Top 3 Shark Attack Species

What Shark Species Are Most Likely to Attack?

Of the hundreds of shark species, there are 3 most often implicated in unprovoked shark attacks on humans. These three species are dangerous largely because of their size and tremendous jaw power. Learn more about these three species, and how you can prevent a shark attack.

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Great White Shark
Great White Shark. Keith Flood/E+/Getty Images

White sharks, also known as great white sharks, are the #1 shark species that cause unprovoked shark attacks on humans. These sharks are the species made infamous by the movie Jaws.

According to the International Shark Attack File, white sharks were responsible for 314 unprovoked shark attacks from 1580-2015. Of these, 80 were fatal.

Although they aren't the largest shark, they are among the most powerful.  They have stout bodies that are about 10-15 feet long on average, and they can weigh up to about 4,200 pounds. Their coloration might make them one of the more easily recognizable large sharks. White sharks have a steel gray back and white underside, and large black eyes.

White sharks generally eat marine mammals such as pinnipeds and toothed whales, and occasionally sea turtles. They tend to investigate their prey by a surprise attack and release prey that is unpalatable. A white shark attack on a human, therefore, isn't always fatal.

White sharks are found generally in pelagic waters, although they do sometimes come close to shore. In the U.S., they are found off both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. More »

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Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark, Bahamas
Tiger Shark, Bahamas. Dave Fleetham / Design Pics / Getty Images

Tiger sharks get their name from the dark bars and spots that run along their side. They have a dark gray, black or bluish-green back and a light underside. They are a large shark and are capable of growing up to about 18 feet in length and a weight of about 2,000 pounds.

Tiger sharks are #2 on the list of sharks most likely to attack. The International Shark Attack File lists the tiger shark as responsible for 111 unprovoked shark attacks, 31 of which were fatal.

Tiger sharks will eat just about anything although their preferred prey includes sea turtles, rays, fish (including bony fish and other shark species), sea birds, cetaceans (i.e., dolphins), squid, and crustaceans.

Tiger sharks are found 

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Bull Shark

Bull Shark
Bull Shark. Alexander Safonov / Getty Images

Bull sharks are large sharks that prefer shallow waters less than 100 feet deep. They are often found in murky waters. This is a perfect recipe for shark attacks, as bull sharks prefer habitats where humans are swimming, wading or fishing.

The International Shark Attack File lists bull sharks as the species with the third-highest number of unprovoked shark attacks, with 100 unprovoked attacks (27 fatal) from 1580-2010.

Bull sharks grow to a length of about 11.5 feet and can weigh up to about 500 pounds. Females are larger on average than males. Bull sharks have gray back and sides, a white underside, large first dorsal fin and pectoral fins, and small eyes for their size. Less keen eyesight is another reason why they may confuse humans with more tasty prey.

Although they eat a wide variety of prey types, humans aren't really on the bull sharks' list of preferred prey. Their target prey is usually fish (both bony fish, and sharks and rays). They will also eat crustaceans, sea turtles, cetaceans (such as dolphins), and squid.

In the U.S., bull sharks are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico and in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

Signs warn about shark sightings
Sign warning about shark sightings. Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Preventing shark attacks involves some common sense and a little knowledge of shark behavior. To avoid a shark attack, don't swim alone, during dark or twilight hours, near fishermen or seals, or too far offshore. Also, don't swim wearing shiny jewelry. Click here for more tips. More »

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "Top 3 Shark Attack Species." ThoughtCo, Jun. 27, 2017, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2017, June 27). Top 3 Shark Attack Species. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "Top 3 Shark Attack Species." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 21, 2018).