Found in all oceans of the world, sandbar sharks are most common in deep coastal waters. This species has been documented in intertidal areas down to about 900 feet in depth. The sandbar shark is light gray or tan in coloration with white on its ventral side. Lacking distinct markings, its tall dorsal fin is a distinguishing characteristic. The maximum length recorded for a sandbar in Hawai‘i is 6.4 feet; while the average length is 5 feet.
With a varying diet, sandbar sharks are opportunistic bottom-feeders, eating bony fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, other sharks, and rays. Pupping season is July to September with a litter size ranging from one to eight pups. Gestation period lasts 11-12 months and birth size averages 25 inches for sandbar sharks.
Elasmobranch species, which include sharks, rays and skates have the ability to detect electromagnetic signals coming from muscle movements of other organisms. A concentration of pores near the nostrils, around the head and on the underside of the snout called ampullae of Lorenzini detect electrical signal given off by living organisms. When light is scarce in murky water or at depths and vision is impaired, this sixth sense is useful in locating prey. In some species, electroreception is also used as a compass during migration.
Sharks play a crucial role as apex predators in keeping marine ecosystems in balance and removing sick, injured and diseased animals. Due to commercial hunting and overfishing, this species is listed as Vulnerable. Sharks are slow to mature and have a low reproductive rate, therefore making many species vulnerable to such threats.
In Hawai‘i, sharks were worshipped, cared for and protected as an ‘aumakua, or family deity while others viewed sharks as an important source of food and tools. Those who had the shark as their ‘aumakua wouldn’t hunt or eat shark. They believed their departed ancestors took the form of a shark, therefore would feed and protect the shark and in return the shark would protect the family. Shark stories are very frequent in Hawaiian literature and make a fascinating read. As Hawaiian cultural advisor to the Maui Ocean Center, Kahu Dane Maxwell blesses each shark that enters or leaves the park.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, the presence of any specific animal cannot be guaranteed.