Galapagos sharks

Galapagos Shark in open ocean near Midway Atoll

Galapagos sharks are so little studied because they are only found in remote places like the Islands they're named after, the only twist is, this is not the Galapagos Islands, but Midway Atoll.

Midway Atoll is a Pacific atoll that lots of us are familiar with, but it's been pretty well off limits to all but government and military personnel for about the last sixty years. Just like you'd guess from its name, Midway Atoll is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, half way between the US mainland and Japan. That geography makes it a strategic outpost.

Galapagos Shark in open pcean near Midway Atoll

Because public access has been restricted since the war, Midways reefs have grown a healthy population of Galapagos sharks and now that Midway has opened up to tourism, more people are going to meet these sharks than ever before.
The Galapagos belongs to a branch of the shark family called whalers. They mainly eat small fish and squid, but they are known to have killed at least one diver in the Virgin Islands.

The Galapagos shark is a kind of unusual shark in that it has a very odd distribution. Where it is found around the oceanic islands in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic but yet they are so scattered there is not a lot of information known about them.

Close-up head of Galapagos Shark

You can tell them from grey reef sharks quite easily because Galapagos have a ridge of skin running along the back between the first and the second dorsal fins. Galapagos also have less of a black line on the trailing edge of the tail fin.
Galapagos sharks have excellent vision, and their other senses make them very alert to prey in light or darkness.

Galapagos Shark sense organ - the ampullae of Lorenzinii

Like most other sharks, their acute sense of smell means they can hone in on a scent from hundreds of yards away. Their snouts have pits filled with tiny sense organs called ampullae of Lorenzini. These can detect the tiny electrical field of nearby prey, helping them hunt for fish in the dark. They can even detect something like a stingray buried under the sand. That electrical sense works fine at short range, say about arms length, but over longer distances, sharks rely on other senses including hearing, which is also very acute. Not only can they can pick up sound up to half a mile away, they even seem to be tuned to the frequency made by wounded prey.

Galapagos Shark sense organ - the ampullae of Lorenzinii

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