fishfish,
limbless aquatic vertebrate animal with fins and internal gills. Traditionally the living fish have been divided into three class: the primitive jawless fishes, or Agnatha; the cartilaginous (sharklike) fishes, or Chondrichthyes; and the bony fishes, or Osteichthyes.
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). Their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone, and this, along with large deposits of fat, partially solves their weight problem; nevertheless, most sharks must keep moving in order to breathe and to stay afloat. They are good swimmers; the wide spread of the pectoral fins and the upward curve of the tail fin provide lift, and the sweeping movements of the tail provide drive. Their tough hides are studded with minute, toothlike structures called denticles. Sharks have pointed snouts; their crescent-shaped mouths are set on the underside of the body and contain several rows of sharp, triangular teeth. They have respiratory organs called gillsgills,
external respiratory organs of most aquatic animals. In fishes the gills are located in gill chambers at the rear of the mouth (pharynx). Water is taken in through the mouth, is forced through openings called gill slits, and then passes through the gill clefts, spaces
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, usually five on each side, with individual gill slits opening on the body surface; these slits form a conspicuous row and lack the covering found over the gills of bony fishes. Like most fishes, sharks breathe by taking water in through the mouth and passing it out over the gills. Usually there are two additional respiratory openings on the head, called spiracles. A shark's intestine has a unique spiral valve, which increases the area of absorption. Fertilization is internal in sharks; the male has paired organs called claspers for introducing sperm into the cloacacloaca
, in biology, enlarged posterior end of the digestive tract of some animals. The cloaca, from the Latin word for sewer, is a single chamber into which pass solid and liquid waste materials as well as the products of the reproductive organs, the gametes.
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 of the female. Members of most species bear live young, but a few of the smaller sharks lay eggs containing much yolk and enclosed in horny shells. Compared to bony fishes, sharks tend to mature later and reproduce slowly.


Only a small number of the predatory species are definitely known to engage in unprovoked attacks on humans. The largest and most feared of these is the great white sharkwhite shark,
large, ferocious shark, Carcharodon carcharias. Also known as the great white shark and maneater, this shark can attack swimmers and boats without provocation, though it does not typically do so.
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, which may reach 20 ft (6 m) in length and is probably responsible for more such attacks than any other species. Other sharks reputed to be especially dangerous are the tiger and blue sharks and the makomako
, heavy-bodied, fast-swimming shark, genus Isurus, highly prized as a game fish. Also known as the sharp-nosed mackerel shark, it is a member of the mackerel shark family, which also includes the white shark and the porbeagle.
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. Sharks are extremely sensitive to motion and to the scent of blood. Swimmers in areas where dangerous varieties occur should leave the water quietly if they are cut; spearfishing divers should remove bleeding fish from the water immediately. In some places bathing areas are guarded by nets. A number of substances have been used as shark repellents, including maleic acid, copper sulfate, and decaying shark flesh, but their effectiveness is variable. An electrical repellent device, exploiting the shark's sensitivity to electrical fields, has been developed in South Africa. Sharks usually circle their prey before attacking. Since they seldom swim near the surface, an exposed dorsal fin is more likely to be that of a swordfish or ray than that of a shark.


Sharks, raysray,
extremely flat-bodied cartilaginous marine fish, related to the shark. The pectoral fins of most rays are developed into broad, flat, winglike appendages, attached all along the sides of the head; the animal swims by rippling movements of these wings.
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 (including skates), and chimaeraschimaera
, cartilaginous marine fish, related to the sharks. Also called ratfishes, chimaeras are found in temperate oceans throughout the world, mostly in deep water. They have large heads, long, thin, ratlike tails, and large, fanlike pectoral fins.
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 together form the vertebrate class Chondrichthyes, the cartilagenous fishes (see ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
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). The sharks and rays form the subclass Elasmobranchii, and the sharks form the order Selachii.


See P. E. Pope, A Dictionary of Sharks (1973); T. H. Lineaweaker and R. H. Backus, The Natural History of Sharks (1970, repr. 1986); J. A. Musick and B. McMillan, The Shark Chronicles (2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a fish of the Selachii order of the Elasmobranchii subclass. The shark is represented by three suborders: living, primitive, and horn sharks. The living sharks (Selachoidei) vary in length from 0.5 m (Etmopterus spinax) to 20 m (basking shark). They have a fusiform body and five gill clefts on each side; only the saw shark has six. The scale is placoid, the mouth is located in the lower part of the head, and the skeleton is cartilaginous; these fish have no swim bladders. Sharks are widespread in coastal and open waters; some inhabit rivers—for instance, the Amazon and Ganges. In the USSR they live in the Barents, Baltic, Black, and Azov seas and in the seas of the Far East. Although most sharks lay eggs (large, in a horn-shaped membrane), some are viviparous. The majority are predators, feeding on fish, deepwater invertebrates, echinoderms, mollusks, and worms; sometimes they attack man. Sharks have commercial uses. Most sharks are caught in tropical waters. Those caught in the USSR include the spiny dogfish, the Greenland shark, and the porbeagle. Fish oil is extracted from the shark’s liver, the meat is used for food, and the skeleton is used to make fish glue. Primitive sharks (Hexanchoidei) have six or seven gill clefts on each side. They consist of two families: the frill sharks (Chlamydoselachidae), represented by the single species Chlamydoselachus anguineus, which is widespread, but rarely encountered (bodies measuring about 1.5 m), and the cow sharks (Hexanchidae). Horn sharks (Heterodontoidei) can reach a length of 1.5 m. One genus, Heterodontus, includes four species, which are found in the subtropical and tropical parts of the Pacific and Indian oceans.


Nikol’skii,G. V. Chastnaia ikhtiologiia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1954.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(vertebrate zoology)
Any of about 225 species of carnivorous elasmobranchs which occur principally in tropical and subtropical oceans; the body is fusiform with a heterocercal tail and a tough, usually gray, skin roughened by tubercles, and the snout extends beyond the mouth.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


large and ferocious fish, sometimes man-eating. [Zoology: NCE, 2493]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


any of various usually ferocious selachian fishes, typically marine with a long body, two dorsal fins, rows of sharp teeth, and between five and seven gill slits on each side of the head
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Please remember that the water in your dreams may be a statement about your emotions and the unconscious. Sharks, water-dwelling animals, could represent unpleasant emotions or difficult and painful materials coming up from the unconscious. You may feel some emotional upset, and the shark could be the symbol of the perceived emotional danger. Old dream interpretation books say that sharks may represent dishonest friends or reflect financial troubles.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
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