Top 3 Shark Attack Species

Tight Lipped Grin
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Of the hundreds of shark species, there are three most often responsible for unprovoked shark attacks on humans: white, tiger, and bull sharks. These three species are dangerous largely because of their size and tremendous bite power. 

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.

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White Shark

Great White Shark
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White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias), also known as great white sharks, are the number one 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 to 15 feet long (3 to 4.6 meters) on average, and they can weigh up to about 4,200 pounds (1,905 kilograms). Their coloration might make them one of the more easily recognizable large sharks. White sharks have a steel-gray back and white underside as well as large black eyes.

White sharks generally eat marine mammals such as pinnipeds (such as seals) and toothed whales. They occasionally eat sea turtles as well. They tend to investigate their prey with 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, or open, waters, although they do sometimes come close to shore. In the United States, they are found off both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark, Bahamas
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Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) get their name from the dark bars and spots that run along their sides as juveniles. 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 (5.5 meters) in length and weighing about 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms).

Tiger sharks are second 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), seabirds, cetaceans (such as dolphins), squid, and crustaceans.

Tiger sharks are found in both coastal and open waters, especially in the tropical waters of the Pacific and other tropical and subtropical ocean areas.

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Bull Shark

Bull Shark
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Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are large sharks that prefer shallow, murky waters less than 100 feet deep. This is a perfect recipe for shark attacks, as these habitats are where humans swim, wade, or fish.

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

Bull sharks grow to a length of about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) and can weigh up to about 500 pounds (227 kilograms). 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 these sharks eat a wide variety of food, humans aren't really on bull sharks' list of preferred prey. Their target prey is usually fish (both bony fish as well as sharks and rays). They will also eat crustaceans, sea turtles, cetaceans (i.e., dolphins and whales), and squid.

In the United States, 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.

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "Top 3 Shark Attack Species." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2021, September 9). Top 3 Shark Attack Species. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "Top 3 Shark Attack Species." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).

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