The common image of a shark is a massive fish like the great white from Jaws. But this doesn’t describe every shark, of course.
There are many different kinds of sharks in the world, and not all of them are huge apex predators.
Sharks don’t even share the same habitat types across the board. They are widespread throughout the world’s oceans.
There isn’t a single temperature range that all sharks prefer. Instead, it depends on species and food sources.
Some sharks like cold water, but most prefer warmer water because they’re cold-blooded. Sharks live in every ocean in the world, and so they can tolerate all sorts of temperature ranges depending on the species. A key factor of where a shark lives isn’t temperature, but food.
There Are 4 Internationally Official Oceans
Sharks live all over the world, from the Arctic to Belize. This means that there can be significant differences between their environments, including ocean temperatures.
There are four oceans that the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) currently recognizes. These are the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic oceans.
But several countries, including the United States, recognize a fifth ocean. They call it the Southern Ocean, whose boundaries extend from Antarctica to just below the tip of South America.
However, the IHO has yet to ratify these boundaries, and so it’s an unofficial designation.
In the four officially recognized oceans, temperatures can vary greatly. Their average temperatures range between 28°F and around 90° F (-2° to 32°C) on the surface.
Some Sharks Like Cold Water, Most Prefer Warm
There are over 500 shark species, and each has its own set of attributes.
Because of the high number of species and wide-ranging habitats, it’s impossible to pinpoint a single temperature range they prefer. In fact, at least one shark species lives in every ocean in the world.
Most sharks are cold-blooded. So, their internal body temperatures are dependent on their surroundings. Because they have to keep somewhat warm to function at full capacity, only a few can survive in the Arctic.
So, while some sharks, like the great white and the thresher shark, can withstand colder temperatures, most sharks like it a little warmer.
The below chart shows the surface temperature range of the world’s oceans. Use it to see which sharks prefer which temperatures.
Note that the chart only has three shark species for the Arctic Ocean. This isn’t a sampling like the other oceans; these are the only shark species that live in that environment.
Additionally, there is some overlap between the ocean’s temperatures. So, a shark may be common in the Atlantic, but it could theoretically live in the slightly warmer Indian ocean, too.
Food Is Just As Important As Temperature
It’s true that most sharks need to regulate their body temperature externally, but food is also a significant factor in where sharks live. Some sharks even migrate each year from the open ocean closer to the shore to find food.
Blue sharks, for example, will tolerate colder temperatures for food.
These sharks dive to 1,300 feet (400 meters) where it’s only 46°F (8°C) throughout the day. Then they return to the surface (at 79°F or 26°C) to warm up.
In the Atlantic Ocean, currents push warm water to the shore, and bait fish follow.
Studies find that it’s the fish rather than the warmer water that attracts sharks close to the shore.
The world’s oceans vary in temperature depending on their distance to the equator. They also have different inhabitants, including a wide variety of sharks.
Though they all belong to the same class of animal, sharks can vary in size, diet, and behavior. The fact that there are sharks in every ocean in the world shows that temperature preferences can also vary among them.
While there are some sharks who live in or tolerate cold water, the majority of sharks prefer warmer water. Because they’re cold-blooded, they rely on the warm water to keep their bodies functioning.
However, even the most dependent sharks will put up with cooler waters in order to find the best food sources.