Subtropical and tropical waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Shallow waters of coral reefs, mangrove forest and enclosed bays
Order Carcharhiniformes (ground sharks), Family Carcharhinidae (requiem sharks)
Recognizable by the distinct yellow hue of its skin, the lemon shark occupies coral keys and mangrove forests along the Atlantic Ocean and parts of the Pacific. This shark’s stocky build and other physical features make it a powerful predator underwater, but it is also a common target of commercial fishers looking to sell and trade the shark’s fins and meat.
The lemon shark’s yellow skin color provides perfect camouflage against sandy in-shore areas where it often forages for food. This, along with the shark’s flattened head and short snout, makes the lemon shark a skillful predator of bony fish, crustaceans and stingrays. Occasionally, this species will also be observed eating seabirds or smaller sharks. An adult lemon shark may grow to be 10 feet long, making it one of the larger species of sharks in our oceans. The lemon shark’s retina is also equipped with a specialized horizontal band, or “visual streak,” that allows the shark to see fine detail and color when underwater. Though lemon sharks prefer shallow coastal waters, some individuals have been observed entering fresh water or undergoing migrations through the open ocean. Still, lemon sharks prefer a defined home range and may congregate in groups of up to 20 individuals to feed together at dawn and dusk. During the day, lemon sharks can be observed “resting” on the seabed, waiting for small fish to clean off parasites from their body, however this behavior takes up more energy than swimming as the shark must continually pump water over its gills to breathe.
The lemon shark is viviparous, meaning it gives birth to live young rather than eggs. Embryos develop inside the mother for up to 12 months until the female seeks shelter in a shallow nursery during spring or summer to give birth. A litter of lemon sharks may be as large as 17 pups. Pups remain in the nursery for several years, sheltered from larger predators, and feed on nutrients from nearby mangroves. Lemon sharks reach sexual maturity at around 6 years of age and may live for up to 27 years.
The lemon shark is targeted by commercial and recreational fisheries throughout its range and is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. The shark’s fins and meat are highly sought after to be sold on international markets. The thickness of the lemon shark’s skin also makes it ideal for the production of leather.
1. The largest lemon shark ever recorded was around 12.1 feet (3.7 m) long.
2. Lemon sharks can weigh up to 551 pounds (250 kg) and live up to 30 years.1
3. Lemon sharks are named for their yellow-brown skin that helps them camouflage in the sandy, tropical waters they inhabit.
4. Lemon sharks can be found at depths up to 300 feet (90 m).
5. Lemon sharks have a very broad appetite, eating all kinds of fish, rays, crustaceans, seabirds and other sharks.2
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.