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Species Focus




Florida is home to more than 20 different species of sharks that are found in a variety of habitats, ranging from inlets to creeks and reefs, and in the open ocean. This page is designed to profile a handful of species that are commonly encountered by catch-and-release anglers.

Atlantic Sharpnose


atlantic shark
Photo illustration by Diane Peebles

Scientific Name: Rhizoprionodon terranovae
Maximum size: 2-3 feet
Color: Grey, sometimes featuring brownish hues. Adults have white spots.
Diet: Small bony fish, crustaceans that live on the sea floor.
Body type: Small and stocky, often mistaken as a juvenile blacktip or spinner.
Conservation status: Low threat
Response to hook-and-line: Large stress response due to small size, relatively sensitive species. Best to limit fight time and release quickly, especially in the warmer summer months.

This abundant smaller shark can be found throughout Florida in most coastal habitats. Found commonly in bays, inlets, brackish areas, as well as offshore in deep water.

Bull Shark


bull shark
Photo illustration by Dawn Witherington

Scientific Name: Carcharhinus leucas
Maximum size: 8-11 feet
Color: Dark grey and brown mix. Snout is broad and rounded.
Diet: Varied. Primarily fish eaters and will hunt other sharks.
Body type: Large and stocky, football shaped.
Conservation status: Moderate threat.
Response to hook-and-line: Moderate to high stress response. Species do not do well out of the water and may be prone to higher rates of hooking in areas other than the jaw. Best to use circle hooks and keep in water before release.

This species is a large apex predator which occupies the top of the food chain in almost every ecosystem. Notorious for their reputation and perceived (but not truly substantiated) risk to humans, bull sharks are relatively common throughout most of Florida. They are most abundant in bays and can inhabit both fresh and saltwater habitats. Bull sharks can also be encountered offshore during their migratory phases. The species seems to be starting to recover from decades of exploitation, but are by no means exploding in population size.

Blacktip Shark


blacktip shark
Photo illustration by Diane Peebles

Scientific Name: Carcharhinus limbatus
Maximum size: 4-6 feet
Color: Brown and silver with occasional black streaks on sides. Bottoms of fins have black markings. Pointy snout. Unlike spinner sharks, blacktip skarks lack a black marking on the anal fin.
Diet: Varied. Primarily fish eaters.
Body type: Medium sized, pointy classic "shark" body.
Conservation status: Moderate threat.
Response to hook-and-line: Moderate to high stress response. Species will fight extremely hard for its size and can get exhausted quickly. Do not fight fish to exhaustion and release quickly.

This is a predominantly coastal species that is often found in groups, but can also be found offshore. Blacktip sharks are very energetic and fast, supporting the fact that they eat agile prey fish and must avoid being eaten by larger sharks. Individuals can sometimes be seen jumping out of the water when hooked or hunting prey.

Hammerhead Sharks - Great and Scalloped


hammerhead shark
Illustration by Diane Peebles

Scientific Name: Sphyrna mokarran, Sphyrna lewini
Maximum size: 12-16 feet (Great), 8-11 feet (Scalloped)
Color: Grey and silver (Great), silver to golden (Scalloped)
Diet: Feed on fast-moving species, stingrays and other sharks.
Body type: Large, powerful bodies with distinctive hammer-shaped heads.
Conservation status: High threat.

Response to hook-and-line: Extreme. Very hard fighting fish that shows high mortality due to exhaustion in fisheries. If targeting, have a plan for release that includes bringing to boat swiftly. If cannot bring to boat, best to cut the line and let fish swim off and avoid further stress. Easily recognized by their distinctive hammer, these are large apex predators that can still be found in relative abundance throughout Florida. Hammerheads in general are a highly threatened species of sharks that must be treated carefully by anglers, even though they are a popular target species. Great hammerheads are the larger of the two species and have a much broader hammer, while the scalloped hammerhead is slightly smaller and has a curved hammer. These are protected from harvest in Florida state waters.

Lemon Shark


lemon shark
Illustration by Dawn Witherington

Scientific Name: Negaprion brevirostris
Maximum size: 6-8 feet
Color: Brownish with yellow hues.
Diet: Fish eaters.
Body type: Medium to large bodies with sickle-shaped fins. Lemon sharks have a second dorsal fin and have extremely pointy and sharp teeth that sometimes protrude from their mouths.
Conservation status: Moderate threat.
Response to hook-and-line: Low. This species does not get stressed from fishing and will show high survival with moderate catch-and-release fishing.

Lemon shark populations were once much greater than they are today in Florida, although they can still be found in a variety of habitats from bays to coastal ledges. These are protected from harvest in Florida state waters.

Nurse Shark


nurse shark
Illustration by Dawn Witherington

Scientific Name: Ginglymostoma cirratum
Maximum size: 5-7 feet
Color: Brown with sometimes orange or dark brown hues.
Diet: Small fishes and crustaceans that live on the sea floor.
Body type: Medium to large body. Nurse sharks are bottom-dwelling species and their body reflects this as being flat and low profile.
Conservation status: Low threat.
Response to hook-and-line: Low. This species does not get stressed from fishing and will show high survival with moderate catch-and-release fishing.
Nurse sharks are among the most common sharks in Florida. They are found in virtually all habitats and live on the bottom of the sea floor.

Tiger Shark


tiger shark
Illustration by Dawn Witherington

Scientific Name: Galeocerdo cuvier
Maximum size: 10-16 feet
Color: Silver body with white belly and black stripes which fade as they grow.
Diet: Fish, turtles, sharks, marine mammals and inorganic products. Very broad.
Body type: Very large apex predator.
Conservation status: Moderate threat.
Response to hook-and-line: Low. This species does not get stressed from fishing and will show high survival with moderate catch-and-release fishing.

Tiger sharks are easy to identify by their striped bodies. These sharks are apex predators in all ecosystems and prey on a wide range of food items. Tiger sharks are slowly recovering from decades of harvest in the Southeastern United States and are a great species for catch and release.

Additional Resources