AppearanceOne of the larger species in its genus, the Galapagos shark commonly reaches 3.0 m long. The maximum length is probably 3.3 m ; a recorded maximum length of 3.7 m has been questioned by several authors. The maximum recorded weight is 195 kg for a 3.0 m long female. This species has a slender, streamlined body typical of the requiem sharks. The snout is wide and rounded, with indistinct anterior nasal flaps. The eyes are round and of medium size. The mouth usually contains 14 tooth rows on either side of both jaws, plus one tooth at the symphysis . The upper teeth are stout and triangular in shape, while the lower teeth are narrower; both upper and lower teeth have serrated edges.
The first dorsal fin is tall and moderately falcate , with the origin over the pectoral fin rear tips. It is followed by a low midline ridge running to the second dorsal fin. The second dorsal fin originates over the anal fin. The pectoral fins are large with pointed tips. The coloration is brownish gray above and white below, with a faint white stripe on the sides. The edges of the fins are darker but not prominently marked. The Galapagos shark can be distinguished from the dusky shark in having taller first and second dorsal fins and larger teeth, and it can be distinguished from the grey reef shark in having a less robust body and less pointed first dorsal fin tip. However, these characters can be difficult to discern in the field. These similar species also have different numbers of precaudal vertebrae: 58 in the Galapagos shark, 86–97 in the dusky shark, 110–119 in the grey reef shark.
DistributionThe Galapagos shark is found mainly off tropical oceanic islands. In the Atlantic Ocean, it occurs around Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Madeira, Cape Verde, Ascension Island, Saint Helena and São Tomé Island. In the Indian Ocean, it is known from Walter's Shoal off southern Madagascar. In the Pacific Ocean, it occurs around Lord Howe Island, the Marianas Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Kermadec Islands, Tupai, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Hawaiian Islands, the Galapagos Islands, Cocos Island, the Revillagigedo Islands, Clipperton Island, and Malpelo. There are a few reports of this species in continental waters off the Iberian Peninsula, Baja California, Guatemala, Colombia, and eastern Australia.
Galapagos sharks are generally found over continental and insular shelves near the coast, preferring rugged reef habitats with clear water and strong converging currents. They are also known to congregate around rocky islets and seamounts. This species is capable of crossing the open ocean between islands and has been reported at least 50 km from land. Juveniles seldom venture deeper than 25 m , while adults have been reported to a depth of 180 m .
BehaviorThe Galapagos shark is often the most abundant shark in shallow island waters. In their original description of this species, Snodgrass and Heller noted that their schooner had taken "several hundred" adult Galapagos sharks and that "thousands" more could be seen in the water. At the isolated Saint Peter and Paul Rocks along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the resident Galapagos sharks have been described as "one of the densest shark populations of the Atlantic Ocean". At some locations they form large aggregations, though these are not true schools.
During group interactions, Galapagos sharks are dominant to blacktip sharks but deferent to silvertip sharks of equal size. When confronted or cornered, the Galapagos shark may perform a threat display similar to that of the grey reef shark, in which the shark performs an exaggerated, rolling swimming motion while arching its back, lowering its pectoral fins, puffing out its gills, and gaping its jaw. The shark may also swing its head from side to side, so as to keep the perceived threat within its field of vision. A known parasite of the Galapagos shark is the flatworm ''Dermophthirius carcharhini'', which attaches to the shark's skin. In one account, a bluefin trevally was seen rubbing against the rough skin of a Galapagos shark to rid itself of parasites.
FoodThe primary food of Galapagos sharks are benthic bony fishes and octopuses. They also occasionally take surface-dwelling prey such as mackerel, flyingfish, and squid. As the sharks grow larger, they consume increasing numbers of elasmobranchs and crustaceans, as well as indigestible items such as leaves, coral, rocks, and garbage. At the Galapagos Islands, this species has been observed attacking Galapagos fur seals and sea lions , and marine iguanas . While collecting fishes at Clipperton Island, Limbaugh noted that juvenile Galapagos sharks surrounded the boat, with multiple individuals rushing at virtually anything trailing in the water and striking the boat bottom, oars, and marker buoys. The sharks were not slowed by rotenone or shark repellent, and some followed the boat into water so shallow that their backs were exposed.
EvolutionLike other requiem sharks, the Galapagos shark exhibits a viviparous mode of reproduction, in which the developing embryos are sustained by a placental connection formed from the depleted yolk sac. Females bear young once every 2–3 years. Mating takes place from January to March, at which time scars caused by male courtship bites appear on the females. The gestation period is estimated to be around one year; the spring following impregnation, females move into shallow nursery areas and give birth to 4–16 pups. The size at birth has been reported to be 61–80 cm , though observations of free-swimming juveniles as small as 57 cm long in the eastern Pacific suggest that birth size varies geographically. Juvenile sharks remain in shallow water to avoid predation by larger adults. Males mature at 2.1–2.5 m long and 6–8 years old, while females mature at 2.2–2.5 m long and 7–9 years old. Neither sex is thought to reproduce until 10 years of age. The lifespan of this species is at least 24 years.
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