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The Top 10 Deadliest Sharks in the World

Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He has a keen interest in biology.

From the tiger shark to the bull shark, this article ranks the world's deadliest species of shark.

From the tiger shark to the bull shark, this article ranks the world's deadliest species of shark.

What Is the Most Dangerous Species of Shark in the World?

Throughout the world, sharks play a vital role in maintaining balance within oceanic ecosystems. Although the vast majority of sharks coexist with humans peacefully, a number of dangerous (and deadly) sharks exist that are capable of seriously injuring or harming the human population at large.

From the infamous hammerhead shark to the great white, this article ranks the world’s deadliest and most dangerous shark species currently known to exist. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of these fascinating animals will accompany readers following their completion of this article.

Selection Criteria

In order to select (and rank) the world’s deadliest sharks, a number of basic assumptions were necessary for the extents and purposes of this study. First and foremost, each of the sharks described below was ranked according to their potential for harming (or killing) humans. For this criteria to be satisfied, size, length, and jaw size were all taken into consideration.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, overall aggression levels were also taken into account for each species. This latter criterion was especially important, as the vast majority of sharks tend to avoid humans in the water. It is primarily the more aggressive species that tend to be involved in fatal shark attacks.

While a number of shortcomings can certainly be identified with this selection process, the author believes that these criteria offer the best means for ranking the world’s deadliest shark species.

The 10 Most Dangerous Sharks in the World

  • Hammerhead Shark
  • Sand Tiger Shark
  • Blue Shark
  • Shortfin Mako Shark
  • Blacktip Shark
  • Nurse Shark
  • Oceanic Whitetip Shark
  • Tiger Shark
  • Bull Shark
  • Great White Shark
The infamous hammerhead shark.

The infamous hammerhead shark.

10. Hammerhead Shark

  • Average Size: 2 to 20-feet (Depending on Species)
  • Geographical Range: Coastal Waters (Worldwide)
  • Conservation Status: “Vulnerable” (Population in Decline)

The term “hammerhead shark” refers to a group of sharks from the Sphyrnidae family. As their name implies, sharks from this group possess a flattened and extended head that resembles the end of a hammer (called a cephalofoil). Hammerheads are found worldwide along coastlines and warmer waters, spending much of their time in shallower regions.

Apart from their unique head shape, they can be easily identified by their relatively small bodies (with the exception of the great hammerhead, which reaches upwards of 20-feet), grayish-brown or olive complexion, as well as wide-set eyes (nationalgeographic.com). Unlike many species of shark, the hammerhead group also tends to congregate in “schools,” with the largest groups tending to form along the coasts of South America and Africa.

Within their natural habitats, the hammerhead sharks tend to prey on a wide array of fish, octopus, squid, crustaceans, and stingrays (a favorite of this species). Using its head as a weapon, the shark is able to “pin” its prey along the ocean floor and eat once the animal tires itself out. Cannibalism has also been observed in this group and is predominant among the great hammerhead species.

Danger to Humans

Since 1580, hammerhead sharks have been responsible for 17 documented (and unprovoked) attacks on humans. Of these, no fatalities have ever been recorded. This is due, in part, to the fact that the hammerhead is a relatively docile species and is not extremely aggressive. Likewise, most of their mouths are quite small, making their bites more painful than fatal to humans.

Nevertheless, due to these unprovoked attacks in prior history, the hammerhead continues to remain a threat to human beings that encroach upon their territory. For these reasons, it is best to avoid contact with this species whenever possible.

The deadly sand tiger shark.

The deadly sand tiger shark.

9. Sand Tiger Shark

  • Average Size: 10 to 10.5-feet
  • Geographical Range: Worldwide
  • Conservation Status: “Critically Endangered” (Population in Decline)

The sand tiger shark is an aggressive species from the Odontaspididae family. They are found predominantly in both tropical and subtropical (temperate) waters, along the continental shelf regions of the world’s major oceans. This includes sandy shorelines (as their name implies), as well as submerged reefs reaching depths of 627 feet.

However, while this particular species is found worldwide, the sand tiger shark primarily inhabits the waters surrounding Japan, Australia, and the Mediterranean, as well as the coasts of North and South America. This remarkable animal can be easily identified by its sharp and “pointy” head, muscular body, as well as greyish complexion that is dotted by reddish-brown spots along their backs (hence the name “sand tiger shark”). They are also remarkably long, reaching upwards of 10.5-feet at maturity.

Within their natural habitats, the sand tiger shark is predominantly found in deeper waters. From here, their diet consists primarily of boy fish, various squid, crustaceans, skates, as well as other sharks. This species has also been known to hunt larger schools of fish, maintaining close proximity to their prey and eating when hunger occurs.

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Danger to Humans

Due to the sand tiger shark’s extremely aggressive nature, they are considered by experts to be incredibly dangerous to human beings. In spite of this, however, attacks against humans are relatively rare, with only 77 attacks recorded over the last century. Of these, only one individual was killed by the attack.

Generally speaking, this species of shark tends to avoid humans whenever possible. It is only when they are provoked (or in times of starvation) that attacks occur. Due to their size, pointed teeth, and large mouths though, this is a species of shark that should be avoided at all costs as they are more than capable of killing a human if the occasion arises.

The dangerous blue shark.

The dangerous blue shark.

8. Blue Shark

  • Average Size: 10-feet
  • Geographical Range: Temperate and Tropical Waters (Worldwide)
  • Conservation Status: “Near Threatened” (Population in Decline)

The blue shark is an aggressive species of requiem shark from the Carcharhinidae family. Found throughout most of the world’s temperate and tropical waters, the blue shark is capable of reaching an average length of 10-feet at maturity.

As of March 2021, they are currently listed as a “near threatened” species by the IUCN, as their numbers have faced a dramatic decline in recent years.

As their name implies, they can be easily identified by their deep blue coloration (along their back) that is contrasted sharply by a white underbelly. Other distinguishing marks that set it apart from other sharks are its long pectoral fins, slender build, and elongated body.

As a species that is endemic to much of the world’s coastal waters, the blue shark is afforded a wide array of dietary options within this geographical range. To date, experts believe that squid and octopus are the shark’s main source of food, along with lobster, shrimp, and various crabs.

Cod, large bony fish, seabirds, and even smaller sharks have also been retrieved from the stomachs of captured blue sharks. Due to its tremendous speed in the water, few animals are capable of escaping its clutches when in pursuit.

Danger to Humans

As with most sharks, attacks on humans are considered relatively rare events for the blue shark. Nevertheless, approximately 13 bites have been recorded with four of these incidents leading to fatalities over the last century. This is due, in part, to the fact that most blue sharks are located in deeper waters, at a depth of approximately 1,150-feet. They also tend to enjoy cooler waters (in the vicinity of 54 to 69-degrees Fahrenheit), which may also help explain the lack of human attacks.

Nevertheless, the blue shark is still considered by experts to be an extraordinarily dangerous species with the ability to seriously harm or kill humans that cross their path. As such, they are an animal that should be avoided at all costs.

The deadly shortfin mako shark.

The deadly shortfin mako shark.

7. Shortfin Mako Shark

  • Average Size: 12 to 14.6-feet
  • Geographical Range: Worldwide
  • Conservation Status: “Endangered” (Population in Decline)

The shortfin mako shark (also known as the “blue pointer,” or “bonito shark”) is a large mackerel shark from the Lamnidae family. Endemic to the coastal and offshore areas of the world’s temperate (and tropical) seas, the shortfin mako shark is currently listed as an “endangered” species by the IUCN due to its rapid decline in population numbers.

Considered extremely intelligent (due to their large brains), as well as aggressive, the shortfin mako is extremely large, powerful, and agile in the water, making it an incredibly dangerous species that should be avoided at all costs. They can be easily identified by their larger size (reaching upwards of 12 to 14.6-feet), cylindrical shape, and vertically elongated tail.

In regard to coloration, most shortfin makos take on a metallic blue hue, that is contrasted sharply by a white ventral section. The demarcation between the white and blue is highly-evident and distinct. Portions of the snout and mouth also take on this white coloration as well.

Within its natural habitat, the shortfin mako shark is surrounded by a large variety of potential prey. These include cephalopods (its primary food source), as well as bony fish (such as tunas, bonitos, and the occasional swordfish). Sea turtles, porpoises, seabirds, and even other sharks have also been found in the bellies of shortfin mako sharks.

In terms of food volume, the shark requires approximately 3-percent of its overall weight in food each day to survive. Considering its large size, this equates to a great deal of fish during its lifetime.

Danger to Humans

In regard to the danger posed by shortfin mako sharks to humans, the species has been involved in eight unprovoked attacks and has been blamed for two human fatalities over the last century. However, this figure does not include attacks against small boats, as the shortfin mako shark has been involved in 20 different boat attacks in recent years.

Of these, several smaller vessels have even been sunk due to the tremendous bite radius of this species. Combined with its aggressiveness, the shortfin mako shark is an incredibly dangerous species of shark that should be avoided by humans whenever possible.

The blacktip shark in its natural habitat.

The blacktip shark in its natural habitat.

6. Blacktip Shark

  • Average Size: 4.9-feet
  • Geographical Range: Worldwide
  • Conservation Status: “Vulnerable” (Population in Decline)

The blacktip shark is a species of requiem shark from the Carcharhinidae family. Endemic to most of the world’s tropical and subtropical waters, the animal is an incredibly timid (but occasionally aggressive) species with the capacity to seriously harm (or kill) humans with ease.

As an average-sized species, the blacktip usually attains a length of approximately 4.9-feet at maturity. Nevertheless, a few species have been known to reach lengths exceeding 9.2-feet, with weights over 271 pounds. The shark can be easily identified by its stout and streamlined body, long (and pointed) snout, as well as their tiny eyes. Dorsal fins are usually quite tall as well, following a “sickle-like” appearance. In regard to coloration, the blacktip shark is generally gray or brown along its upper body regions, with white being the predominant shade along the underbelly.

As with most sharks, the blacktip shark prefers warmer waters; however, some specimens have even been spotted in brackish conditions, appearing in the exit points of rivers (similar to the bull shark). From here, the blacktip is afforded a great variety of prey, including sardines, mackerel, groupers, tilapia, boxfish, and porcupinefish. Smaller sharks, crustaceans, and cephalopods are also eaten when the occasion arises, along with jacks and herring (along the South African coastline).

Danger to Humans

Although the blacktip shark is normally wary of humans, they have garnered a bad reputation due to their frequent attacks on swimmers in the water. Attacks are not usually fatal but result when the animal mistakes a swimmer for common prey. This is problematic for humans, as their large size and incredible speed can result in serious injuries (including death).

Blacktip sharks are also quite aggressive and are responsible for an astounding 16-percent of shark attacks each year. To date, 42 unprovoked attacks on humans have been documented worldwide, along with 13 separate (provoked) attacks. Of these, one resulted in death. For these reasons, swimmers should exercise extreme caution when in the vicinity of the blacktip shark, as they pose a potential risk for individuals that enter their territory.

A nurse shark resting along the ocean floor.

A nurse shark resting along the ocean floor.

5. Nurse Shark

  • Average Size: 10.1-feet
  • Geographical Range: Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
  • Conservation Status: “Vulnerable” (Population in Decline)

The nurse shark (not to be confused with the grey nurse shark or “tawny nurse shark”) is a species of elasmobranch fish from the Ginglymostomatidae family. Endemic to the eastern Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, the nurse shark is considered one of the most dangerous shark species in the world with a number of documented bites (and human deaths) reported.

They can be easily recognized by their pair of rounded dorsal and pectoral fins, elongated caudal fin, and broad head. In regard to length and color, the nurse shark typically reaches an average length of 10.1 feet and maintains a brownish coloration that is spotted in its overall appearance.

Within their natural habitats, the nurse shark tends to spend much of its time at the ocean-bottom, where it is afforded a great deal of protection by coral reefs, seagrass, as well as crevices and rocky outcroppings. From here, the nurse shark feeds on a variety of prey, including stingrays, crustaceans, mollusks, and tunicates.

It is important to note, however, that the nurse shark is an opportunistic predator and will consume a wide array of foods. They are also a “suction feeder,” meaning that they are capable of sucking up smaller organisms along the ocean floor. To date, the shark faces no primary predators in the wild, with the exception of occasional attacks by tiger sharks and lemon sharks.

Danger to Humans

Although the nurse shark is characterized as a slow-moving bottom dweller that is relatively harmless to humans, they continue to rank as one of the most dangerous species of shark in the world due to a number of unprovoked attacks in recent decades. As of March 2021, the nurse shark has been responsible for over 52 attacks on humans. Of these, the University of Florida has listed 9 of the attacks as “fatal” (ufl.edu).

Researchers cite “accidental contact” with the nurse shark as the number one cause for attack, as swimmers occasionally step on the animal while wading in shallow water. For these reasons, the nurse shark is a species that should be avoided and admired from a distance.

The oceanic whitetip shark.  Notice the faint white marks along the tips of its fins.

The oceanic whitetip shark. Notice the faint white marks along the tips of its fins.

4. Oceanic Whitetip Shark

  • Average Size: 9.8 to 13-feet
  • Geographical Range: Worldwide
  • Conservation Status: “Critically Endangered” (Population in Decline)

The oceanic whitetip shark (also known as “Brown Milbert’s sand bar shark,” the “brown shark,” or “silvertip shark”) is a species of large pelagic requiem shark from the Carcharhinidae family. Endemic to the tropical and temperate waters of the world’s major oceans, the oceanic whitetip shark is an incredibly dangerous and aggressive species known to actively attack humans when encountered.

Listed by the IUCN as “critically endangered” (due to their decline in population numbers in recent years), efforts are currently underway by various nation-states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to save this species from extinction. Reaching an average length of 9.8 to 13-feet at maturity, the oceanic whitetip shark is an incredibly large species with large fins and a “stocky” body. They can be easily identified by onlookers due to their rounded and white-tipped fins (hence their name), along with their rounded nose, circular eyes, and greyish-brown (bronze) bodies.

As a species that spends much of its time near coastal waters, the whitetip shark is provided with abundant sources of food. This includes cephalopods and bony fish (their primary food source), followed by threadfins, stingrays, sea turtles, and the occasional bird (such as seagulls).

Although they are generally regarded as a slow-moving species, the whitetip shark is known to swim through schools of fish in an aggressive manner, biting and consuming whatever crosses their path. To date, humans remain the primary predator of the whitetip shark, as they are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, and are prized for their meat, fins, and oil.

Danger to Humans

The oceanic whitetip shark is an incredibly aggressive species that poses a significant threat to humans. As an opportunistic feeder that spends much of its time in coastal (shallow) waters, contact with humans is relatively common, thus, resulting in a number of attacks. In fact, experts regularly cite the oceanic whitetip shark as one of the most dangerous sharks for shipwreck survivors and downed aircraft, as they will actively engage hapless humans for a quick meal.

Their most famous attack against humans, involving the crew of the USS Indianapolis, resulted in an incredible number of human deaths. Because shipwreck victims are never recorded amongst shark attack victims, however, only 7 confirmed reports exist of oceanic whitetip shark attacks (with 2 resulting in death). Nevertheless, many experts agree that unprovoked attacks and fatalities are likely in the hundreds for this species. For this reason, the oceanic whitetip shark is an incredibly dangerous species of shark, and easily one of the deadliest sharks on the planet.

The deadly tiger shark.

The deadly tiger shark.

3. Tiger Shark

  • Average Size: 10.5 to 16.5-feet
  • Geographical Range: Worldwide
  • Conservation Status: “Near Threatened” (Population in Decline)

The tiger shark is a species of large requiem shark from the Carcharhinidae family. Endemic to the world’s tropical and temperate waters, the tiger shark gets its name from the dark stripes that adorn its body (resembling that of a tiger’s pattern).

Classified as a solitary and nocturnal species, this apex predator is classified as a “near-threatened” species by the IUCN due to a dramatic decline in population figures over the last decade. Apart from their unique stripes, the animal can be easily identified by their large size (reaching upwards of 16.5-feet at maturity), impressive weight (2000+ pounds), as well as sharp teeth, long fins, as well as blue (sometimes light-green) coloration that is contrasted by a yellowish-white underbelly.

Throughout the world, the tiger shark spends most of its time along coastlines where water is relatively shallow. From here, the shark preys on a variety of small fish and has a reputation for eating just about anything that moves. This includes jellyfish, mollusks, crustaceans, sea birds, and even sea snakes. Sea turtles are also regularly eaten by the tiger shark, along with smaller tiger sharks if the occasion presents itself.

As an apex predator, this species faces few (if any) enemies in the wild; however, killer whales have been known to occasionally consume tiger sharks in times of hunger.

Danger to Humans

As with most of the sharks on this list, attacks from tiger sharks are relatively rare. Nevertheless, they are still classified as extremely dangerous animals as they are responsible for more shark-bite incidents than most species in the wild. As a species that spends much of its time near canals, harbors, and shallow reefs, humans are often placed in direct contact with the tiger shark without even realizing it.

Combined with its incredible level of aggression, bites are relatively common occurrences (though few are actually fatal). In Hawaii alone, it is estimated that 3 people will be bitten by a tiger shark every year. Worldwide, the shark has been implicated in 129 different attacks against humans. Of these, 34 died from their injuries. As such, the tiger shark is an incredibly dangerous species and certainly one of the world’s most dangerous.

The deadly bull shark.

The deadly bull shark.

2. Bull Shark

  • Average Size: 7.9 to 11-feet
  • Geographical Range: Worldwide
  • Conservation Status: “Vulnerable” (Population in Decline)

The bull shark (also known as the “Zambezi shark,” “Lake Nicaragua shark,” or the “Zambi”) is a species of requiem shark that is found in most of the world’s warm, and temperate waters. Endemic to the shallow waters that line coastlines and rivers, the bull shark is renowned for its aggressiveness, as well as its ability to thrive in both salt or fresh water environments.

As of 2021, the shark is classified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, as population numbers have suffered a significant decline in recent decades. For onlookers, the bull shark can be easily identified by its “stocky” and broad body, flattened snout, and greyish-white coloration. Snouts on this species are also remarkably small, while their caudal fins are significantly longer than many shark species worldwide.

As a species that thrives in both saltwater and brackish conditions, prey for the bull shark is both abundant and diverse. Primary sources of food include bony fish and smaller sharks (including other bull sharks). Stingrays, sea turtles, dolphins, and terrestrial mammals are also common prey, along with various crustaceans, echinoderms, and birds.

To date, few predators exist in the wild for bull sharks, with the exception of larger bull sharks, tiger sharks, and sandbar sharks. Crocodiles along the coast of South Africa have also been known to consume bull sharks when the occasion arises; however, these cases are exceedingly rare.

Danger to Humans

The bull shark is an incredibly dangerous species renowned for its overt aggression towards humans. As of 2021, it is estimated that over 121 attacks (unprovoked) have been carried out against humans by this species, with 25 of these resulting in death for the victim.

These statistics are a bit misleading, however, as many experts believe that additional (undocumented) attacks are likely. Likewise, many experts have also begun to call into question attacks that were supposedly caused by tiger sharks. In many cases, the evidence tends to point towards bull sharks, rather than tiger sharks or great whites, as the primary culprit in many shark attacks. This places the bull shark in the number two spot on our list, as they are an incredibly deadly species with the capacity to harm and kill humans with ease.

The great white shark (world's deadliest species of shark).

The great white shark (world's deadliest species of shark).

1. Great White Shark

  • Average Size: 11 to 13 feet (males); 15 to 16 feet (females)
  • Geographical Range: Coastal Regions of All Major Oceans
  • Conservation Status: “Vulnerable” (Population Threatened)

The great white shark (also known as the “great white,” “white pointer,” or “white shark”) is a large species of mackerel shark from the Lamnidae family. Considered one of the largest sharks in the world, this species is also the most dangerous due to its incredible size, aggressiveness, and speed. The great white can be found worldwide, and spends most of its time near coastal waters (placing it in direct contact with humans on a regular basis).

Aside from their tremendous size, they can be easily identified by their conical snout, large tail fin, as well as their contrasting white and grey coloration. As of October 2021, they are currently listed by the IUCN as a “vulnerable” species, with their population figures continuing to suffer dramatic declines each passing year.

From within their natural habitats, the great white shark is classified as an apex predator. Their primary source of food includes tuna, stingrays, smaller sharks, as well as cetaceans (which include dolphins, porpoises, and the occasional whale). They also regularly feed on seals and sea lions (pinnipeds), various sea turtles, as well as sea birds.

As with many sharks, however, the great white is an opportunistic feeder and will consume nearly anything that crosses its path in order to stave off hunger and survive. In regard to predation, only a few animals are capable of preying on the great white. These include larger great white sharks as well as the occasional killer whale.

Danger to Humans

To date, the great white shark is considered the deadliest shark in the world due to the large number of bites (documented and undocumented) that it has inflicted on humans. As of 2021, over 314 shark attacks have been attributed to the great white shark, giving it a decisive edge over other species on this list. Of these attacks, 74 have resulted in human deaths.

Experts are quick to point out, however, that additional attacks from this species are likely, but remain undocumented due to a lack of direct observation and record-keeping worldwide. Nevertheless, with an ability to exert 4,000 PSI of bite force, this is a shark that should be avoided at all costs. For these reasons, the great white shark is easily the most dangerous (and deadly) species of shark in the world!

Works Cited

Articles/Books:

  • Slawson, Larry. “Great White Sharks.” Owlcation. 2019.
  • The University of Florida. International Shark Attack File. “Species Implicated in Attacks: 1580-Present.” 2021.
  • Tricas, Timothy, Kevin Deacon, Peter Last, John E. McCosker, Terence I. Walker, and Leighton Taylor. The Nature Company Guides: Sharks & Rays. Sydney, Australia: Weldon Own Pty Limited, 1997.

Images/Photographs:

  • Pixabay Commons
  • Wikimedia Commons

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.

© 2021 Larry Slawson

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