Sphyrna lewiniscalloped hammerhead shark(Also: Cornuda; Mano kihikihi)

Geographic Range

Scalloped hammerheads are pelagic sharks that are found worldwide in tropical warm water regions, including the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans, between 40°N to 36°S lattitude and 80°W to 80°E longitude. ("Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, Sphyrna lewini", 1998; Carpenter, 2011)


Although they primarily inhabit open marine waters, scalloped hammerheads can also be found near continental and island shelves and often enter bays and estuaries as well. ("Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, Sphyrna lewini", 1998; Carpenter, 2011)

Scalloped hammerheads utilize different habitats daily. At dawn, they move from their offshore hunting grounds to island shelves, seamounts, and enclosed bays and estuaries. During the day they migrate to drop-off zones and reefs where females form schools for the purpose of social interaction. At dusk the sharks return to offshore pelagic areas and actively search for food. (Carpenter, 2011; Klimley, et al., 1988; Klimley, 1987; Schluessel, 2008)

  • Range depth
    5 to 525 m
    16.40 to 1722.44 ft
  • Average depth
    268 m
    879.27 ft

Physical Description

Scalloped hammerheads have a small but prominent notch in the center of their characteristically-shaped head, which also bears pronounced grooves along its anterior margin, giving this species its common name. The side “wings” of the head are relatively narrow and are swept backwards. The first dorsal fin is larger than the second and is sickle-shaped, with a rounded tip, while the second dorsal fin has a concave rear edge. Both the pectoral and dorsal fins are slightly rounded. The tips of the pectoral fins are either a dark grey or black. The caudal fin is heterocercal and forked. Body coloration in this species displays typical pelagic countershading, with a grey dorsum and a white ventral surface. ("Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, Sphyrna lewini", 1998; Bester, 2012; Carpenter, 2011)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    152.4 (high) kg
    335.68 (high) lb
  • Range length
    4.3 (high) m
    14.11 (high) ft


Fertilized eggs develop into embryos that are nourished by a yolk-sac placenta attached to either of the female's two uteruses. Scalloped hammerheads give birth to live young that are miniature versions of their parents. (Bester, 2012)

In the Gulf of California, female hammerheads were discovered at a depth of 50 m, whereas males of a similar size were caught at 25 m. It has been suggested that females may grow more rapidly and mature at a larger size than do males due to differences in food availability between these habitats. (Klimley, 1987)


Mating behavior in scalloped hammerheads is not fully understood, but it has been observed that during mating season, sexually mature males migrate to deeper waters in search of females. Since schools are formed primarily of females, male sharks will enter and swim in an S shape, signaling the desire to mate. Larger and more sexually mature females tend to be located in the center of the schools, pushing smaller females to the outside. When a male locates a receptive female, he bites her pectoral fin and secures himself. During mating, he curls his tail around her body to align their genitalia and inserts one of his claspers (modified anal fins) into her urogenital opening to deposit sperm. Because scalloped hammerheads are negatively buoyant, the mating pair sinks while copulation occurs. ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species", 2012; Carpenter, 2011; G., 2001; Kotas, et al., 2011; Stevens and Lyle, 1989)

Reproductive maturity of female sharks can sometimes be determined through morphological measurements. Depending on the location of the shark (Northern or Southern hemisphere), some female sharks can begin reproduction anywhere from 15 to 17 years old, which corresponds to a total length of over 2 meters. Male sharks reach sexual maturity at 6 years old, and around 1.5 meters in length. In Northern Australia, the breeding season occurs from February to March, although this is likely to vary according to geographic region. After a gestation period of 9 to 10 months, litters of 12 to 38 young measuring 38 to 45 cm are born live. There is no published information regarding the birth mass of pups, which is due to the fact that pregnant females are rarely caught. Immediately after birth, pups must find their own food, but they usually live in large schools until adulthood. ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species", 2012; Bester, 2012; Carpenter, 2011; G., 2001; Kotas, et al., 2011; Stevens and Lyle, 1989)

  • Breeding interval
    It is thought that scalloped hammerheads breed every other year.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season for northern Australian scalloped hammerheads occurs from February to March.
  • Range number of offspring
    12 to 41
  • Range gestation period
    8 to 12 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    15 to 17 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    6 (low) years

As in other viviparous species, female scalloped hammerheads provide nutrition and protection to their internally developing young. As in other sharks, there is no parental care after birth. (Bester, 2012; Carpenter, 2011)


The oldest known scalloped hammerhead was 31.5 years old, and was caught in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Brazil. The authors of that study estimated the maximum lifespan of this species to be 55 years. In a separate study conducted off the coast of Sinoloa, Mexico, the oldest individual sampled was approximately 10.5 years old. There is no published information available for the expected lifespan of this species in captivity. (Anislado-Tolentino, et al., 2008; Kotas, et al., 2011)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    10.5 to 31.5 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    55 (high) years


Both male and female adults may be found alone, in pairs, or in schools. However, most females are found in sexually segregated schools with larger, more mature females in the center. Young scalloped hammerheads live in large schools until they reach maturity. Adult males almost exclusively enter schools when in search of a mate. (Klimley, 1987; Stevens and Lyle, 1989)

Home Range

Scalloped hammerheads appear to regularly move through a reasonably well-defined area as a result of their diel movement patterns. However, estimates for the total area encompassed by these movements are currently unavailable. It is also thought that this species undertakes longer seasonal migrations, so classification of their daily movement areas as true home ranges may be incorrect. (Klimley and Nelson, 1984; Klimley, 1987)

Communication and Perception

Like all sharks, scalloped hammerheads use their eyes for visual perception, and nares for detection of chemical cues. Like other elasmobranchs, they have special sensory organs called Ampullae of Lorenzini; these special electroreceptors are located on the underside of the snout and "hammer", and aid in the detection of buried prey, as well as navigation (by sensing changes in the Earth's magnetic field). Pacific scalloped hammerheads are able to follow geological fault lines along the ocean floor. Recently cooled magma forms rocks that have a strong magnetic signal, which the animals follow to the locations where they form congregations to feed, school, and mate. (Carter, 1967)

Sharks are able to visually display aggression, submission, and dominance to conspecifics. When provoked or threatened, an individual will point its pectoral fins downward and arch its back. Sharks indicate submission by rapidly shaking their head side to side. Dominant sharks exhibit a “corkscrewing”, or upward swimming pattern, and will ram submissive sharks with their snout. (Carter, 1967)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Younger individuals tend to feed in coastal waters, on benthic and neritic fish. Adults live in deeper oceanic waters, feeding on neritic and epipelagic fishes and cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefishes), lobsters, shrimps, and crabs, as well as various smaller sharks and rays. Hammerheads located in the Indo-West Pacific have been observed to prey on sea snakes. Scalloped hammerheads actively forage for food during the night, using a “smash and grab” feeding technique. They accelerate towards prey and either swallow it whole, or disable prey by biting it. Great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) have been observed using their hammer-like head to pin stingrays to the ocean floor before consuming them, and it is thought that scalloped hammerheads may use the same technique. ("Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, Sphyrna lewini", 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • reptiles
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • other marine invertebrates


While scalloped hammerheads are one of the largest reef fishes and a top predator, they are occasionally preyed on by larger tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), and killer whales (Orcinus orca). Humans also harvest hammerheads for their fins, which are sold in the lucrative global shark fin trade. (Kilmley, 1985)

Scalloped hammerheads form schools that consist mainly of females, with males rarely entering these aggregations. This behavior lowers an individual’s chance of being attacked by predators. Scalloped hammerheads also exhibit countershading as a form of camouflage in open water, with a grey to bronze colored dorsum and a pale white/grey underside. (Kilmley, 1985)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Scalloped hammerheads are among the largest of reef sharks, making them top predators of the animals on which they prey. (Bester, 2012)

Scalloped hammerheads have mutualistic symbioses with several species of cleaner fish, allowing wrasses and blennies to remove external parasites from their skin, gills, and mouths. (Bester, 2012)

This species is a host to several types of ectoparasitic invertebrates. At least one leech and over half a dozen copepod species have also been found on the underside of scalloped hammerhead snouts. In addition, this species plays host to at least two different types of platyhelminth endoparasites. (Bester, 2012; Bray, 1984; Cressey, 1970; Rokicki and Bychawska, 1991; Shields, 1985)

Mutualist Species
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Scalloped hammerheads serve as an important resource for traditional fisheries in Mexico. They are fished both commercially and recreationally, and highly valued for their fins. While their meat has a high concentration of urea and is not typically consumed, the skin is used for leather and oil is obtained from the liver. Their jaws and teeth are also sold as marine curios. ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species", 2012)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Large hammerhead sharks are considered to pose a potential danger to humans. To date, however, there have been no confirmed attacks on humans by this species. ("ISAF Statistics on Attacking Species of Shark", 2012)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings

Conservation Status

Scalloped hammerheads are listed as an endangered species by the IUCN Red List, since they are vulnerable to illegal fishing and bycatch during all stages of their lives, making them susceptible to extinction in the future. In 2007, surveys in the northwest Atlantic documented a 98 percent decline from historical estimates, while a 90 percent decline in population abundance was noted in the southwest Atlantic. ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species", 2012)

As of 2012, hammerheads made up approximately 6% of the identified fins entering the Hong Kong market, translating to an estimated 1.3 million to 2.7 million hammerheads being exploited annually for the global fin trade. This level of exploitation is unlikely to be sustainable and can have substantial negative impacts on marine ecosystems worldwide. ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species", 2012)

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has banned the retention of hammerhead sharks caught while tuna fishing, but this measure does not address the impact of the lucrative shark fin trade. The U.S.A. passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 to prevent finning with US waters. ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species", 2012)


Erick Ruiz (author), San Diego Mesa College, Sierra Trujillo (author), San Diego Mesa College, Paul Detwiler (editor), San Diego Mesa College, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having a worldwide distribution. Found on all continents (except maybe Antarctica) and in all biogeographic provinces; or in all the major oceans (Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.


active at dawn and dusk


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


uses electric signals to communicate


an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


(as perception channel keyword). This animal has a special ability to detect the Earth's magnetic fields.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


An aquatic biome consisting of the open ocean, far from land, does not include sea bottom (benthic zone).


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


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Anislado-Tolentino, V., M. Cabello, F. Linares, C. Mendoza. 2008. Age and growth of the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini (Griffith & Smith, 1834) from the Southern coast of Sinoloa, México. Hidrobiológica, 18: 31-40.

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Bray, R. 1984. Some helminth parasites of marine fishes and cephalopods of South Africa: Aspidogastrea and the digenean families Bucephalidae, Haplosplanchnidae, Mesometridae and Fellodistomidae. Journal of Natural History, 18/2: 271-292.

Carpenter, K. 2011. "Sphyrna lewini, Scalloped hammerhead" (On-line). Fishbase.us. Accessed May 07, 2012 at <http://www.fishbase.us/summary/Sphyrna-lewini.html>. .

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Cressey, R. 1970. Copepods parasitic on sharks from the west coast of Florida. Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology, 38: 1-30.

G., J. 2001. "Scalloped Hammerhead Shark" (On-line). Shedd-The Worlds Aquarium. Accessed May 07, 2012 at http://sea.sheddaquarium.org/sea/fact_sheets.asp?id=67.

Hazin, F., A. Fischer, M. Broadhurst. 2001. "Aspects of reproductive biology of the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini, off northeastern Brazil". Environmental Biology of Fishes, 61: 151-159. Accessed May 07, 2012 at <http://sharkmans-world.eu/research/sphyrna.pdf>. .

Kilmley, A. 1985. "Schooling in Sphyrna lewini, a species with low risk of predation: A non-egalitarian state". International Journal of Behavioural Biology, 70/4: 297-319.

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Klimley, A., D. Nelson. 1984. Diel movement patterns of the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewim) in relation to E1 Bajo Espiritu Santo: a refuging central-position social system. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 15: 45-54.

Klimley, A. 1987. "The determinants of sexual segregation in the Scalloped Hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini". Environmental Biology of Fishes, 18/1: 27-40. Accessed May 07, 2012 at http://home.eckerd.edu/~meylanpa/BiologySeminar/pdfs_of_papers_to_read/BenC_Binder1.pdf.

Kotas, J., V. Mastrochirico, M. Petrere. 2011. "Age and growth of the Scalloped Hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini (Griffith and Smith, 1834), from the southern Brazilian coast/Idade e crescimento do tubarão-martelo-entalhado, Sphyrna lewini (Griffith and Smith, 1834), da costa sul do Brasil". Brazilian Journal of Biology, 71/3: 755-761.

Rokicki, J., D. Bychawska. 1991. Parasitic copepods of Carcharhinidae and Sphyridae (Elasmobranchia) from the Atlantic Ocean. Journal of Natural History, 25/6: 1439-1448.

Schluessel, V. 2008. "Morphometric and ultrastructural comparison of the olfactory system in elasmobranchs: The significance of structure–function relationships based on phylogeny and ecology". Journal of Morphology, 269/11: 1365-1386.

Shields, J. 1985. Surface morphology and description of Otobothrium kurisi new species (Cestoda: Trypanorhyncha) from a hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini. International Journal for Parasitology, 15/6: 635-643.

Stevens, J., J. Lyle. 1989. "Biology of three hammerhead sharks (Eusphyra blochii, Sphyrna mokarran and Sphyrna lewini) from Northern Australia". Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 40/2: 129-146.