Sharks are one of the most notorious creatures in the sea but are often misunderstood. They play a major part in the balance of oceanic ecosystems. Sharks live all across the globe, from tropical warm reefs to the deep currents of the Atlantic Ocean — you’ll even find sharks in the Mediterranean Sea if you look in the right places!
There are over 500 species of sharks in the world and 143 of those species are under threat, vulnerable, or critically endangered. Climate change, overfishing, and plastic pollution have detrimental effects on shark populations.
Sharks range in shapes and sizes, with the smallest being the size of an average adult’s hand and the biggest reaching 18 meters in length. They are as old as dinosaurs and are highly adaptable to the environment around them, each showing specific characteristics to survive in the specific habitat.
Are there sharks in the Atlantic Ocean?
In short — yes. The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest ocean on the planet and covers an area of 106,460,000 km2 (41,100,000 sq mi). From the West coasts of Europe and the UK to the East coasts of North America, meeting the Caribbean, there are sharks in the water.
So whether you are dipping your toes in waters off Cornwall (England) or diving off a Brazilian island, you may well spot a shark among the marine life.
Several shark species call the Atlantic Ocean home. Here, you will find a complete range including the largest, the most aggressive, the most docile, and the most iconic. Many shark species are under threat with their numbers depleting dramatically.
Great White Shark
Great Whites are the most notorious sharks on the planet. The 1975 Hollywood movie, Jaws, brought them to the silver screen and brought the fearsome creature into pop-culture. However, this legendary fish is far less scary in reality and is often given a bad rap.
They are often found in cool, coastal waters all around the world. A Great White Shark is warm-blooded which means it can regulate body temperatures and adapt quickly to the environment. This, along with their remarkable speed reaching up to 15mph and streamline bodies, makes them extremely successful predators in the Atlantic Ocean.
Recent research shows that roughly one-third to a half of shark attacks across the world are linked to a Great White. These attacks are mostly not fatal and are thought to be curious “sample bites” or simply mistaking surfers for seals. So rest assured, humans are not on the menu for a Great White Shark!
The Mako Shark, better known as the fastest shark of the seven seas, is the most common shark in the Atlantic and is known to launch onto fishing boats in the heat of feeding. They are incredibly hydrodynamic with a perfectly cylindrical shape and are metallic blue in color. A Mako Shark is the torpedo of the natural world.
Their habitats cover the globe, but they thrive in the Atlantic waters. The Mako can reach a whopping 20mph with attack bursts hitting 45mph. They have been tracked to travel up to 55km in one day, suggesting that they are migratory species.
A Mako’s diet consists of a diverse mix of marine life including the common Atlantic bluefish as well as octopus, squid, bony fish, turtles, seabirds, dolphins, and other smaller sharks. When hunting, the Mako Shark attacks its prey from beneath and has been sighted launching up to nine meters out of the water.
The Hammerhead Shark is one of the more unique shark species found in the Atlantic Ocean. The name comes from the distinctive shape of their head, which they use to pin down their favorite food: stingrays. They also use electroreceptors in their mallet-shaped head to scan the ocean floor for prey as a sixth-sense.
Hammerheads are found in the more temperate waters of the Atlantic and tropical oceans. They are considered harmless to humans and are popular for divers and swimming excursions.
Unlike other shark species, Hammerhead Sharks don’t lay eggs but give birth to live pups — anywhere from six to forty or more in one litter. If the pup is not threatened or affected by fisheries, then it will live for more than 45 years.
The world’s largest shark is the Whale Shark. As you can imagine from the name, these fish can get big! Growing to 40 feet or more, and weighing up to 10.6 tonnes, these incredible creatures are bigger than a double-decker bus.
Similar to whales, the Whale Shark loves to eat plankton. They are filter feeders and use a similar technique to whales to eat. Swimming close to the water’s surface, their gaping mouths scoop up whatever gets in the way, including small fish.
Along with the sheer size of this species, the color and markings are significantly striking. The white spots on brown stripes distinctively cover the body. They also have prominent ridges running along each side.
Bull Sharks are the most aggressive sharks across the whole world. They have a similar appearance to Great White Sharks, but are slightly smaller and have a black tip to their pectoral fin. They favor shallow coastal waters: freshwater and bracken don’t both them, it is fairly common to see Bull Sharks venturing inland up rivers and estuaries.
Fast and agile predators, Bull Sharks will eat just about anything. Bull Sharks headbutt their prey to stun before eating. It is because of these characteristics that Bull Sharks are considered the deadliest shark in the world.
Human encounters with this species do happen in bays and swimming spots, but they tend to not go well. However, Bull Sharks don’t actively seek humans. Most confrontations are out of curiosity or accidental.
Measuring the same size and weight as a double-decker bus is the Basking Shark, the second-largest shark in the world. This is also the most placid and “kind” shark in the Atlantic Ocean. These sharks travel through the Atlantic and are a common sight in UK waters.
Just like the Whale Shark, the Basking Shark is a filter feeder and loves to feed off plankton. They swim with their large mouths open, collecting whatever they can in the process, allowing the water to pass through the gills. These docile sharks spend a lot of time “basking” in the sun while feeding, hence the name.
Fishing channels in the Atlantic cut across the Basking Shark habitat, which has been a contributing factor to their dwindling numbers. They are a protected species across select countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The Blue Shark is one of the more elegant species in the waters. These are migratory sharks that cover the Atlantic Ocean in a clockwise migration pattern. They follow the Gulf Stream into the Caribbean, pass the coast of the United States, Eastern Europe, Southern Africa and then do it all over again.
They are aerodynamic in shape and have an indigo-blue shine with white on their sides. These sleek sharks have distinctively large eyes and unusually long pectoral fins. Due to their migration routes, the Blue Shark is the most distributed shark in the world.
Unfortunately, the Blue Shark often falls victim to commercial fishing and they do often get caught up in nets and trawlers. This has had a significant effect on the species and now their numbers are drastically low. Countries and Conservation groups are working together to try to increase the Blue Shark numbers.
Top 2 Unusual Species of Sharks in the Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic waters are also home to some of the most obscure creatures of the world. The deep oceans are full of weird and wonderful species, including some of the strangest sharks.
Often referred to as a “living fossil,” the Goblin Shark is one of the oldest and strangest looking shark species in the water. This is a deep-sea resident, so sightings of this shark are incredibly rare. And to be honest, that probably isn’t a bad thing — the Goblin Shark is nightmare-inducing!
The flattened snout protrudes out of the Goblin Shark’s head, looking like a villainous goblin character from fantasy. It is bubblegum pink in color due to the extremely thin body, so the blood vessels are close to the skin’s surface. The Goblin Shark is also a slow swimmer that uses this to its advantage when stalking prey.
As these sharks tend to stick to deep-sea bottoms, they don’t pose much threat to divers or swimmers.
Spined Pygmy Shark
One of the smallest sharks in the Atlantic Ocean is the Spined Pygmy Shark, a species of dogfish shark that covers most of the world. This tiny shark thrives in the deep waters and will fit in the palm of your hand. They have a long body with a bulbous head and pointed nose.
The Spines Pygymy Shark is so small that it is unaffected by fishing nets, meaning this species is a low concern for conservation groups.
Shark Species Fact Sheet
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a widely recognized comprehensive measure, with an objective global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species. The scale consists of:
- LC – Least Concern
- NT – Near Threatened
- VU – Vulnerable
- EN – Endangered
- CR – Critically Endangered
- EW – Extinct in the Wild
- EX – Extinct
|Great White Shark||15-20+ feet||Most iconic shark. Slate-grey upper body, white underbelly, torpedo shape, breach like whales when hunting, and is warm-blooded.||VU|
|Hammerhead||13-20 feet||Most distinct shark. Hammer-shaped head with wide-set eyes, grey-brown to olive-green in color.||CR|
|Whale Shark||18-40+ feet||The largest shark. Flattened head and snubbed snout, grey/brown stripes along the back and sides with white spots and white underbelly, two dorsal fins, and is a filter feeder.||EN|
|Bull Shark||7-12 feet||Most aggressive shark. Medium-sized with thick and stout bodies, long pectoral fins with blacktips, grey on top and white belly, and easily can move between saltwater and freshwater.||NT|
|Basking Shark||20-30 feet||The most docile shark. Extremely large pectoral fin (2 meters), conical body shape, grey/brown color, crescent moon-shaped tail, and is a filter feeder.||EN|
|Blue Shark||11-13 feet||The most nomadic shark. Aerodynamic shape, indigo blue color, large eyes, conical snout, and travels the entire of the Atlantic in a clockwise migration pattern.||NT|
|Mako Shark||10-13 feet||The fastest shark. Cylindrical shape, metallic blue in color, black eyes, and can reach up to 45mph.||VU|
|Goblin Shark||9-13 feet||Most strange shark. Long protruding nose, prominent jaws, pink color, and slender body.||LC|
|Spined Pygmy Shark||7-10 inches||Smallest shark. Long cylindrical body and bulbous head, tiny in size.||LC|
Do you get great white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean?
Great White Sharks are the world’s most famous sharks and are prominent in the Atlantic Ocean. They thrive in water with temperatures ranging from 12 to 24 degrees centigrade. There are great concentrations of Great White Sharks on the costs of the United States of America, South Africa, and Oceania in the Pacific.
Which ocean has the most sharks?
There are over 400 species of sharks in the world’s oceans, with the majority either living in the Atlantic Ocean or using it as part of the migratory route. Even though the Atlantic has the most sharks, the Pacific and Indian Ocean waters are often considered “shark-infested” due to the larger amount of shark attacks that occur. South Africa, which has coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific waters is one of the most prolific locations for sharks in the world.
How do you know if a shark is near?
Surfers often refer to a “sharky feeling” when they sense a shark is near which combines the murkiness of the water and seabirds overhead. Seabirds are a strong sign that a shark is feeding beneath the water’s surface, pushing up the fish for a feeding frenzy. It is difficult to spot a shark in the water due to its camouflage coloring, while from a boat you should be able to see the fin cutting through the water.
What is the most dangerous shark?
The Bull Shark is the world’s most dangerous shark because it can move between the ocean and rivers seamlessly. They are not fussy with what they eat and have been known to attack humans. Other dangerous sharks include the Great White Shark, Tiger Shark, and Mako Shark.