Male vs. Female Sharks: 5 Key Differences

Nurse Sharks which are harmless to swimmers and snorkelers
© MD Nakib/

Written by Patrick MacFarland

Published: May 18, 2024

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Male and female anatomies are similar but also different. When it comes to humans, there are several body parts that males have that females may not have, and vice versa. This is also true with animals all over the world. When it comes to sharks, those who are not scientists or ones who study sharks may not tell the differences between male and female sharks. However, marine biologists who study sharks can immediately tell. You can ask a marine biologist and they will tell you what the key differences are. But let’s explore them here. Let’s take a look at the five key differences between male and female sharks.

Difference #1: Anatomy

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Isla Guadalupe, Mexico

There are more than 500 species of sharks swimming on Earth’s bodies of water.

© / Public Domain – Original / License

According to the University of Florida, Florida Museum, there’s a very easy way to identify whether or not a shark is male or female. The anatomical differences can be eye-opening once you know where to look — the external sex organs of these creatures. Male sharks have claspers and are “located on the inner margin of the pelvic fins.” When sharks mate, the males insert one of their claspers into a cloaca (female sex organ) and that’s when the sperm is released. The sperm then fertilizes the egg once it passes through the female shark’s reproductive tract.

There are other anatomical differences that you can see — like the locations of various body parts — when you have studied both sharks’ bodies side by side.

Difference #2: Size of Sharks

Tiger shark in deep blue waters otside of Haleiwa boat harbor

The shark population has decreased by 71% because of human overfishing.


Another obvious difference is the size of the shark between males and females. Like in many animals, including humans, females are smaller than males. When it comes to sharks, there is a difference, but wildly enough, female sharks are the bigger ones. Several shark species have big differences, too. For example, female tiger sharks can grow up to 14 feet, but males only grow around 12 feet long. This difference between females and males of the same species is known as sexual dimorphism.

Furthermore, females grow slower than males due to several reasons like how they eat, where they live, and how they reproduce. Lastly, females have thicker skin than males, which is due to males biting during the mating process.

Difference #3: How Sharks Eat

Underwater wide angle shot of a Whale Shark swimming in open blue ocean

Whale sharks are considered to be the biggest sharks out there.


We’ve discussed that sharks grow at different lengths depending on gender, but they also grow slower and it is because of several reasons including their feeding patterns. Because females need to reproduce, they tend to focus on larger animals to hunt. The larger animals like sea lions and large fish are needed for energy especially when female sharks are pregnant. Males aren’t concerned about that and will hunt anything that moves including small fish, crabs, lobsters, and other small marine animals.

Difference #4: Behavioral Patterns

Smallest sharks – dwarf lanternshark

Only 6.7 inches long, the dwarf lanternshark is the smallest one that exists on this planet.

©By Javontaevious – Took a photographPreviously published: Javontae Murphy@ Facebook, CC BY-SA 3.0, – Original / License

There are similarities in behavioral patterns between female and male sharks like their predatory behavior. However, males tend to be more aggressive, especially during the mating process. Females are toned down during this process. There is also a difference in how females and males migrate. Females travel to nurseries to have their young, whereas males don’t see the need to do that (obviously). Males are more migratory when it comes to searching for food or a mate.

Difference #5: Social Activities

Bull Shark at Pinnacles, Mozambique

Most sharks cannot live in freshwater, but the bull shark and river shark can be found in freshwater for extended periods.

©Fiona Ayerst/

Last but not least, sharks can be different when it comes to social interactions and mating. For example, during mating, male sharks will become more aggressive or lively because they feel the need to impress the female. The aggresivity — which may include chasing and biting (known colloquially as love bites) — is used to ensure the female succumbs to the males’ dominance. Interestingly enough, when this aggressivity occurs, females usually become more solitary or immobile because they find males annoying when they are aggressive. During their pregnancies or when they are raising young, female sharks become more solitary than at other times.


And there you have it, those are the key differences between male and female sharks. At first glance, you may think that male and female sharks aren’t that different. But when you really observe them, that’s when you notice all of the differences. Besides noticeable body contrasts, the way they act, and other factors are how you can tell male and female sharks apart. Now, when you go out exploring sharks in a sea adventure, you will be able to tell and show off to your friends!

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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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