With interests in science and nature, I explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.
Big, dangerous sharks are fascinating—on television, anyway. When you are in the ocean, maybe not so much.
Swimming in the ocean is a lot of fun. If you enjoy snorkeling, you know the thrill of spotting different species of fish and other marine wildlife.
But if you start thinking about sharks while you’re in the water, it probably won’t be long until the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and you decide it might be a good time to head to shore for a cool drink.
You're not crazy. Every summer there are reports of shark attacks at beaches, and every year people seem shocked. Here are the facts: Sharks live in the water, and when people go in the water they become a potential food source for sharks.
Still, shark attacks are not common, and if you head to the beach your chances of getting chomped aren’t very high. Most sharks, especially those close to shore, aren’t big enough to threaten you.
But there are some monsters in the sea, the stuff of nightmares and legends, and when these sharks come around you’d better get back to the beach.
Dangerous sharks are out there, and to them, you are simply lunch.
1. Great White Shark
Thanks to the movie Jaws, many of us will forever hear those two piano notes any time we venture into the ocean. The movie was a fictional exaggeration, but the great white is indeed a shark worth fearing.
At maximum documented lengths of over twenty feet, the great white is the apex predator of the sea. Some researchers think they are capable of getting much bigger.
Cool, coastal waters
2,500 lbs +
Most great white attacks are said to be a case of mistaken identity, as their main prey items are marine mammals, but that usually doesn’t make the person who has been bitten feel a whole lot better.
2. Tiger Shark
Perhaps even more dangerous than the great white, the tiger shark is known to prey upon anything from seabirds to dolphins. Frequently hunting near shore where humans swim, a relatively large percentage of tiger shark attacks result in fatalities compared to great whites.
1,900 lbs +
Tigers commonly reach lengths similar to the white shark, and some researchers believe the largest specimens can reach up to twenty-five feet. If that's true it might make us wonder if someone had written a novel about a killer Tiger Shark that this beast may be the one we fear most, instead of the Great White.
3. Bull Shark
Unlike most other shark species, the bull sharks are able to tolerate freshwater environments and are occasionally spotted in rivers around the world, and even in some lakes.
Shallow, coastal water; freshwater rivers and lakes
Bull sharks are highly aggressive and potentially present a risk to humans when they are around. With a maximum length of around eleven feet, they are not the biggest sharks out there, but their thick bodies and ferocious temperament make them among the most dangerous.
4. Oceanic Whitetip
Whitetips are large, voracious predators that grow to a maximum length of about ten feet. This is the shark to worry about should your ship go down in the middle of the ocean and you find yourself floating on a life raft. They cruise just below the surface, looking for food, and may even follow ships if they think there is a possibility of finding a meal.
Open ocean; occasionally venture near shore
You aren’t likely to get bitten by a whitetip close to shore, but it does happen. As opportunistic feeders, they go where the prey is. If you are a human flopping around in the ocean, guess what you are to a hungry shark.
The largest of the hammerhead species, the Great Hammerhead, can grow over 20 feet long. Though they've been depicted in action movies as dangerous adversaries of international spies, these giants are primarily fish eaters and rarely pose a danger to humans.
Though there are documented hammerhead attacks on people, they are almost always defensive in nature.
Warm, coastal waters
In rare cases, they can inflict damage on careless divers. Like anything else in nature, if it has teeth and you don't respect it you may end up with a short and sad list of regrets when it comes to the hammerhead.
6. Greenland Shark
A massive, 20-foot-plus predator that lives in the frigid North Atlantic, the Greenland shark might not be much for most of us to worry about, but it’s an interesting creature worth mentioning nonetheless.
With a diet of mostly fish and marine mammals, and due to its slow movement, this shark is not commonly thought of as a danger to humans.
North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean
However, local legends talk of these big sharks attacking kayaks, and there are stories of Greenland sharks surfacing to take prey off the ice.
What Is the Biggest Shark in the World Today?
The whale shark is the largest shark in the world today and the biggest fish in the seas. They grow to a maximum length of over 40 feet, though commonly reach lengths of 18 - 32 feet and a weight of around 20 tons.
Although whale sharks are huge they pose little danger to humans. They are filter feeders, meaning their diets consist mostly of tiny plankton. Whale sharks swim around with their huge mouths open, taking in huge gulps of water and any tiny creatures that are swimming in it.
The Most Dangerous Shark of All Time
The whale shark is technically the largest shark in the world at a presumed maximum length of around fifty feet. However, the whale shark is a filter feeder, and unless you are plankton you have nothing to fear from this goliath. The same can be said for the basking shark, a huge animal capable of reaching lengths up to 40 feet.
These are not the creatures that keep us awake the night before our trip to the beach, but a predator of similar size did once roam the oceans of the world. The megalodon shark was the size of a whale shark or bigger and possessed the predatory nature of a great white.
Thankfully, megalodon went extinct thousands of years ago.
Should you have a healthy fear of sharks whenever you go to the beach? Absolutely! Even though your chances of getting attacked are remote in most cases, sharks are dangerous animals. If you decide to go into the water, you are entering their domain.
Just as you'd think about bears or mountain lions if you decide to hike in their territory, put some thought into what sharks might be around when you jump into the ocean. Then, make your choices wisely.
The sad truth is that sharks have far more to fear from humans than we do from them. Illegal and unethical fishing practices have decimated the shark populations around the world, and few species go unscathed.
When a shark attacks a human they are only trying to survive, but humans have destroyed the shark populations for no reason other than greed and ignorance. As much as you may fear sharks, they are a very important part of the natural world.
With proper education and conservation efforts, many species can bounce back, but only if enough people are interested in making a difference. If you're wondering how you can get involved, take a few minutes to learn about shark conservation and the challenges facing shark species around the world.
A healthy fear of sharks or any wild animal is a good thing. It reminds us of our place in the world from time to time, and maybe it keeps us a little humble.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Luther Urswick (author) from USA on September 06, 2014:
Thanks Sparrowlet. I saw that on the news yesterday. I never want to see anyone get hurt, but when we go into the ocean we need to understand we are really venturing into a wilderness complete with predators and prey . . . and you know which of those we are. Luckily Great Whites most often only attack people out of mistaken identity, and those ladies got lucky.
Katharine L Sparrow from Massachusetts, USA on September 05, 2014:
Nice hub! I live on Cape Cod and recently two women in a kayak were attacked by a shark who bit the kayak in half! They were, fortunately, rescued but it's a good thing it's fall and tourists have gone home! Sharks are scary, but your hub highlights the majestic creatures that they truly are. Well written and interesting. Voted up!
Luther Urswick (author) from USA on September 11, 2012:
Re: Whale shark evolving from Meg . . . whale sharks, along with basking sharks and megamouth, evolved along a different line than megalodon. They are related way back, but one did not likely evolve from the other.
1batfastard on September 11, 2012:
Is it a very,very rare possibility that the whale shark could be an evolved Megladon somwhere along the line losing its teeth & evolving to feed on plancton ?
Luther Urswick (author) from USA on September 04, 2012:
vibesites: You're right about the whale shark. Pretty interesting!
vibesites from United States on September 03, 2012:
I think the whale shark is the biggest shark, but it's funny to note that it's the most harmless of all sharks. It just feeds on krill andplankton. People can actually go near it while snorkeling.
I like this hub, I like reading about nature and stuff. Sharks are fearsome but still fascinating creatures. :)
Luther Urswick (author) from USA on August 07, 2012:
Thanks ata1515 and Georgie.
No sharks in the pool, except maybe the inflatable kind.
ata1515 from Buffalo, New York. on August 07, 2012:
Open expanses of water are creepy, even without the threat of shark attack. Then again I live inland so I can always see the land on the other side of any body of water.
Conservation is very important so that our children and their children will be able to see the wonderful creatures of the world. Voted up and shared!
GH Price from North Florida on August 07, 2012:
These things are why I go to the beach and swim in the pool!
Yeah, no shark bait here! Great Hub!
Luther Urswick (author) from USA on August 07, 2012:
Thanks Patty and naeemebrahimjee!
I'd love to dive with a whale shark but I can imagine how their sheer size would be unnerving, even though they wouldn't see you are prey.
naeemebrahimjee from London on August 07, 2012:
I have dived with filter feeding sharks before and even though i know they are not going to try to take a bite they are still pretty intimidating!
Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on August 06, 2012:
Interesting Hub!!! I live near the ocean, well actually the sound, and we have only had a very few shark scares in my area. I do not fear them, but I do respect the ocean and its many dangerous creatures.
Luther Urswick (author) from USA on August 06, 2012:
Thanks CS. I don't worry much about sharks either when I'm swimming or snorkeling, but I have to admit I do think about them. It's hard not to, especially when there are other big fish around!
CSNewYork from New Jersey on August 06, 2012:
I don't normally worry to much about sharks in the ocean. I wonder if that's a good or bad thing? I don't wanna be so scared of sharks that I'm afraid to go in the water. But, I don't want to be ignorant either. Nice hub by the way!