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 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 litter sizes ranging from one to eight pups. The gestation period lasts 11-12 months, and birth size averages 25 inches.
Elasmobranch species, which include sharks, rays, and skates, can detect electromagnetic signals coming from the muscle movements of other organisms. A concentration of pores near the nostrils, around the head, and on the underside of the snout are called ampullae of Lorenzini and can detect electrical signals 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 balanced by removing sick, injured, and diseased animals. In Hawai‘i, sharks were worshipped, cared for, and protected as an ‘aumakua, or family deities 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 sharks. 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 widespread in Hawaiian literature and make for a fascinating read. As Hawaiian cultural advisor to the Maui Ocean Center, Kahu Dane Maxwell blesses each shark entering or leaving the park.
*Due to the constant rotation of animals back to the ocean, we cannot guarantee the presence of any specific animal.