By: Daniel Norwood
Shark ecotourism is more popular now than ever before, and the number of destinations where it is possible to swim with sharks in their natural habitat continues to grow. Here’s a list of the 10 most charismatic and iconic shark species and the best places to currently encounter them.
1. Caribbean Reef Shark
Geographical Distribution: Tropical western Atlantic and Caribbean, from North California to Brazil
Being the most common shark on or near coral reefs in the Caribbean, this species prefers shallow areas and is often found close to drop-offs on the outer edges of coral reefs. They are also the most economically important species in the entire region, responsible for 93.7 percent of the total revenue generated in the Bahamas.
Fun fact: These sharks can use the buccal (or cheek) muscles to pump water through their mouths and over their gills. Hence, they don’t have to constantly swim to breathe.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Caribbean Reef Shark is Near Threatened
Geographic Distribution: Continental coasts of all tropical and subtropical seas worldwide; Western Atlantic: Massachusetts, USA to Argentina; Eastern Atlantic: Morocco, Senegal to Angola; Indo-Pacific: Kenya and South Africa to India, Vietnam to Australia; southern Baja California, Mexico to Ecuador and possibly occurring in Peru
Usually found close to shore in shallow water, it is the only wide-ranging shark that is able to survive for extended periods in both saltwater and freshwater environments. Some places to reliably encounter them include Fiji, Playa Del Carmen in Mexico and Costa Rica.
Fun fact: Bull sharks are one of the few cartilaginous fish able to swim between salt and freshwater with ease as they possess several organs with which to maintain the appropriate salt and water balance in their body.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Bull Shark is Near Threatened
Geographical Distribution: Throughout the world’s temperate and tropical seas except the Mediterranean; Western Atlantic: Massachusetts, USA to Uruguay, including Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean; Eastern Atlantic: Iceland to Angola; Indo-Pacific: Persian Gulf, Red Sea and East Africa to Hawaii and Tahiti, north to southern Japan, south to New Zealand; Eastern Pacific: Southern California, USA to Peru, including the Revillagigedo, Cocos, and Galápagos islands
This shark prefers murky waters in coastal areas and is commonly found in river estuaries and harbours. Despite being one of the most dangerous sharks, it is possible to safely dive with this species. Tiger Beach in Bahamas is well known for up close and reliable encounters with large numbers of tiger sharks.
Fun fact: They have the most diverse diet of any shark species and is known to consume a variety of different marine life ranging from bony fishes and even rays. Their willingness to eat almost anything means they often consume garbage of human origin.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Tiger Shark is Near Threatened
4.Great White Shark
Geographical Distribution: This shark is primarily a coastal and offshore inhabitant of continental shelves in temperate waters between 12 and 24 degrees Celsius; Western Atlantic: North Carolina to Uruguay including the gulf of Mexico and Caribbean regions; Eastern Atlantic: Morocco to Senegal including the Mediterranean Sea; Indo-Pacific: Ryukyu Islands to Australia, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and from southern Baja California to Peru; Eastern Pacific: Southern Baja to south Peru
This apex predator spends long periods in coastal areas, where it hunts fishes and marine mammals. Beware of its large size and propensity for large prey. But, it is possible to come face to face with them from the safety of a steel cage.
Fun fact: The film Jaws by Steven Spielberg depicted the great white as a ferocious man-eater that targets humans, and made millions of people scared to go in the water for fear of being attacked. Later in life, Benchley came to regret writing the book as he realised it encouraged excessive fear and exploitation of such an important ocean predator. He then became an outspoken advocate for marine conservation and sharks.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Great White Shark is Vulnerable
Geographical Distribution: Found in all tropical and warm temperate seas except the Mediterranean with two major subpopulations, one in the Atlantic Ocean and the other in the Indo–Pacific
Typically seen offshore, they have been found closer to land, entering lagoons and coral atolls. Though encounters are possible while scuba diving, the best way to encounter these gentle giants is to snorkel with them at the surface in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, where hundreds of individuals gather seasonally to feed on spawning bonito eggs.
Fun fact: One of only three known filter feeding species, the whale shark survives ona diet of planktonic and nektonic prey. It feeds by swimming with its huge mouth open through nutrient rich water and capturing large quantities of zoo-and phytoplankton, krill and roe.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Great White Shark is Endangered
6.Giant Hammerhead Shark
Geographical Distribution: This species inhabits tropical and warm temperate waters around the world; Western Atlantic: North Carolina to Uruguay including the gulf of Mexico and Caribbean regions; Eastern Atlantic: Morocco to Senegal including the Mediterranean Sea; Indo-Pacific: Ryukyu Islands to Australia, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia, and from southern Baja California to Peru; Eastern Pacific: Southern Baja to South Peru
Hammerheads are highly migratory species that favour coral reefs but also inhabit continental shelves, lagoons and deep-water wells offshore. They normally avoid human interaction until recently when a provisioning site was established in Bimini, the Bahamas.
Fun fact: The great hammerhead has a large hammer-shaped head called a cephalofoil from which it gets its common name. The underside of the head is covered with numerous pores used to scan the seabed and detect the electrical impulses of its favourite food, stingrays. The cephalofoil also serves as a hydrofoil that allows the shark to turn quickly when hunting, and is sometimes used to hit its prey and stun it before taking the first bite
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Great Hammerhead Shark is Endangered
Geographical Distribution: With a worldwide distribution in both temperate and tropical waters, blue sharks roam the vast expanse of the open ocean and are highly migratory; Western Atlantic: Newfoundland, Canada to Argentina; Eastern Atlantic: Norway to South Africa including the Mediterranean; Indo-West Pacific: East Africa to Indonesia, Japan, Australia, New Caledonia, and New Zealand; Eastern Pacific: Gulf of Alaska to Chile
This oceanic shark is sometimes found close inshore when the continental shelf is narrow. Although they prefer to stay at the depth, blue sharks can be attracted to the surface with bait. It may take hours of waiting patiently before they arrive, but when they do, they will normally stay around the boat for hours and investigate divers very closely.
Fun fact: The blue shark takes its name from its distinctive indigo blue colour on the top of its body that gradually becomes lighter towards the edges and bright white on the ventral side. This contrast in colours is known as countershading, and provides camouflage for the shark in the open ocean.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Blue Shark is Near Threatened
Geographical Distribution: This species has a worldwide distribution in both tropical and temperate oceans; Western Atlantic: Gulf of Maine to southern Brazaik and Argentina including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean; Eastern Atlantic: Norway to South Africa, including the Mediterranean; Indo-Pacific: East Africa to Hawaii, north to Primorskiy Kray (Russia), south to Australia and New Zealand; Eastern Pacific: South of Aleutian Islands and from southern California, USA to Chile
A pelagic species that is normally found far offshore, it can occasionally be found closer to land around islands and inlets. The mako is a highly sought-after species, especially for underwater photographers and videographers, but encounters with this shark are rare and often short-lived.
Fun fact: The fastest of all sharks, and capable of attaining speeds of up to 32 kilometres per hour, the mako holds the speed record for long distance travel, with one species recorded travelling 2130 kilometres in just 37 days – am average distance of 58 kilometres per day! It is also capable of leaping high out of the water when attacking prey or when trying to escape the hooks of sport fishermen.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Mako Shark is Vulnerable.
9.Pelagic Thresher Shark
Geographic Distribution: Found in warm and temperate offshore waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, but reliable records are lacking partly due to its confusion with the other thresher shark species; Indo-Pacific: the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, Maldives, Somalia, South Africa, Western Australia. China. Taiwan, Japan, new Caledonia, Hawaiian Islands and Tahiti; Eastern Pacific: Gulf of California and the Galapagos
The pelagic thresher shark is an elusive deep water species that avoids humans and are therefore very difficult to encounter. The only place where it is common to see this species and that is in Malapascua in the Philippines. Divers need to be in the water early, as the sharks are most often seen at sunrise when they appear from the depths to visit a cleaning station known as Monad Shoal.
Fun fact: Thresher sharks have been identified as having a modified circulatory system that acts as a counter-current heat exchanger. This structure is a strip of red muscle along each of its flanks, which has a tight network of blood vessels that transfer metabolic heat inward towards the core of the shark, allowing it to maintain and regulate its body heat.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Pelagic Thresher Shark is Vulnerable.
10.Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Geographical Distribution: This shark can be found in all tropical and warm temperate seas; Western Atlantic: Maine, USA to Argentina, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean; Eastern Atlantic: Portugal to Gulf of Guinea; possibly occurring in the Mediterranean; Indo-Pacific: Red Sea and East Africa to the Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahiti and Tuamotu islands; Eastern Pacific: Southern California, USA to Peru, including the Galápagos
Solitary and slow moving, it is often accompanied by pilot fish, remoras and dolphinfish and is occasionally seen travelling with groups of pilot whales. With encounters with them being rare, Cat Island in the Bahamas or the southern red Sea are the best places to see this species. Participants must be comfortable diving in the open ocean, ideally having previous experience swimming with sharks.
Fun fact: They are opportunistic and competitive hunters and will often approach divers and investigate them closely. They are known to target the victims of air and sea disasters, and are suspected to be guilty of many unrecorded human fatalities. They are considered one of the most dangerous of all sharks species.
According to IUCN Red List, the conservation status of the Ocean Whitetip Shark is Vulnerable.