So, you’re on the hunt for the most dangerous sharks in the ocean? Sure about that? These fearsome, formidable creatures are the carnivores of the sea; the apex predators of the underwater world. They can hit massive lengths of over 20 foot and weigh several tonnes. They’re not the sort of thing you’d like to encounter on a snorkelling trip to the Maldives, trust us!
That said, there’s no denying they are downright fascinating. This list runs through all the most dangerous sharks out there. From the bold bull shark to the striped tiger shark, and – of course – with a nod to the great white, it offers info on the whole shebang.
Ready? Let’s begin…
Great white sharks – obviously
Sitting firm at number one on our list of the seven most dangerous sharks in the ocean is the great white. The creature that inspired Jaws and one of the most feared animals in the high seas, it’s thought to be responsible for over 300 unprovoked attacks on humans. That’s almost triple the next shark mentioned here!
The great white is certainly equipped for combat. They can hit a whopping 17 foot from nose to fin. Fully grown adults can peak above two tonnes in weight. Oh, and they can whiz through the water at a blink-and-you-won’t-see-it-coming 15 mph. To top all that off, the great white has 300 serrated teeth arranged in multiple rows, along with a superhuman sense of smell that can detect prey from far-off waters.
Great whites often go for what’s known as a bump-and-bite attack. It’s thought to be a pre-meditated hit, which first knocks the victim and then bites. That said, a vast majority of the unprovoked incidents perpetrated by these sharks are of the hit-and-run variety. They typically occur in surf destinations and in diving hotspots and usually result from a case of mistaken identity – is that a surfboard or a seal?
Tiger sharks take a lot from their namesake land predators. First off, they’re striped with camouflage. Dashes of dark grey and dappled white cross the body, making them tricky to spot in the shadowy corners around reefs and shallow coastlines. They also come with jagged, sideways teeth points, which are perfectly adapted for carving up living flesh.
A total confirmed count of 111 unprovoked attacks on humans have been attributed to the tiger shark. On top of that, they are responsible for the second-highest number of fatal attacks ever recorded. The reason? Tigers often venture into harbours and aren’t afraid to come close to the coast. In tourism, diving and surfing hotspots like Hawaii, that regularly brings them into contact with humans.
Sadly, populations of tiger sharks have been decimated in recent decades. They are routinely hunted for their fins (to make shark-fin soup) and unique skin. The animal has been on the Greenpeace non-sustainable fish list and is designated as a near-threatened species worldwide.
The bull shark is one of the most aggressive shark species in the ocean. Unlike its formidable compadres, it’s usually happy to attack and quick to anger. They are also extremely territorial and occupy lots of habitats that tend to cross with human activity. That all translates into an animal that’s been responsible for around 100 attacks since records began.
There have been notable spurts of bull shark attacks in Sydney Harbour, up the Jersey Shore and even in the mouth of the River Ganges. In fact, these guys will regularly stray into fresh and brackish waters, sometimes as far as hundreds of miles up waterways or into lagoons deep inland.
The bull shark is considerably smaller than the great white, but adult females (the larger of the two genders) still clocks up a whopping 8 foot on average. That said, bulls tend to be wider and fatter at the nose, giving them the appearance of a real bruiser below the water. The teeth are small but pointed like an arrowhead, with minuscule serrations that are perfect for slicing through organic matter.
The International Shark Attack File attributes around 28 unprovoked attacks to the blacktip. Couple that with 13 provoked attacks and a single recorded fatality and these requiem sharks have a place among the most dangerous sharks in the ocean. That said, they are widely considered by scientists to be timid and non-aggressive by nature, and are regularly observed at close quarters by scuba divers.
The blacktip has a beautifully streamlined shape that ends in a pinnacle nose at one end and finishes with an elongated top tail fin at the other. The trademark feature is – as the name implies – the dash of dusky black at the top of the main dorsal fin and the ends of the pectoral fins. Teeth wise, this species packs in 15 rows spread between a flat bottom jaw and arched upper jaw.
The blacktip might currently find itself on the near-threatened list, but it can still be found all over the planet. It tends to prefer warmer waters and subtropical regions. Particularly large pockets of population occur in the Indian Ocean, through the shimmering Gulf of Mexico, throughout Southeast Asia, and in northern Oz.
Sand tiger sharks
Nope, sand tiger sharks aren’t the same as tiger sharks. In fact, they’re from a whole different family of sharks to their similarly-named pals. They also inhabit very different parts of the globe. Whereas the tiger likes the deeper channels around reefs, the sand tiger clings to the land shelf and rarely goes deeper than 190 metres.
It’s that penchant for proximity to the coast and love for sand-bottomed areas that increases the likelihood that sand tigers will come into contact with human populations. This is particularly common in sub-tropical and tropical destinations with beach resorts. We’re talking places like Australia and South Africa, where shark nets are regularly installed around swimming bays precisely because of marauding sand tigers.
The biggest specimens of sand tiger sharks will be around 160kg and 10 foot in length. They have a diminutive bottom-half caudal fin and two dorsal fins that are both roughly the same size. The mouth is usually enough to strike fear into surfers and swimmers. It looks truly menacing, what with protruding, needle-like teeth that get bigger towards the front.
Wobbe…what? Yea, strange name. But it’s a strange name to match a pretty strange creature. See it and you would hardly believe it comes from the same evolutionary branch as the fearsome great white. But it does. The truth is that the wobbegong is an umbrella term for all the dozen types of carpet sharks out there, which vary in size and character but are usually found throughout the warmer oceans near Indonesia, Australia and the central Pacific.
There’s half a century of attacks on humans in the unprovoked column for the wobbegongs. Most of those are thought to be down to territorial incursions by scuba divers, but swimmers and surfers have also been involved. On the flip side, most carpet sharks don’t have big enough teeth to be deadly, and no fatal incidents have yet been recorded.
Unfortunately, Wobbegong sharks are notoriously difficult to spot. They have speckled colourings and flat shapes, which means they often meld seamlessly with the ocean floor or reefs. Some – like the spotted wobbegong – are covered in natural camouflage that lets them move undetected across sandbanks and corals.
There are a couple of different types of hammerhead sharks currently prowling the oceans. Together, they’ve been responsible for just 17 attacks on humans. However, that’s still enough to put them up here with the most dangerous sharks around. What’s more, these curious marine creatures are determined predators that get seriously defensive, especially around food and prey.
You simply can’t mistake a hammerhead. The name sums it up nicely: These guys have heads with alien-like protrusions on either side. The strange adaptation actually allows for 360-degree vision, letting the shark track prey both above, below and straight ahead at all times. The flat, fin-like head also adds stability in swimming and extra manoeuvrability underwater.
These days, the most iconic version of the hammerhead, the great hammerhead, is critically endangered. A victim of overfishing and habitat loss through climate change, its numbers are diminishing fast, with populations dipping by as much as 50% since the 1990s in areas like the Mexican Gulf.
Which shark is most dangerous to humans?
The great white shark is considered the most dangerous shark to humans. It’s accountable for over 300 attacks since records began, which is nearly three times as many as the next shark on this list! They reign as the largest predatory shark on the planet, and have been involved in 29 fatal incursions since 1990.
Of course, it also really depends on where you are. In different parts of the globe, different sharks are considered the major threat. For example, bull sharks are known to roam up riverways and can be very aggressive. Sand tiger sharks, meanwhile, will often be found close to beaches and popular warm-water coastlines.
Which shark has killed the most humans?
That dubious honour goes to the great white shark. Yep, there’s no doubt about it: The mighty beast of the depths has clocked up a whopping 314 confirmed attacks. Of those, a whopping 29 have been fatal in the last 30 years alone. Most deaths aren’t immediate, but caused by blood loss after the initial attack. Meanwhile, the vast proportion of attacks involve humans engaging in board sports or diving.
What to do if a shark is chasing you?
Defence against shark attacks begins before you even get in the water. Choose where you swim wisely. River estuaries and brackish water areas (prone to bull sharks) are probably among the most dangerous places of all. We’d also recommend checking with local marine stations for information on the latest shark sightings in your region, and for up-to-date advice on safe spots for entering the water.
If you are unlucky enough to have unwanted contact with a shark, the worst thing you can do is panic. Most sources believe that increased activity will simply excite the predator and make them more likely to pounce. Instead, the advice usually says to maintain eye contact in order to prevent the shark from be able to launch its favoured ambush attack.
Then, a guide by CNN travel recommends two courses of action. The first is for encounters with sharks who are clearly in attack mode. That involves becoming as big as you can in the water to impose yourself on the situation and win the territorial battle. The second involves curling up and becoming passive. Use that if you feel as though the shark is simply passing through and isn’t on the hunt for prey.
If the shark does decide to attack, you’ll need to fight back. Try to hit the shark’s sensitive spots (the gills especially) but steer clear of the mouth area (the danger zone). If the creature continues to circle, you can try to back away slowly while disturbing as little water as possible.
Understanding the most dangerous sharks in the ocean
The reality is that sharks actually kill fewer people each year than cattle. Yes, they are pretty fearsome creatures, but they’re also typically docile, independent, and don’t like to be disturbed. There’s no doubt they are rather majestic animals, too, whether we’re talking the slender blacktip with its dusky dorsal fins or the muscular great white.
Sharks can be found all over the globe, from the shimmering Med to the wavy Indian Ocean. Many are now on critically endangered lists, largely due to overfishing and climate-related habitat changes. If you’re traveling to any destination where sharks are known exist, we’d recommend getting up-to-date information from relevant marine science institutions and research centres to ensure your visit is both safe and sustainable.