Sharks invest a lot of energy into producing a few, well-developed young. Who have a good chance of survival.

Reproduction takes many forms but the 3 main methods are:


OVIPARITY (egg-laying)

Skate, chimaera and some shark species produce eggs encased in a tough 'leathery' eggcase. A female may spend a long time laying her eggs, ensuring they’re securely fixed in a safe place. It can take between 6-9 months before they’re ready to hatch.

Depending on the species, features such as curled tendrils, horns and sticky mucus filaments attach the eggcase to a substrate. This can be the seabed, reef or seaweed. Here the embryo develops.

The protective capsule acts as a life-support machine, containing everything that's needed. The embryo absorbs nutrients from a yolk sac before hatching. And emerges as a miniature version of the adult.

Empty eggcases can often be found washed up on the beach. It's possible to tell the species they belong to by their size and shape. And you can help shark conservation by searching for them as part of our Great Eggcase Hunt. Click here to find out more and record your finds.

Port Jackson Shark © Taso Viglas, Wikimedia Commons

Horn sharks (such as the Port Jackson) lay large eggs shaped like a corkscrew. These wedge firmly between rocks.

Download our Skate Life Cycle Poster (pdf)


OVOVIVIPARITY

Instead of laying her eggs, the female will carry them inside her body. Providing extra safety from potential predators. The embryos develop within an eggcase that has a thin membrane. Once developed the baby shark will hatch inside her mother, who'll then give birth to the young. In some species the pups aren't born immediately after hatching. Instead they stay in the uterus where they'll feed off unfertilised eggs. This is known as oophagy.

GRUESOME FACT – Sandtiger pups not only eat unfertilised eggs but their un-hatched siblings too! This is called intrauterine cannibalism.


VIVPARITY (live birth)

Viviparity is the most advanced method of reproduction. The baby shark develops inside their mother’s body, receiving nutrients and oxygen through an umbilical cord. This is the same method used by mammals. But, unlike mammals, when the pups are born they're immediately independent and have to fend for themselves.

Some female sharks can reproduce without a male to fertilise the eggs. This is known as Parthenogenesis (or ‘virgin births’). This has been documented in Bonnetheads, Blacktips and Zebra Sharks.


SHARK NURSERIES

To improve their pups’ chance of survival, some sharks give birth or lay their eggs in nursery areas. Here the water is usually warm and shallow. There's a good food supply and few predators. Once pups have reached a good size they leave the safety of the nursery and enter the big wide world.


WHY ARE SHARKS UNDER THREAT?

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by humans because they reproduce slowly. They're:

  • ARE SLOW GROWING & LATE TO MATURE - as an extreme case the Greenland Shark can live ~400 years and doesn’t reach sexual maturity until ~150 years! Many are killed before they’ve produced offspring.

  • HAVE LONG PREGNANCIES - averaging between 9-12 months. The Greeneye Dogfish has the longest recorded pregnancy at 31 months!

  • PRODUCE FEW YOUNG - varying from 2 pups for the Bigeye Thresher and up to 135 for the Blue Shark. Compare this to the reproduction potential of bony fish who release millions of eggs.

  • MAY NOT REPRODUCE EVERY YEAR - some species have a resting phase of 1-2 years.


HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year and many populations continue to decline at an alarming rate.

Without sharks, marine ecosystems face an uncertain future. But, by getting involved with shark conservation, you can help us ensure these beautiful animals have a future in our oceans. 

Get Involved with Shark Conservation