The lemon shark is a species of shark that lives in coral reefs and mangrove forests around the Atlantic Ocean and sections of the Pacific Ocean. The stocky build and other physical characteristics of this shark make it a powerful predator underwater, but it’s also a popular target for commercial fishermen eager to sell and trade shark fins and meat.
The lemon shark’s yellow skin colour blends in perfectly with the sandy in-shore locations where it hunts for prey. The lemon shark is a skilled predator of bony fish, crabs, and stingrays, thanks to its flattened head and small snout. This species has been seen consuming seabirds and smaller sharks on occasion. A mature lemon shark can reach a length of 10 feet, making it one of the bigger shark species in our oceans. The retina of the lemon shark also has a specific horizontal band, or “visual streak,” that allows it to perceive fine detail and colour underwater.
Although lemon sharks prefer shallow coastal areas, some have been spotted entering freshwater or migrating across the wide ocean. Lemon sharks, on the other hand, prefer a definite home range and may eat in groups of up to 20 individuals at dawn and dusk. Lemon sharks can be seen “sleeping” on the seabed throughout the day, waiting for small fish to remove parasites from their bodies. This habit, however, requires more energy than swimming because the shark must constantly pump water over its gills to breathe.
The lemon shark is viviparous, which means it births live young rather than eggs. Embryos develop inside the mother for up to a year until the female takes refuge in a shallow nursery to give birth in the spring or summer. Lemon shark litters can have as many as 17 pups. Pups spend several years in the nursery, safe from larger predators and feeding on nutrients from adjacent mangroves. Lemon sharks mature sexually around the age of six and can live up to 27 years.
The lemon shark is hunted by commercial and recreational fisheries throughout its range, and the IUCN Red List classifies it as Near Threatened. Fins and meat from sharks are highly sought for on international markets. The thick skin of the lemon shark makes it perfect for leather manufacture as well. Images: Albert Kok