Naturalist Fact: Lemon Shark

Lemon sharks are one of the most common shark species in the waters surrounding LSSI. (photo: Albert Kok)

Lemon sharks are one of the most common shark species in the waters surrounding LSSI. (photo: Albert Kok)

Negaprion brevirostris are known as lemon sharks because of their light brown to yellowish skin, which helps them blend in with the sandy ocean bottoms. Although identifying sharks is often difficult, lemon sharks are fairly easy due to their coloration and the fact that their two dorsal fins (top fins) are about the same size, unlike most sharks. They also have a blunt snout, flattened head and stocky body. These sharks grow to a maximum length of about 11 feet and weight of over 400 pounds.

Lemon sharks live in shallow waters preying upon bony fish, rays, and sometimes crustaceans. Females give birth at about 6-7 years of age from April through September. There are 4-17 pups in each litter, and the pups are 24-26 inches long at birth. The lifespan of lemon sharks is estimated at about 25 years. Lemon sharks do well in captivity and experiments on lemon sharks have shown they learn as quickly as some mammals and remember things for at least 6 months without reinforcement. This is a very social shark species. They are often seen in groups and have a structured hierarchy system based on size and sex. They generally don’t show any aggressive behavior with each other and coordinate in groups for hunting purposes in places that the hierarchy is strictly followed.

Although lemon sharks are among the world’s largest shark species, they are rarely dangerous to humans. The International Shark Attack File has only reported 10 unprovoked bites by lemon sharks, none of which were fatal.

The lemon shark is targeted by commercial and recreational fishermen along the US Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Their fins are highly prized and exported to Asia for shark fin soup. Their skin may be used for leather and their meat can also be consumed, all of which make this shark very marketable. There is some concern that populations in the western north Atlantic and eastern Pacific Ocean are declining due to over-fishing.

This is one of the most common shark species in the waters surrounding LSSI. You can catch them in the surf from March to November with heavy tackle and large cut bait. They should be released as quickly as possible once landing them to reduce stress on the fish.

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