10 Biggest Sharks in the World

By: Carrie Tatro  | 
A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) breaches in attack mode. Though the great white is the face of the scary shark to most people, it is not the world's biggest shark. Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

Key Takeaways

  • The whale shark is the largest shark and fish in the world, reaching lengths up to 62 feet (18.9 meters) and feeding primarily on plankton.
  • The basking shark, the second largest, grows up to 40 feet (12.2 meters) and also filter-feeds on plankton.
  • The tiger shark, great white shark, and megamouth shark follow in size, each with unique diets and habitats, with the great white being notorious for its size and predatory behavior.

Sharks get a bad rap as godless killing machines whose two favorite words are, according to corny dad jokes: “Human overboard!” Hilarity aside, cautious people everywhere likely agree that a healthy respect for this formidable beast is 100 percent advisable.

But is our primal fear totally rational? Are sharks truly all that scary?


Yes, sharks are opportunistic apex predators with large torpedo-shaped bodies and powerful tails that are built for speed. Ambushing their prey at speeds of up to 25 mph (40 kph), a hungry shark can snag a sizeable snack in a single bite. These supreme hunters can smell blood in the water up to a quarter of a mile (0.4 kilometers) away and can detect motion from as far as 330 feet (100 meters) away. But they aren’t all as ferocious as they’re made out to be. In truth, we’re more likely to get struck by lightning or be bitten by another human being than be eaten by a shark.

More than 536 species are known to science, with a new shark species being discovered as often as twice per month. The smallest shark is the dwarf lanternshark that when fully grown is so tiny it can fit in the palm of an adult human’s hand. Conversely, some species of sharks are gargantuan and these are the monster fish of film, TV and song that have driven many of us to be galeophobic beach-walkers only.

So, let’s take a look at the 10 most colossal sharks in the world, in order of size.


1. Whale Shark

The whale shark may look like a whale and swim like a whale, but is, in actuality, a shark. DJ Mattaar/Shutterstock

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the biggest shark in the sea. Whale sharks (they're definitely sharks which are fish, not whales which are marine mammals) aren't just the biggest sharks in the world, they're literally the biggest fish of any kind of fish on planet Earth, period. These leviathans have been measured at a record of 62 feet (19 meters) long. That's 22 feet (6.7 meters) longer than a Greyhound bus! They're massive, but they don't pose any danger to humans because they mainly filter feed on tiny plankton, ingesting vast amounts of water and filtering out the food. They migrate thousands of miles annually and are found in warm waters all over the world. Sadly, according to the IUCN Red List, whale sharks are an Endangered species.


2. Basking Shark

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is a filter feeder like the whale shark and also poses no threat to humans. While not as large as the whale shark, they've been measured at up to 40 feet (12 meters) long and are huge enough to rank as the second-biggest shark in the world.


3. Tiger Shark

This tiger shark was spotted in action at Tiger Beach in the Bahamas. Michael Bogner/Shutterstock

The third largest shark, the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) aka the leopard shark, spotted shark or maneater shark, has been measured at over 24 feet (7.3 meters) long, but is typically 10 to 14 feet (3 to 4 meters) long and can weigh up to 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). It can swim up to 20 mph (32 kph) and has teeth so sharp and strong they can bite through a sea turtle's shell. It lives in warm, tropical waters throughout the world and is considered a Near Threatened species.


4. Great White Shark

Fourth on our list is the awesome and notorious great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) of both scary movie and scary-in-real-life fame. Great whites, which can live to be over 70 years old, are streamlined arch predators that can move at speeds up to 43 mph (69 kph). Measuring up to 23 feet (7 meters) long, with razor-sharp teeth, great whites would rather nosh on dolphins, seals, sea lions, sea turtles and birds, or even the decayed flesh of dead animals than people.


5. Megamouth Shark

The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) aka big mouth shark, is a filter feeder that swims with its humongous mouth wide open to capture its prey of plankton, jellyfish, shrimp and copepods. First discovered in 1976, this elusive deepwater shark is rarely spotted by humans. The largest on record is 23 feet (7 meters) long, but its average length is believed to be between 13 and 18 feet (4 and 5.4 meters). The heaviest weight on record for a megamouth is a whopping 2, 679 pounds (1,215 kilograms). A very slow swimmer with glowing pores around its mouth and 50 rows of teeth on both its upper and lower jaws, the megamouth shark moves along at a top speed of just 1.30 mph (2 kph). Their population is unknown and their conservation status is listed of Least Concern.


6. Greenland Shark

The Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) aka the "Methuselah" of sharks, has the longest lifespan of any vertebrate animal in the world. Biologists believe that this huge, slow-moving fish can live to be up to 500 years old. Measuring up to 21 feet (6.4 meters) long, the slow-moving Greenland shark doesn't mate until it's around 150 years old, gestates from eight to 18 years and can give birth to up to 10 pups. A carnivore, this big lug of a fish creeps up on its prey unawares and attacks them in their sleep.


7. Thresher Shark

The thresher shark (Alopias), weighs in at between 500 and 1,000 pounds (226 and 553 kilograms) and grows to a length of up to 20 feet (6 meters) with a lifespan of 19 to 50 years. Found in temperate, tropical waters, the thresher shark has a vast range, preferring the open ocean anywhere outside of cold Arctic waters. An omnivore, this rather scary-looking fish has a long, distinctive, thresher-like tail that it uses to herd, stun and kill its prey. It can jump higher than pretty much any other animal in the sea. They're not very aggressive and pose little threat to humans. This family of sharks contains a single genus and only three current species, all of which are vulnerable to extinction.


8. Great Hammerhead Shark

The great hammerhead shark is, without doubt, one of evolution's oddest-looking creatures, with an eye on each side of its head. Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock

The great hammerhead shark (Sphyrnidae) has been in Earth's oceans for nearly 20 million years. Best known for their long rectangular heads that allow for a 360-degree field of vision, hammerheads dwell in warm coastal waters and on the edges of continental plates. These gray-green to olive-green behemoths have bright white bellies and are on record as large as 20 feet (6 meters) long. Typically though, females average from 15 to 18 feet (4.5 to 5.4 meters) long while males average about 12 feet (3.6 meters). There are nine species of hammerheads and most are on the smaller side — the great hammerhead being large enough to pose a threat to humans. This ancient fish is listed as Critically Endangered.


9. Bull Shark

This bull shark, on Protea Banks in South Africa, looks a bit perturbed and worthy of avoidance. Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock

Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) get their name from their short, blunt snouts and their behavior of butting their prey with their heads before attacking. Found in shallow (less than 100 feet, or 30 meters, deep) tropical waters, these unpredictable carnivores can swim far up freshwater rivers and live in freshwater lakes if they feel like it. They range in length from 7 to 11 feet (2 to 3.3 meters) long, weigh between 200 and 500 pounds (91 to 227 kilograms) and swim at a top speed of 25 mph (40 kph). They are the third most aggressive shark towards humans after the tiger shark and the great white.


10. Sand Tiger Shark

The sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus), aka ragged-toothed shark, is a relatively peaceable shark one usually sees swimming in circles in aquariums. Ranging from 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) long, this cold-eyed fish can live up to 35 years and prowls close to shore in shallow, temperate waters hunting bony fish, other sharks, crustaceans, squid, and rays. Due to overfishing, the sand tiger shark's conservation status is listed as Critically Endangered/Vulnerable.

Frequently Asked Questions

What adaptations help the largest sharks feed efficiently?
The largest sharks, like whale sharks and basking sharks, have evolved to be filter feeders, allowing them to consume large amounts of plankton by swimming with their mouths open to filter tiny organisms from the water. This adaptation is crucial for sustaining their massive size without expending too much energy on hunting.
How do conservation efforts address the threats faced by these large sharks?
Conservation efforts for large sharks focus on protecting their habitats, regulating fishing practices, and enforcing bans on shark finning. Organizations also work to raise public awareness about the ecological importance of sharks and the need to preserve these species to maintain healthy ocean ecosystems.