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Shark Gills: Everything You Need To Know

Shark Gills Everything You Need To Know

When you think of sharks, a few key things probably come to mind: powerful predators, giant jaws, and perhaps even the dreaded music from Jaws.

However, sharks’ breathing mechanism (Shark Gills) is one of the most fascinating aspects. Unlike many other marine creatures, sharks use their gills to extract oxygen from the water, not their lungs.

In this article we will address some of the most commonly asked questions about how sharks breathe.

Do Sharks Have Gills?

The first thing to establish is yes, sharks do have gills. In fact, shark gills play an integral role in their ability to survive underwater. The shark gills are located on either side of their bodies, right behind the head, and are covered by a protective gill slit.

How Many Gills Do Sharks Have?

A common question about shark anatomy is, how many gills do sharks have? The answer to this can vary depending on the species. Most sharks have five gill slits on each side, though some species like the sixgill and sevengill sharks – as their names suggest – have six and seven gill slits, respectively.

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How Do Sharks Breathe and Do Sharks Need Oxygen?

Now, let’s address the elephant (or rather, the shark) in the room. How do sharks breathe, and do they need oxygen? Sharks, like all living beings, do need oxygen to survive. However, unlike humans, they extract this vital element from the water rather than the air.

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how sharks breathe:

  1. Water enters the mouth of the shark.
  2. The water then flows over the shark’s gills.
  3. Oxygen from the water is absorbed through thin-walled blood vessels in the gills.
  4. The oxygenated blood is then pumped around the body, providing essential oxygen to the shark’s organs and tissues.
  5. Finally, the water, depleted of its oxygen, is expelled through the shark’s gill slits.

This method of breathing is also referred to as “gill ventilation.”

Can Sharks Breathe Underwater and Do Sharks Need to Come Up for Air?

So, can sharks breathe underwater and do they need to come up for air? The answer to both is yes and no. Sharks can indeed breathe underwater and don’t require air like us. However, some species of sharks like the great white have what’s known as a spiracle – a small hole behind each eye that allows them to breathe while stationary.

SpeciesPresence of SpiracleNumber of Gill Slits
Great WhiteYes5
Tiger SharkNo5
Hammerhead SharkNo5
Sixgill SharkYes6
Sevengill SharkYes7

Do Sharks Have Lungs, and Can Sharks Breathe Air?

Sharks do not have lungs like mammals do; they only have gills. While they can’t breathe air directly, they can extract the oxygen dissolved in water, allowing them to “breathe” underwater.

Can You Drown a Shark?

The term “drowning” isn’t typically applied to sharks, but the concept still holds. Yes, there are certain species of shark where If that shark cannot move water over its gills efficiently – such as if it gets stuck in a net or it stops moving entirely it will not get enough oxygen and can essentially drown.

Why Do Sharks Have Gills?

Finally, why do sharks have gills? Gills are an evolutionary adaptation that allows sharks to survive in their aquatic environment. This efficient respiratory system enables them to extract the oxygen they need from water, freeing them from the need to surface for air, making them the perfect underwater predators.

Understanding shark gills is key to appreciating these remarkable creatures. From the number of gill slits to their unique method of breathing, each aspect of their anatomy contributes to their survival in the world’s vast oceans.


  • What happens if a shark’s gill is damaged?

    Damage to a shark’s gills can potentially be fatal. The gills are vital for the shark’s ability to breathe. If they are significantly damaged, it can lead to suffocation. Some sharks have been known to target the gills of animals to incapacitate them.

  • Are shark gills similar to fish gills?

    Shark gills are similar to fish gills in that they both serve to extract oxygen from water. However, the specific structure and functioning can vary between species.

  • How do sharks regulate their oxygen intake?

    Sharks regulate their oxygen intake by adjusting the rate and volume of water flowing over their gills, which they control by changing their swimming speed or mouth opening.

  • Why are some shark gills covered with a gill flap while others are not?

    The presence or absence of a gill flap, or gill cover, often depends on the species of shark. Some sharks have more exposed gills while others have more protected gills.

  • Can sharks smell through their gills?

    No, sharks do not smell through their gills. They use their nostrils, located on the underside of their snouts, to detect scents in the water.


Shark Gills, the remarkable oxygen-extracting marvels, are more than just organs; they are a testament to the shark’s incredible evolutionary journey.

Whether you’re marveling at the five-gill slits of the great white or the six and seven of their less common cousins, these gills underline the shark’s dominion over the oceans. As we continue to explore these magnificent creatures and their extraordinary adaptations, our appreciation for their role in our world’s ecosystems deepens.

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Steve Momot

Steve is an accomplished professional photographer and marketer who specializes in the Fishing, Yacht, and Boating industry. With a strong presence as an influencer and marketing expert in the Marine Industry, he has made a significant impact in the field. Additionally, Steve is the original creator and co-founder of Sportfishtrader. Prior to his career as a marine photographer, he gained extensive experience as a licensed boat and car dealer in South Florida.

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