Identify large sharks in the UK

More than 30 species of shark have been recorded off British coasts. Here are 7 of the largest, most impressive predatory species.

Illustrations not to scale © Ian Coleman/wildlifeartcompany.com
Illustrations not to scale © Ian Coleman/wildlifeartcompany.com

1 Common thresher alopias vulpinus 

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Endangered/threatened species
  • Max length 7.6m (usually 2–5m)
  • UK range All around Britain, but mainly to the west and in the Channel
  • Look for Huge tail; may breach
  • Reporting rate **

2 Blue shark Prionace glauca

Blue shark (Prionace glauca)
Endangered/threatened species; family: Carcharhinidae
  • Max length 3.8m (usually up to 2.5m)
  • UK range All around Britain, but mainly in the south-west and South Wales
  • Look for Slim body, long snout, bluish above
  • Reporting rate **

3 Tope Galeorhinus galeus

Endangered/threatened species
  • Max length 2m (usually up to 1.5m)
  • UK range Common around UK, particularly off West Wales
  • Look for Slim body, triangular dorsal fin
  • Reporting rate ***

4 Great white shark Carcharodon carcharias

Endangered/threatened species
  • Max length 7.2m
  • UK range Potentially credible sightings (though very few) along our western shores
  • Look for Large size, conical snout, clear line separating white and grey along flanks.
  • ‘Sightings’ often of misidentified basking sharks 
  • Reporting rate *

5 Porbeagle Lamna nasus

Endangered/threatened species
  • Max length 3.5m
  • UK range All around Britain, but hotspots are Devon, Cornwall and northern Scotland
  • Look for Stout, stocky body
  • Reporting rate **

6 Shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus

Shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)
Endangered/threatened species; family: Lamnidae
  • Max length 4m (usually up to 3.4m)
  • UK range All around Britain, but mostly in the west
  • Look for Stocky body, bluish above
  • Reporting rate *

7 Smooth hammerhead Sphyrna zygaena

Endangered/threatened species
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  • Max length 5m (usually up to 3m)
  • UK range Very rare: dead specimens found in Devon, Cornwall and South Wales
  • Look for Hammer-shaped head
  • Reporting rate *