Scientific Name: Sphyrna mokarran
Ideal Temp: 70-84°F (21-29°C)
Environment: Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore
Technique: Bottom Fishing
Lure Type: Bottom Rig
World Record: 991lbs (450 kg) Boca Grande, FL, USA
The great hammerhead is the largest species of hammerhead shark, belonging to the family Sphyrnidae, attaining a maximum length of 6.1 m (20 ft). It is found in tropical and warm temperate waters worldwide, inhabiting coastal areas and the continental shelf. The great hammerhead can be distinguished from other hammerheads by the shape of its "hammer" (called the "cephalofoil"), which is wide with an almost straight front margin, and by its tall, sickle-shaped first dorsal fin. A solitary, strong-swimming apex predator, the great hammerhead feeds on a wide variety of prey ranging from crustaceans and cephalopods, to bony fishes, to smaller sharks. Observations of this species in the wild suggest that the cephalofoil functions to immobilize stingrays, a favored prey. This species has a viviparous mode of reproduction, bearing litters of up to 55 pups every two years.
The great hammerhead inhabits tropical waters around the world, between the latitudes of 40°N and 37°S. In the Atlantic Ocean, it is found from North Carolina to Uruguay, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, and from Morocco to Senegal, and the Mediterranean Sea. It is found all along the rim of the Indian Ocean, and in the Pacific Ocean from the Ryukyu Islands to Australia, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia, and from southern Baja California to Peru.
The streamlined body of the great hammerhead with the expanded cephalofoil is typical of the hammerhead sharks. Adult great hammerheads can be distinguished from the scalloped hammerhead and the smooth hammerhead by the shape of the cephalofoil, which has a nearly straight front margin (as opposed to arched), with prominent medial and lateral indentations. The width of the cephalofoil is 23–27% of the body length. The teeth are triangular and strongly serrated, becoming more oblique towards the corners of the mouth. There are 17 tooth rows on either side of the upper jaw with 2–3 teeth at the symphysis (the midline of the jaw), and 16–17 teeth on either side of the lower jaw and 1–3 at the symphysis.
The first dorsal fin is distinctive, being very tall and strongly falcate (sickle-shaped), and originates over the insertions of the pectoral fins. The second dorsal fin and anal fin are both relatively large, with deep notches in the rear margins. The pelvic fins are falcate with concave rear margins, in contrast to the straight-margined pelvic fins of the scalloped hammerhead. The skin is covered with closely placed dermal denticles. Each denticle is diamond-shaped, with 3–5 horizontal ridges leading to marginal teeth in smaller individuals, and 5–6 in larger ones. The great hammerhead is dark brown to light gray to olive above, fading to white on the underside. The fins are unmarked in adults, while the tip of the second dorsal fin may be dark in juveniles.
The average great hammerhead measures up to 3.5 m (11.5 ft) long and weighs over 230 kg (500 lb). A small percentage of the population, mostly or all females, are much larger. The longest great hammerhead on record was 6.1 m (20 ft). The heaviest known great hammerhead is a 4.4 m (14.4 ft) long, 580 kg (1,280 lb) female caught off Boca Grande, Florida in 2006. The weight of the female was due to her being pregnant with 55 near-natal pups.
An active predator with a varied diet, known prey of the great hammerhead include invertebrates such as crabs, lobsters, squid, and octopus, bony fishes such as tarpon, sardines, sea catfishes, toadfish, porgies, grunts, jacks, croakers, groupers, flatfishes, boxfishes, and porcupine fishes, and smaller sharks such as smoothhounds.
The favorite prey of the great hammerhead are rays and skates, especially stingrays. The venomous spines of stingrays are frequently found lodged inside its mouth and do not seem to bother the shark as one specimen caught off Florida had 96 spines in and around its mouth. Great hammerheads primarily hunt at dawn or dusk, swinging their heads in broad angles over the sea floor so as to pick up the electrical signatures of stingrays buried in the sand, via numerous ampullae of Lorenzini located on the underside of the cephalofoil. The cephalofoil also serves as a hydrofoil that allows the shark to quickly turn around and strike at a ray once detected. Off Florida, large hammerheads are often the first to reach newly baited sharklines, suggesting a particularly keen sense of smell.