So, you’re interested in finding out if there are sharks in the Mediterranean? You’ve come to the right place! This guide will range from the calanques of Marseille all the way to the sun-scorched sides of the Turkish Turquoise Coast to showcase the snappers of south Europe. But we’re warning you – you might not like what you hear…
You’re likely to be shocked at just how many species of sharks in the Mediterranean there currently are. Everything from the flat-winged angelshark and the slender blue shark to the strange and otherworldly hammerhead can be found swimming in the waters around this part of the continent.
Some are totally harmless. Others have been blamed for attacks on travelers and tourists over the years. However, it’s widely agreed among marine scientists that populations of sharks in the Mediterranean are dipping, mainly due to overfishing and habitat destruction. So, there might not be long before the whole lot are gone from these waters.
The Angelshark is among the most endangered of the sharks in the Mediterranean Sea. They’re a fantastically elegant and elusive animal, with wide and flat pectoral fins that graze across the seabed in the style of a ray.
The bigger of the angelsharks will grow to well over a metre in length, with the average weight of adults sitting at around the 30kg mark. That makes them one of the smaller specimens in region.
Their vulnerability is thought to be mainly down to habitat destruction, since angelsharks tend to reside in the shallower waters closer to the coast – an area that’s heavily developed throughout Europe.
Sand tiger sharks
Sand tiger sharks look dangerous but are actually pretty chilled. They inhabit extensive corners of the globe, with territory that extends all the way from Japan to the rough capes of South Africa. They are also in the Mediterranean, typically in sandy coastal areas with depths that go no lower than 190 metres (So, Spain is perfect!).
Spot the pointy nose and inwardly-protruding spiked teeth, serrating a wide scythe of a mouth that extends well beyond the eyes. Other iconic features of the sand tiger include curved dorsal fins and red spots on the back.
Blue sharks caused a whole load of disruption in the Med back in 2014, when they were sighted prowling off the shores of the French Riviera and rugged Corsica. Swimmers were stopped from entering the water and even some of the area’s top-rated beaches were totally shut.
The truth is that blue sharks hardly ever attack humans. It’s estimated that they’ve been involved in a mere 13 biting incidents since the year 1580. To put that in perspective, that’s 13 people potentially bitten since only a century after America was colonised by Columbus! Distinctive features include long pectoral fins and a gradient colouring, from pale underbelly to shadowy top.
Great white sharks – the biggest sharks in the Mediterranean Sea
The one you’ve all been waiting for: The great white. This is the monster from Jaws and by far the most feared creature of the deep. It does exist in the Mediterranean but probably in small – and dwindling – numbers. In fact, recent reports of sightings have placed great whites near popular vacation hubs, like Mallorca and the deep-water straits around Sicily.
They’re difficult to mistake – the biggest can grow to over six metres in length and weigh well over two tonnes! Females are the larger of the sexes, although males can still clock up more than four metres from tip to tail. It’s rare for great whites to prowl close to shore. They prefer uninterrupted ocean territory, which they can cross at speeds in excess of 15 miles per hour. That’s pretty fast swimming, eh?
Great hammerhead sharks
You simply cannot mistake a great hammerhead shark for anything else. As the name implies, these monsters, which can grow to a whopping six metres from end to end, have a head that resembles a hammer. It’s flat-topped and extends to the left and right, where eye sockets gaze almost directly side to side.
The strange head shape helps to extend the peripheral vision of the hammerhead and adds sensory ability to the nose. That, in turn, makes the shark far more sensitive to underwater movements and helps it chase and track pray. These types of sharks have been known to attack divers in the Med, but they are generally considered to be wary and worried of humans on the rare occasion there’s an encounter.
Blacktip sharks are often mistaken for their much-larger brother the great white. That’s because they don’t look too dissimilar. However, they are around a quarter of the size when fully grown, and have very distinct black markings at the top of their dorsal and back fins – hence the name.
The Med is considered the perfect habitat for the elegant blacktip. The reason? These guys like shallower waters of up to 30m in total. They also congregate around coastlines where there are muddy lagoons and sandbanks, and can even occupy brackish water. Sadly, blacktip sharks are on the endangered list. That’s mainly down to overfishing and strong demand for their meat and liver oil.
The Basking shark is a whole different kettle of fish (see what we did there?) to most of the shark species on this list. Instead of the hulking chompers of a great white, it has tiny teeth. Instead of a lust for blood and meat, it dines on plankton and organic matter.
Yep, the basking shark is a filter feeder. It cruises through the seas with an open mouth and picks up anything with nutritious value along the way, filtering out excess water and waste using huge gills.
Basking sharks can be found throughout the whole of the Mediterranean, although their locations are unpredictable. That’s mainly because these will follow the course of plankton blooms like nomads on the hunt for the best feeding grounds. If you do find them, they’ll be hard to miss, because fully grown adults can clock in at over nine metres in length and in excess of five tonnes!
The only sightings of dusky sharks in the Mediterranean Sea have been in the western Med. There, they regularly move between the cooler waters of the Portuguese Algarve, the Strait of Gibraltar and the shores of North Africa. They look rather fierce and can grow to nearly four metres (around the same as an adult male great white), but rarely attack humans without provocation.
The species is listed as critically endangered. They’ve been heavily fished and prized as an ingredient in shark fin soup over the years, leading to a huge decline in numbers. Conservation efforts are now underway, with a strong focus on reducing trafficked wildlife meat on the global black market.
Is it safe to swim in the Mediterranean Sea?
Generally speaking – yes!
The Mediterranean Sea is actually up there with the safest seas in the world. Calmer waters and protected bays mean the currents are rarely what they are with the open Atlantic Ocean over in Portugal or on France’s west coast. In fact, the chilled beaches are often precisely the reason holidaymakers flock to the region, whether they’re on the Cote d’Azur or the sparkling islands of Greece.
That’s not to say there aren’t dangers in the Med. There are…
For starters, you always need to be wary of the pitfalls of swimming in open water. Currents, rips, sudden tide changes, deep-water pulls, crossing shipping lanes – there’s a whole load of hazards that can pose potential dangers. It’s common for popular beaches and swimming coves all over the Mediterranean Sea to have marked areas that are patrolled by lifeguards. Look for the flags on the sand or buoys in the water.
When it comes to sharks, the Med also makes for some sobering stats reading. There have been hundreds (yes – hundreds!) of shark attacks in these seas since 1900. Spain and Italy have the most foreboding numbers, with 35 and 50 attacks respectively. Over 10 of those were fatal in the home of pizza and pasta, too! Still, shark sightings and encounters remain relatively rare and uncommon across the whole region.
Basically, it’s important to stay vigilant whenever you choose to swim in any sea, not just the Med. To help mitigate the risks of getting wet, always check with local lifeguard stations about the dangers in the place your traveling. Also, do visual scans for water hazards and marine predators. And be certain to stay up to date with the tide changes and the weather.
Are there great white sharks in Mediterranean Sea?
Brace yourselves…yes. There are great white sharks in Mediterranean Sea! And there are probably considerable numbers of them, too.
At least, that’s what most marine scientists think. The problem is that sightings are so rare that it’s hard to confirm to what extent the greatest and most dangerous of the world’s shark species have colonised this corner of the continent.
Some sightings of the same sort of monster that inspired Jaws have been reported from the Spanish Balearics, the Italian coast and the Adriatic in recent years, but these have been difficult to verify.
What’s more, the likelihood is that great whites use the Mediterranean Basin as a sort of nursey. The warm, nutrient-rich waters of areas around Lampedusa, near Sicily, have been quoted as being one of the hotspots for breeding before adults move back to the wide breadth of the Atlantic Ocean.
How many shark attacks have there been in the Mediterranean?
Quite a lot. In fact, there have been in excess of 200 shark attacks in the Mediterranean in the last century! That’s considerable when you think about the size of this sea compared to the great Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
However, those numbers are nothing compared to other shark hotspots around the globe. Take South Africa, which reports up to 100 incidents per year! Those are also much, much more likely to be fatal and dangerous, mainly because there are greater concentrations of fully grown predatory species in the bigger seas of the globe.
It’s also important remember that the stats referring to sharks in the Mediterranean Sea don’t solely talk about unprovoked attacks on tourists. The vast majority of incidents actually involve the fishing industry. They usually start with sharks being caught accidentally in nets far from the populated coastline.
The truth is that only a small fraction of encounters with sharks in the Med end up being fatal. By their nature, these ocean beasts prefer wide, open tracts of water. They’ll rarely stray close to the sun-splashed beaches and resorts where the volleyball players and snorkellers go!
The Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot for all sorts of sharks. It’s thought that as many as 47 of the world’s 400 species call these waters home. That’s not to say they’re too common. In fact, sightings of the big-toothed beasts are rather rare, and encounters with humans are few and far between.
The variety of sharks in these balmy waters where we all love to holiday is quite startling. You’ll find colossal great whites and ray-like angelsharks, along with elusive blacktip sharks and even the bizarre hammerhead!
Most scientists think that human-shark encounters in the Med will increase in frequency as the deeper waters where the animals like to reside get overfished. Other scientists warn that shark numbers are significantly decreasing in the region thanks to habitat destruction and industrial fishing fleets.