Growing up and being nursed by a mother makes one think every animal would have that instinct to nurse their young. Some other times, we think it is the right thing to do by every mother – to nurse their young. What of mother sharks?
Answering the question “do sharks nurse their young?” No, sharks do not nurse their young. This however doesn’t make them bad moms. They ensure to deliver pups to a safe place along coastlines, seamounts where they can begin to fend for themselves. Sharks young are technically called pups. And their place of delivery is a shark nursery.
Pups are ready to swim and hunt as soon as they are born. Who needs taken care of by the way? Baby sharks can begin to put to good use those sharp plenteous teeth immediately they’re born. Of course, they start life with a full set of teeth to hunt smaller and slower prey.
Sharks may have a different relationship with their pups depending on the different processes of reproduction. Notwithstanding, you now know that sharks do not nurse their young.
Since Sharks Do Not Nurse Their Young, What Do They Do?
We’ve already stated that sharks do not nurse their young after they hatch or are born. No mother would want to see her child fall prey to some kind of disaster. Since sharks do not nurse their young, that doesn’t entirely mean they leave them for death.
Sharks too would not want to see their pups swallowed up by a bigger fish or predator so when the eggs hatch, they take their pups to the shark nursery. Like a baby ready for school, they begin life at the nursery found along coastlines, seamounts, and estuaries.
Pups eat smaller and slower preys mostly found in the nursery. The water is shallow and warm and the food supply is enough for them till they grow bigger, stronger, and ready to dive into bigger water to hunt bigger prey.
Interesting right? Sounds like mother sharks take their pups to school to prepare for the bigger ocean – bigger preys and predators.
You can as well consider this as “nursing” but not in the strict sense.
Where Do Pups Come From?
Pups are a result of sharks mating. Surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be. Sharks mate and fertilization occurs in the female sharks. This kind of fertilization is the internal fertilization.
Some sharks swim a long distance to find a mating partner while some just do the mating dance. This though happens when the female shark releases a chemical to say she’s ready to mate. Sharks like the hammerhead and great white shark have to dance, fight, and deep-dive just to mate.
When sharks mate, it is usually bloody. The male shark holds down the female shark with his teeth while he inserts and hooks one of his two claspers into the female cloaca. Luckily, sharks have the ability to heal from wounds very fast and the female shark’s skin, thrice as thick as that of the male.
Sharks’ feature of internal fertilization allows the female shark to decide who she mates with. Some of the species would reject the male if they do not see him as fit whilst some would mate with different males during their mating season.
How Long Is A Shark’s Gestation?
Shark’s gestation is another name for shark’s pregnancy. Humans carry pregnancies normally for nine months and feel like it is eternity. Amazingly, sharks have two uteruses.
Sharks are over 300 species and each specie carry pregnancies for different period of time infamously very long periods that vary from five months to three years or even more.
A spiny dogfish shark has a gestation period of up to 2 years, one of the longest confirmed pregnancies of any vertebrate. Massive? Well, yes but then it’s still small compared to some other species. Arguably, basking sharks have pregnancies that last from 2.6 to 3.5 years.
These sharks are just incubators swimming in the ocean. Frilled sharks can hold on to their babies for up to 3.5 years. The ocean’s chills help in achieving this feat; cold water slows down their metabolism and so it affects their gestation period too.
There are other species of sharks that can give birth to another pup immediately after delivering one. Even when it might have taken the period of a two-year gestation. These species of sharks are the ones that can store sperm to use them later to fertilize developed eggs as soon as they deliver already fertilized ones.
As some sharks lay eggs, some give birth to live young. These species of sharks feed on unfertilized eggs; living off nutrients in the egg yolk attached to their mother’s belly.
There are species of shark that has its fetuses battle in their twin wombs devouring each other till there’s just one left in each womb. The sand tiger shark pups usually have more than one father and then the pups get to battle for a roomy womb to develop.
How Many Pups Can A Shark Have at a Go?
It is amazing the number of years a shark can gestate. It is more amazing the number of pups they can have at a go after those long periods of gestation.
We should also not forget that sharks reproduce in three ways: laying eggs (oviparity), live birth (viviparity), and some species of sharks carry the eggs in them till they hatch and might not deliver them immediately so they eat the unfertilized eggs.
The number of pups a shark can have at a go varies. For sharks that lay eggs, they could lay up to 100 eggs but those that do not lay eggs have fewer babies. Approximately 30% of sharks lay eggs while the remaining 70% are live-bearing sharks.
Do Female Sharks Need Male Sharks to Reproduce?
Every woman needs a man to reproduce unless of course you’re the biblical Mary the mother of Jesus Christ or you’re the newly chosen Mary.
Female sharks however do not always need a male shark to mate with before reproduction can happen. A shark can as well store sperm from males after mating and then later use it to fertilize a well-developed egg after the womb becomes vacant.
Some sharks are however said to be asexual and do not need the male shark at all producing with a method called “parthenogenesis”. Some vertebrate species can reproduce asexually even though they normally produce sexually. Vertebrates like sharks.
This could be the reason why some female sharks reject the male shark even after he has won the shark fight with the other male or after he has done the mating dance.
Female sharks might just keep reproducing without the help of male sharks if they have difficulty finding male sharks.
By the way, who’d want to be bitten by a male shark and bleed when it’s possible to be asexual?
What Do Shark Pups Eat?
Shark pups aren’t sadistic hunters as their parents; we can say they are sadistic hunters in training. For sharks that bear live pups and take them to the nursery, those pups start off with eating slower and smaller prey that live in shallow waters.
Shark cannibalism sounds weird but it’s a real thing. Siblings eat themselves in their mother’s womb. The sand tiger shark is the specie of shark that has this trait; after these pups eat other life pups they turn to unfertilized eggs which are called “egg-eating (oophagy or ovophagy)”
In humans, we hear of a million sperms swimming towards the ovary to fertilize the egg till one gets there first, a more healthy competition compared to shark pups that eat themselves in the womb till the winning one has the womb for better development.
How Long Before Another Gestation?
With how humans complain about their nine months of pregnancy, if they should be pregnant for two years, I bet they would go on a sabbatical.
The long period of gestation would make one think that these creatures would have a longer period before another gestation but then sharks aren’t humans, they don’t have to visit a doctor for family planning.
Sharks are however slow at growing and reaching maturity age; the Greenland shark can live for up to 400 years but then it is not matured enough for gestation until it reaches 150 years.
Some species of sharks have a resting phase of one to two years before another pregnancy spell while some species that store sperms, fertilize another well-developed egg as soon as their womb becomes vacant. Fascinating.
This page clears the air for those asking “if sharks nurse their young”, “What sharks do since they don’t nurse their young?”, “How shark pups come about?”, “How long is a shark’s gestation period?” and other related questions.
In the end, we found answers to all the questions. Specifically, we found out sharks do not nurse their young. Instead, those that give birth to live young take them to the nursery while those that lay eggs see siblings eat themself to own the womb.