Shark Skin Texture, Scales & Color Explained

You know what? Shark skin is kinda wack…

I mean, it looks super silvery and slippery-smooth when you catch one breaching out of the water. But in actual fact, shark skin turns out to be incredibly rough and strong. Quite the contrast, and super unique.

Shark Skin Texture, Scales & Color Explained

Sharks have evolved into their current form as a means to adapt as well as possible to their watery environment. And this includes how their skin is designed, helping them to be at home in their aquatic habitat, and priming them for their hunting expeditions.

In this article, I’m going to cover the texture and color of shark skin, including if you can cut yourself on it, and whether sharks have scales. By the end of the article, when you get to the wrap up, you will be able to impress your friends with your knowledge!

Please feel free to scroll ahead to any section that jumps out at you. Here goes!

The Texture Of Shark Skin

Shark’s skin is designed to protect the shark from injury by way of an outer layer of enamel (that’s right, like your teeth) together with a central pulp cavity and dentine.

But protection from injury is not the only benefit – it’s also great for reducing turbulence in the water, by making the skin more streamline.

Water is directed through grooves in the shark skin, reducing the impact of friction between the shark and the water.

The skin is also really thick, which is great not only for retaining heat in the cold seas, but also for supporting the attached muscles. Did you know that the Whale Shark, the longest living one, has a skin that’s a whopping 10 cm thick?!

Do Sharks Have Scales?

Like many other aquatic creatures, sharks have scales along their skin, which give it quite the rough texture (more on this a little later).

These scales are called dermal denticles, and they look kinda like grooved teeth, but they aren’t teeth, they are placoid scales.

Interestingly, there have been some intriguing studies which suggest that these placoid scales have healing properties.

Is A Shark’s Skin Smooth?

You know despite all appearances to the contrary (from a distance at least) shark’s skin is not at all smooth. In fact, it’s so rough that some people have been known to use it as sandpaper.

Small aquatic creatures have been known to injure themselves quite badly through brushing up against it.

The dermal denticles that I referred to earlier have their spines pointing toward the shark’s tail, so when a creature brushes by the roughness will be more noticeable when made in the opposite direction, toward the head of the shark.

Shark Skin Texture, Scales & Color Explained

The denticles are in a kind of mosaic pattern, holding the body in position in a similar way to that of a corset, supporting it. And this is great for the shark because it has no skeletal bones. 

The muscles that sharks use for swimming are directly attached to this helix-shaped “corset”, and this saves the shark from tiring as it swims, and at the same time, helps it move more quickly as well.

Can People Cut Themselves On Shark Skin?

The startling truth is that, yes, people can cut themselves on shark skin, it’s so rough!

There was one particular incident in the Bahamas when a man was fishing and spotted a bull shark approaching. It brushed against him, hitting the man’s left leg as it swung, causing multiple lacerations.

Fortunately, the man in question was able to get back on the fishing boat and tie a tourniquet around the injuries, and managed to return to port. The man was very lucky to survive the attack.

What Color Is Shark Skin?

Just like the texture of a shark’s skin has evolved to its current form as a means to adapt to its environment, so has its color…

Sharks usually have a gray color, but with a darker gray on top, and a lighter gray underneath. The advantage of this is the ability to camouflage.

Camouflaging with the light surface when viewed from below, and camouflaging with the dark depths of the ocean when viewed from above.

This all helps to make the shark an incredibly stealthy hunter, enabling them to creep up to their prey without being spotted until it’s too late. If it wasn’t for this, the shark would scare away all its food.

There are also sharks that are more brown in color. These ones live nearer the ocean floor, where they can blend in with the sand at the bottom, where they can feed off little crustaceans.

Wrap Up

So, as I’ve described, despite sharks looking so smooth and slippery in the movies, shark skin is actually rough enough to use as sandpaper, and you can even cut yourself on it if you dare to be in their midst.

Mikayla Adams