Some of Earth’s most fearsome and enormous creatures come from humble beginnings (have you seen the marine popcorn that is a giant ocean sunfish larva?) and while adorable might be an unusual word to throw around when talking about, say, a great white shark, there is something rather charming about even the most murderous of miniatures. Sharks are an interesting example here as there are many ways in which a baby shark can come into the world, one of which might see it make its first kill before it’s even left the womb.
The Pixar short Partly Cloudy excellently demonstrates that not all baby animals are born equal as the main protagonist is seen looking on forlornly at other storks receiving babies, puppies, and kittens while they get roughed up trying to bag a crocodile hatchling, a porcupine porcupette, and a… wait, what is a baby shark called again?
What is a baby shark called?
The answer is as adorable as it is common. A baby shark is called a pup, a name it shares with animals including:
- Dogs and other canines
- Foxes (also called cubs or kits)
- Mice (also called pinkies)
- Ring-tailed lemurs
- Stingrays (who sit alongside sharks in the Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish) class)
Where do baby sharks come from?
When a mummy shark and a daddy shark love each other very much, or just like, happen to pass during sexy season, they will reproduce combining egg and sperm to create an embryo. Where and how these embryos develop depends on the species and can happen in three ways.
If you’ve ever seen a “mermaid’s purse” on the beach this could have been a shark egg as some species, alongside skate and chimaera, produce these leathery eggs. They are anchored to something in the ocean to keep them safe as they develop which can take around six to nine months.
Like other egged animals such as birds and reptiles, developing shark embryos will absorb nutrients from a rich yolk-sac inside the egg. When the time is right, they will wriggle free of their leathery pouch and swim out as a baby shark called a pup. The eggs you find washed ashore are usually empty but not always.
Fun to say but not always such a good time, ovoviviparity is a type of reproduction whereby a mother shark will retain her eggs as a way of keeping them safe from predators while they develop. As such, the developing embryos are encased in weaker pouches compared to the leather eggs of oviparous shark species.
Where ovoviviparity can get a bit hectic is when the eggs begin hatching inside the mother. While some species give birth the second the pups emerge, others sometimes keep them inside a little longer. This facilitates behaviors known as oophagy and intrauterine cannibalism whereby the early pup catches the worm by eating their siblings, either munching on eggs or even other pups. Quite the kick for a pregnant shark.
This type of reproduction is the life of the party, and the most advanced form exhibited by sharks. Similar to the process seen in mammals, a developing pup will be nourished via an umbilical cord connecting it to its mother. When they’re fully cooked, the pup will be born but – unlike mammals and their doting mothers – from here the wee bonny shark is all on its own.
So, next time you hear a young child singing Baby Shark Do Doo Do-Do Do-Do, be sure to tell them there’s a fair chance that young snapper ate their siblings before going on to have a successful music career.
All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.