13 Awesome Shark Species found in UK waters

Sharks can get some bad rep. JAWS, Baby Shark, even Katy Perry’s Left Shark. But they’re a hugely important part of our oceans and they’ve even outlived the Dinosaurs, which in-itself is total win for evolution. Here in the Bay we don’t mention them much, which is odd, when we have some of the most incredible species swimming off our coastline!

So if you have you ever wondered what shark species are swimming around the UK, next week is UK Shark Week and it’s only right we highlight some of the pretty incredible predators that are found off our coastline here in the South West.

We hope we can give you a little insight if you do happen to spot a fin one day on your boat. We have picked the residents and most regular visitors to list, but a full log of all species that might be found in UK seas are available on the Shark Trusts website.

1 Angel Shark

Angelshark (Squatina squatina)
  • Size: Up to 183cm total length
  • Common Names: Monkfish, Angel Fiddle Fish, Angel Puffy Fish, Angel Ray, Angelfish, Fiddle Fish
  • Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

I’ll never forget being lucky enough to see one actually swimming on an incredible scuba dive in Lanzarote, (the one dive you don’t wear you’re go-pro, typical!). But these rare and beautiful sharks are not only found in warmer waters, there are species right here in the UK too. They have most recently been sighted around Cardigan Bay and the Bristol channel.

These beautiful sharks are bottom dwelling ambush predators who are facing the very real possibility of extinction. There are many global projects happening right now to help preserve these lovely creatures and they are now protected in England, Wales and Scotland.

2 Basking Shark

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
  • Size: Up to 1220cm total length
  • Common Names: Bone Shark, Elephant Shark, Hoe-Mother
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Just look at this incredible gentle giant. They are the largest shark seen in UK waters and can often be seen in the summer months, here in the south west too. It’s recently been discovered that they stay in deep water for the winters, which is why we don’t see them, and they spend most of their time filtering for their favourite food – plankton. They are predominantly a coastal species but will travel great distances. They can usually be spotted on the surface as they cruise along with their mouths wide open.

3 Blue Shark

Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
  • Size: Up to 383cm total length
  • Common Names: Blue Dog, Blue Whaler
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Blue sharks are sleek and possibly one of the most impressive sharks seen in UK waters. Blue Sharks are often spotted in schools or groups, and have been known to migrate huge distances. Blue Sharks are regular visitors to Devon and Cornwall and there are even specialised trips to spot these beautiful creatures in the wild.

See below for a video of one of these gorgeous sharks filmed last year from a boat trip in Devon.

4 Smallspotted Catshark

Smallspotted Catshark (Scyliorhinus canicular)
  • Size: Up to 80cm total length
  • Common Names: Lesser Spotted Dogfish, Rough Hound, Rock Salmon, Sandy Dogfish, Doggie
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The humble Smallspotted Catshark is one of the most abundant of all sharks in the UK. They are very coastal and there are just loads in the bay. If ever you dive or even snorkel in and around Torbay you are almost certain to see them. They lay beautiful eggcases known as Mermaids purses and many of these will wash up on our beaches.

They may only be small, and are bottom dwellers, preferring to live near the seabed but they are really quite lovely and easily identified by their dark spots and splotches all over their bodies. We’d love to know about your experiences with catsharks!

5 Spiny Dogfish

  • Size: Up to 124cm total length
  • Common Names: Spurdog, Piked Dogfish, Dogfish, Rock Salmon, Spring Dogfish, White-Spotted Dogfish
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Ah, the dogfish, they are sharks too we promise! It even has some venomous spines on its back. The Spiny Dogfish is one of many types of dogfish we find in UK waters. And it’s quite an abundant species all over the globe in temperate waters. They have powerful jaws and can be identified by the rows of white spots along the spine.

6 Frilled Shark

  • Size: Up to 197cm total length
  • Common Names: Frill-Gilled Shark, Lizard Shark, Scaffold Shark, Silk Shark
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Well hows this for prehistoric looking? The frilled shark usually stays in very deepwater, feeding on fish, squid and even sometimes other sharks. It has a body which is very eel-like and is name because of the frilled edges on its gills. Are you likely to see one? Probably not, but it’s too awesome not to mention on this post.

7 Smooth Hammerhead

Smooth Hammerhead, Shark Sphyrna zygaena. Sea of Cortez, La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico.
  • Size: Up to 500cm total length
  • Common Names: Common Hammerhead Shark, Round Headed Hammerhead Shark
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Now here’s a type of shark you will have heard of! Didn’t think you’d be seeing a Hammerhead here eh? Well occasionally spotted in waters of the South West the Smooth Hammerhead migrates, so if found in the northern regions in the Summer (that’s when we might see one) and down south for the winter. Just like a Sparrow! – Only huge, lives in water and has a mouth full of very sharp teeth and well, not really much like a sparrow at all.

8 Shortfin Mako

  • Size: Up to 394cm total length
  • Common Names: Mako, Short-finned Mako, Blue Pointer, Mackerel Shark, Blue Dynamite
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

How fast can you swim? Probably not fast enough! An average swimmer in open water will reach a speed of about 3mph, the Shortfin Mako Shark is the fastest shark ever recorded and can reach up to 30mph. yes, 30MPH! That’s 10 times faster than the average human swimmer. This is due to their powerful body and bullet-like shape. They’re so efficient in the water they’ve even been used as a starting model for aircraft, submarines and more, to help designers find the most streamlined shapes for vehicles that we use!

9 Nursehound

  • Size: Up to 162cm total length
  • Common Names: Bull Huss, Greaterspotted Catshark, Greater Spotted Dogfish, Flake, Rig
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

This big cousin of the Smallspotted Catshark share a lot of similar characteristics. But they’re considerably bigger, as are their egg cases. Again like the smaller catshark they are bottom dwellers found close to shore in shallow rocky waters. They are commonly eaten in the med, but less so here. And a little rarer than their Smallspotted cousins here in the UK.

10 Porbeagle

  • Size: Up to 365cm total length
  • Common Names: Atlantic Mackerel Shark, Bottle-nosed Shark, Beaumaris Shark
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

This could be the most fearsome looking shark in our waters. The Porbeagle looks like a miniature (but only by comparison) Great White shark! Whilst usually found a few miles out in the deeper waters it uses for hunting, a friend of ours had a squeaky bum moment when he turned around whilst spear fishing along the coast to find a small one following him. It followed closely for about a minute, but after no interaction and we think it realised he wasn’t food, it calmly turned around and swam off. Needless to say, he swam back to the beach and didn’t get in the water again that day!

Now I’ve tried to find a video to show you all a Porbeagle swimming in the UK, but sadly every video I’ve found has been the fishing of these beautiful sharks, whilst most are let go back into the ocean, some it seems are not. I did not find anything I felt comfortable sharing with you all. That kinda says everything.

11 Bluntnose Sixgill Shark

  • Size: Up to 482cm total length
  • Common Names: Atlantic Mud Shark, Brown Shark, Bull Dog Shark, Bull Shark, Cow Shark, Gray Shark, Mud Shark, Sixgill Cow Shark
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

The Bluntnose Sixgill is an interesting shark, they move from deep waters during the day to feed at nighttime in shallower depths. So named because of their six gill slits on either side, not the most imaginative name granted! The teeth in their lower jaw each have multiple points like a comb and there are six rows of them too!

12 Thresher Shark

  • Size: UP to 760cm total length
  • Common Names: Common Thresher, Thintail Thresher, Fox Shark, Sea Fox, Swiveltail, Thrasher
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Now here is a seriously cool shark, the Thresher has a beautiful long tail which is uses to stun fish. There are many news articles out there about Threshers being spotted leaping from the waters around Devon.

Below might be my favourite video of the lot as this was taken right in our very own Torbay. It’s a blink and you miss is moment, spot the Thresher leaping whilst these guys were out Dolphin spotting.

13 Tope

  • Size: Up to 195cm total length
  • Common Names: Soupfin Shark, School Shark, Flake, Greyshark, Penny’s Dog, Schnapper Shark, Sharpie Shark, Sweet William Shark, Vitamin Shark
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

The Tope shark is very nice to look at. They also migrate huge distances and Topes tagged in the UK have been found as far away as the Canary Islands! So far, they’ve never been known to attack a human, but will eat pretty much anything else the sea has to offer.

Sharks as a species have been around since before the Dinosaurs roam the earth, but now due to fishing and other pressures on the oceans many species are at risk, which is crazy.

This list was created using information from The Shark Trust based in Plymouth, Devon, who work all over the globe and at home to help protect these stunning species, if you want to know more and join in please get involved at UK Shark Trust. The Shark Trust’s website provides a mine of information about all shark species, their conservation projects, ID guides and more.

As a disclaimer, the imagery used in this post is not mine but is licence free to the best of my knowledge. If any images are copywrited they have been posted so unknowingly, please email us and we will remove immediately.

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