Do Sharks Have Vertebrae: Why, How, Several Facts


Do Sharks Have Vertebrae: Why, How, Several Facts

The building blocks that make the spine are called vertebrae. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord. Almost 97% of living organisms contain vertebrae.

Sharks, like other fish, are classified vertebrates, meaning they have a backbone. Therefore, sharks share the same spinal column as humans. However, the great surprise is that there is no indication that the vertebrae are comprised of bones. This is what distinguishes this fish.

It’s fascinating to hear that sharks don’t just have no bones in their vertebrae; their entire body is boneless. Sharks have a Cartilaginous Skeleton, in other words. These apex marine predators are so strong and agile because of their cartilage.

Sharks’ cartilaginous vertebrae make them significantly more flexible than human vertebrae. In addition, sharks can store energy in the vertebrae thanks to the cartilage’s elasticity, released at the fishes’ tailbeat.

Do Sharks Have Vertebrae
Image Credit: Sharks by Parker_West from Pixabay

Scientists believe that this energy allows these fishes to move so quickly and powerfully in the water. Isn’t it fascinating? So, this post has been dedicated to exploring different facts associated with sharks’ vertebrae—all of the whys, hows, and what will be addressed here.

This informative article will provide you with additional information about sharks. So, keep your backbone straight as we dive into the world of sharks.

Do sharks have bones?

One of biology’s most interesting subjects is the shark skeletal system. But, before we get started, let’s analyze if these fish have any bones in their bodies.

Sharks do not have any bones in their skeletal system; hence, the answer is a no. A shark is an elasmobranch, a type of fish with no bones. Instead, their whole body is made up of cartilage. As a result, their bodies are softer but more durable and flexible.

But do not take their cartilaginous built as fragile! On the contrary, they are pretty sturdy, making sharks one of the fiercest marine predators. 

Sharks lack a swim bladder to enhance buoyancy; they have cartilage rather than bones. Furthermore, sharks can swim faster and turn incredibly quickly because cartilage is significantly more elastic than bone.

So, we can say that sharks should have cartilage instead of bones. It has been a blessing for them in numerous ways, including:

  • Flexibility
  • Better healing capacity
  • Always growing, etc. 

Was there ever a time when sharks had bones?

Shark fossils have long been the subject of scientific investigation. So, does the fossil ever disclose the presence of bones in previous sharks?

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No shark fossil has ever indicated the presence of any bones. Even the earliest shark predecessors had cartilaginous skeletons instead of bones. All shark fossil records, in fact, solely exhibit the teeth, dermal denticles, and spinal vertebrae.

It’s worth noting that, while cartilage does not fossilize, the jaw, vertebrae, and dorsal fin of sharks are calcified, making them harder and better to decompose naturally. As a result, among other parts, shark teeth are the most usually discovered fossils that play an important role in learning about these species.

Do sharks have vertebral columns?

Because sharks do not have bones, they are not as floppy as jellyfish. In their skeletal, they have cartilages instead of bones.

A vertebral column is found in every shark. It’s important to remember that a vertebrate doesn’t need a bony backbone. In the case of sharks, the same can be said. Like the rest of their skeletal structure, their vertebral column is constructed of cartilage.

Despite the fact that cartilages are softer than bones, a shark’s cartilaginous spinal column provides sufficient protection for its spine. This is due to the calcification of the cartilage that makes up a shark’s skeletal system. Calcified cartilage tends to be robust enough to provide the spinal cord with the essential shielding.

How many vertebrae do sharks have?

Image Credit: Shark finning diagram by Grolltech (CC BY-SA 3.0) from Wikimedia

Sharks are classified as vertebrates even though they do not have any bones. These fishes belong to the Chondrichthyes category and are known as cartilaginous fishes.

A shark’s spinal column is made up of segmental vertebrae, which is noteworthy to observe. However, the number of vertebrae found in sharks varies greatly between and within breeds. To put it another way, different shark species have different numbers of vertebrae.

The total number of vertebrae in a white shark, for example, ranges from 170 to 187. On the other hand, a bull shark has 121 vertebral centra, according to research.

What type of vertebrae do sharks have?

Sharks have skeletons even if they don’t have bones. In fact, their skeleton is strong enough to make them the ocean’s apex predator.

The vertebrae of a shark are formed of calcified cartilage and connective tissues. Sharks’ ability to move quickly to and fro in the water is attributed to the calcification of their spine. It also gives these fishes the strength they need to grab their prey and flee from predators.

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The spinal column of a shark is made up of two cylindrical cartilage segments. The neural arches are found in the top portion of cartilage, while the notochord is found in the lower cartilaginous tube. The shark’s spine is the notochord, which is fully cartilaginous and dense.

What material makes a shark’s vertebrae?

Sharks swim quickly and weigh a lot, giving the impression that their cartilaginous vertebrae aren’t enough to meet their needs. So let’s take a deeper look into it.

Water, mineral, proteoglycan, and collagen make up the cartilaginous vertebrae of sharks. These substances provide sharks’ skeletal systems the rigidity, strength, and flexibility they need to carry weight and move with such precision.

As a result, the notion that a cartilaginous vertebra is inferior to a bony one is incorrect. And the varying percentages of minerals deposit determine the overall strength of the shark, its movement speed, and flexibility.

Do sharks have sacral vertebrae?

The spine section between the lumbar and caudal vertebrae is known as the sacral vertebrae. The sacrum is formed when the sacral vertebrae merge with the pelvic girdle.

However, cartilaginous fishes do not have separate sacral vertebra, such as sharks. Instead, their vertebrae are two cartilaginous tubes, as previously stated. The vertebral arches form the upper tube, whereas the notochord is surrounded by the lower tube.

How many sacral vertebrae do sharks have?

The sharks’ body is formed of cartilage, and its vertebrae are not like those of humans or other mammals.

Sharks are Cartilaginous fish, which means that instead of having discrete sacral vertebrae, their entire spine is divided into two vertebral areas: the trunk and the caudal. In addition, sharks’ caudal and precaudal vertebrae are split into:

  • Monospondylous precaudal vertebrae
  • Dispondylous precaudal vertebrae
  • Dispondylous Caudal vertebrae

Do sharks have backbones?

Image Credit: Shark Anatomy by YVC Biology Department (CC BY 2.0) from Wikimedia

Sharks should be better renowned for their unique cartilaginous body rather than for being the ultimate predator.

With that being said, sharks have a backbone, notochord, and spinal cord. So, like humans, they are vertebrates. But sharks have a softer cartilage backbone than humans’ bony vertebrates. They have more buoyancy, flexibility, stiffness, and strength due to it.

Sharks aren’t bothered by the lack of bones in their backbone. Also, keep in mind that the density and size of these fishes’ whole skeletons vary. That being said, the backbone of a shark is composed of denser cartilage. 

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It may also intrigue you that, just like rings in the trees’ trunks, a shark’s age is determined by counting the rings found on its backbone.

Why do sharks not have a bony vertebrate? 

It’s not so much about why sharks lack a bony skeleton as it is about how a cartilaginous body aids their survival. What are the advantages?

Sharks do not have bony vertebrae since they do not require them. However, to comprehend, we must first realize that no definition makes bones an inherent part of the backbone. Instead, sharks have a cartilaginous spinal column that provides them with all the necessary traits to survive in the ocean.

Let us focus on the following points to comprehend the benefits of a cartilaginous spine better.

  • Sharks can move at great speeds because cartilage is significantly lighter than bones.
  • The flexibility and agility of a cartilaginous spine are enhanced.
  • It enables sharks to swim more quickly.
  • It provides more buoyancy.
  • Cartilage heals more quickly and effectively than bones.
  • A cartilaginous spinal column and skeleton provide plenty of room for development.

Do whale sharks have backbones?

Whale sharks are enormous and considered the largest fish in the ocean. Whale sharks can reach a maximum length of 12 meters as grown ups.

Although their size distinguishes them from other shark species, whale sharks also have backbones similar to other sharks. In fact, they have a cartilaginous skeleton and vertebrae that are comparable to those of other shark species.

It’s worth noting that whale sharks are the world’s largest non-mammalian vertebrates.

Do great white sharks have backbones?

Shark skeletons are, without question, fascinating. And analyzing the skeletal mechanism of the most vicious Great Whites is even more intriguing.

To begin with, Great White sharks are vertebrates, which means they have a backbone. The vertebrae of these fishes, like those of other shark species, are composed of flexible cartilages and connective tissues.


As a result, it has been proven that every part of a shark has something interesting to reveal. But more than sharks’ enormous size, what sets them apart is their highly flexible cartilaginous skeletal system. There isn’t a single bone in their bodies, yet it doesn’t matter. Instead, it helps them grow bigger, more agile, and more confident apex predators who command the seas.

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