Hammerhead Shark

Hammerhead sharks include nine distinct species within Family Sphyrnidae; though these range in size from about three feet to as large as twenty, all are characterized by a flat, hammer-shaped head that is thought to have begotten their name, though the name ‘hammerhead’ was almost entirely due to the members of Family Sphyrnidae’s obsession with hammering.

‘Do you need me to hang that picture for you?’

To paraphrase Mark Twain1, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Hammerhead sharks extend this metaphor by showing that when your head is a hammer, you’re going to spend most of your free time thinking of what you can hammer next. Most sharks never (or rarely) sleep to avoid sinking to the bottom of the sea and dying, but hammerheads never sleep because their minds are constantly racing as they contemplate where and when they can hammer next. Even if they start to nod off and finally get some rest, they’ll suddenly wonder if a passing ship might have a loose rivet they could fix and, next thing you know, they’re out of bed and putting in their contacts.  Even Ambien doesn’t do anything for them.

‘I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I’d just go practice hammering instead of just lying there driving myself crazy thinking about hammering. Say…you don’t need anything hammered, do you?’

The evolutionary origins of the hammerhead’s cephalic morphology has long been a subject of debate and inquiry, with some scientists proposing that the unique shape functions like a hydrofoil, giving the negatively buoyant hammerheads better swim control; others have suggested that it allows tight maneuvering in pursuit of prey. But pretty much everyone agrees that whatever its origins and proper purpose, a hammerhead would rather be using it to hammer stuff.

‘Want some help assembling that new shelving unit from Ikea?’

Recently, a joint study by the Florida Atlantic University and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology found that the spacing of the eyes in the hammerhead shape allowed a wider field of vision while enhancing stereoscopicity, which makes it easier to locate something to hammer. Moreover, the team also found that the wider surface area offers enhanced electrosensory capability, which makes for better hunting and also provides a bigger striking surface when a nail is finally located.

‘I think I see…yes…looks like a nail…wait, it’s a piece of seaweed. Oh well, I’d better give it a few whacks just to be on the safe side.’

With proportionally small mouths, hammerheads consume a great deal, including fish, other sharks, stingrays, and octopuses – whatever is quickest so they can get back to hammering. Of the nine species of hammerheads, three (scalloped, great, and smooth hammerheads) are dangerous to humans, though all are considerably more interested in checking your reflexes for you (don’t say no). Some hammerheads are also known to eat their own young, usually as punishment for improperly hammering something.

Like other sharks, hammerheads are nocturnal solitary hunters, but during the daytime they often form massive circling schools, where they compare stories about how much stuff they’ve recently hammered.

‘I drywalled a whole basement the other day. Incredible.’

Hammerheads are also among the few species that can get suntans from prolonged exposure to sunlight, something that happens frequently when they get a much-coveted roofing job for the summer.

Their interest in hammering things is, of course, not the hammerheads’ fault. They’re just dealing with what they have. If their heads were tool belts, they might be more well-balanced. Even better if their heads were a whole garage. But unfortunately, all they have is a hammer, and so hammer stuff they will. So if and when you want to build your kids a tree house, give a hammerhead a call. They’ll be more than happy to help out, at least with the hammering.


1 The saying ‘If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail’ is frequently attributed to Mark Twain, though this doesn’t appear anywhere in his writings. It is likely a traditional saying, but it is often formally attributed to Abraham H. Maslow’s book The Psychology of Science (1966). That said, anything witty and at the same time cuttingly accurate probably was first uttered by Mark Twain.

15 responses to “Hammerhead Shark

  1. These guys must be really disappointed whenever they attend parties, hear someone’s wish to get “hammered,” and then realize they mean “inebriated.”

  2. Just imagine how Mark Twain would have enjoyed learning about a hammerhead shark. Thank you for scratching my science itch today and for being witty and literary about it!

  3. Oh my, everytime these reviews kill me. =))

  4. Insert bad reference to the Tiger Shark [here].

  5. Now we know where to get help replacing our deck. We won’t need to buy an electric hammer. Great review! The hammerhead should be proud of its potential for constructive work.

  6. Wow, didn’t realize they actually hammered things with their head. Now I know to never go in the water again – ever.

  7. “If I had a hammer… I’d hammer in the morning… I’d hammer in the evening… all the day long…”

  8. Just stumbled across this piece… fuckin’ hilarious! 😀

    • ROY!! That is not a very appropriate comment!!! School children might see this!!

      • Hahaha! If school kids are seeing this, and they know how to meander around the internet, trust me lady, they are seeing a whole lot more than my comment.. AND getting a whole lot of wrong ideas, about Hammerheads and everything else. But.. it IS an education 😀

  9. Roy should not of put that up

  10. helloo

  11. I usually do not leave a ton of comments, but i did some
    searching and wound up here Hammerhead Shark | Animal Review.
    And I actually do have a few questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or does it give the impression like some of these comments look like they are coming from brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting on other social sites, I’d like to keep up with anything
    new you have to post. Would you make a list of the complete urls of all your communal pages like your twitter feed,
    Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  12. I like this so much, I am going to reblog it my own blog. That’s just how much I like it.

  13. Reblogged this on Nature:Calm and Wild and commented:
    Click “see original post” to check out the full shebang.

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