Known for its sun-soaked shores, mesmerizing black sands, colorful coral reefs, and epic swell, Bali is a mecca for sea lovers. Thousands of tourists flock to the island of the Gods for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing every year, but you might be wondering, are there sharks in Bali?
Part of Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands, Bali is sandwiched between the Bali Sea to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south. With volcanic beaches, crystal clear waters, and wild waves comes a diverse array of marine life, and among these creatures, a number of shark species.
There are over 100 different species of shark in Indonesia and most of them can be found in Bali’s waters, but do any pose a threat to humans? If you want to know what’s circling your scuba boat or lurking below your surfboard in the Uluwatu waves, check out our list of 9 shark species that you can find in Bali. Let’s get into it.
Blacktip Reef Shark
Easily distinguishable by their dark-tipped fins, blacktip reef sharks, or oceanic blacktips, are among the most common sharks in Bali and the Indian Ocean on the whole. They can be found all around the Nusa Dua and Padang Bai reefs in Bali as well as swimming off the Uluwatu peninsula.
Although they can become aggressive around food, blacktip reef sharks are usually very timid and wary of humans. Still, they frequent sandy shallows of less than 10 feet, hence why they’re so often spotted by surfers and divers. They can also enter brackish, freshwater environments and mangrove ecosystems.
Blacktip reef sharks can reach a length of just over five feet, and while reserved, they have been known to attack out of fear or from confusing humans for prey as they regularly approach beaches. Still, there’s nothing to worry about and they pose no real threat. Blacktip reef sharks have been responsible for just 11 unprovoked bites globally since 1959.
Whitetip Reef Shark
Similarly characterized by their light-tipped fins, whitetips are roughly the same length as blacktips but slightly slimmer. They’re even timider than blacktips and rather than posing a threat to humans, their populations are under threat from us, with unregulated fishing and habitat loss causing a decline in numbers.
Whitetip reef sharks dwell in shallow waters between 20 and 100 feet and tend to spend time on the seafloor and in the cracks of coral reefs. They reach a medium size of five feet and are close relatives of spotted sharks and blackfin coral sharks.
They have been known to investigate divers and swimmers closely, although they are not territorial and live harmoniously with other sharks, rarely migrating. Whitetips could attack spearfishers if they feel their catch is being threatened, but this is unlikely. They’re spotted all over Bali, particularly off the reefs of Padang Bai and the Nusas.
Grey Reef Shark
A species of requiem shark, grey reef sharks are among the most common species in the Indo-Pacific and they’re found as far west as South Africa and as far east as Easter Island. Often spotted in shallow water near drop-offs or coral reefs, grey reef sharks frequent the waters around Bali and Lombok and are easy to distinguish with their streamlined grey bodies, pronounced gills, blunt snouts, and round eyes.
They reach similar average lengths as blacktip and whitetip reef sharks of four to five feet, but males can exceed eight feet. Grey reef sharks are also considered one of the more aggressive species and have been responsible for a number of attacks on humans. According to the International Shark Attack Files, there have been eight confirmed shark bites by grey reef sharks in recent decades, one of which was fatal.
Grey reef sharks will typically only show aggression when they feel threatened. They do tend to swim the ocean in groups, so keep a distance if you see a pack of these formidable predators. They prey on bony fish, cephalopods like squid and octopus, and crustaceans such as crab and lobster. They populate shallow reefs and steep wall dives.
Indonesian Angel Shark
Resembling rays more than reef sharks, Indonesian angel sharks are native to the deep waters around Java, Bali, and the Lesser Sunda Isles. They are a very rare species known only from a few specimens collected from fish landing sights in Indonesia. Their habit of remaining perfectly still makes them hard to distinguish on the seabed.
Angel sharks are common in the Pacific and the western British Isles and have been known to be aggressive towards divers. Although, there are no reported encounters with Indonesian angel sharks in Bali, and this subspecies is thought to be very timid.
Angel sharks might resemble stingrays with their flat bodies and long pelvic and pectoral fins, but unlike rays, they use their long fins to steer and glide themselves along the seafloor. Angel shark populations are endangered all over the world, specifically in Indonesia, where the remaining numbers are unknown. If you’re lucky enough to spot this unique creature in Bali, it will only be on deep-sea dives, far from the coast.
Another species known for its unusual shape, thresher sharks are found in all temperate and tropical oceans of the world. They populate the Indo-Pacific in large numbers and can be found in coastal and ocean waters off Bali.
With its long upper caudal fin, which is typically equal to the length of its body, this big fish is hard to miss. Thresher sharks also have wide-set eyes with curved heads and no deep grooves on the nape of their necks.
Thresher sharks are shy and difficult to approach. Divers report little aggression when encountering these sharks but some measures should be taken, considering their large size. They grow slowly but can reach up to 20 feet in length across their 20 to 50-year lifespan. There has been one documented attack on a human, but it was provoked by the individual grabbing ahold of the shark’s tail.
They eat small fish and squid and can be spotted swinging their long tails in the waters off Amed and Nusa Penida. Listed on the IUCN Red List, thresher shark populations are under threat due to high demand for their meat and fins, and in Indonesia, they are the second-most landed shark species.
Grey Sharpnose Shark
A requiem shark of the Carcharhinidae family, the grey sharpnose is found all over the Indo-West Pacific from Japan to Indonesia and from the surface to depths of 40 meters. Reaching just two feet on average, this small shark has a grey or brownish-grey body, pale underside, bronze fins, and a pointed, sometimes upturned, snout.
Found on continental and insular shelves in tropical inshore and offshore waters, they are a regularly landed shark in Bali, mainly down to their small size meaning they often get accidentally entangled in fishing nets.
They’re not known to attack humans and are too small to pose a threat. Although, they can act aggressively if they feel threatened by divers. Still, there are no recorded bites from grey sharpnose sharks in Bali.
So-called for their unusual and distinctive head structures, hammerhead sharks use their unique anatomy to detect and catch their next meal, equipped with electrical receptors that can sense prey even if it is hidden in the sand.
Hammerhead sharks can be found in water all over Southeast Asia, specifically in the Coral Triangle which comprises Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Phillippines. Bali has recently emerged as a destination to spot these incredible creatures and you can dive with them in Nusa Lembongan and Amed where they school during the day.
Hammerheads turn into elusive and solitary hunters by night, with their laterally flattened, “hammer” shaped heads, called cephalopods, helping them swish sideways through the water. Attacks on humans are extremely rare and they are safe for divers in open waters, most of the time. However, they are aggressive hunters and can be defensive if provoked.
This species reaches an average length of 13 feet and can weigh over 500 pounds. The longest hammerhead ever recorded was 20 feet, weighing almost 1,000 pounds. They might frequent Asia’s seas and be one of the most iconic shark species, but they’re listed as vulnerable by the IUCN as a result of overfishing and demands for their fins, an expensive delicacy.
Also known as the Bali Cat, Dogfish, or Dwarf Catshark, this small shark is only found around reef crevices and holes, feeding on small invertebrates and lying low to the seafloor. As the name implies, this subspecies of catshark is found only off Bali’s coasts and very little is known about it.
Discovered in 2005, sightings are rare but they can be spotted in shallow waters and reef drop-offs. The Bali catshark can grow to around one and a half feet and is easily recognizable by its unique coloring in comparison to other members of the species. Instead of distinctive white spots, characteristic of catsharks, the Bali catshark has dark brown patches and no highlights on its dorsal fins.
Cat sharks are found in all major marine environments, and although they’re harmless and non-aggressive, individual catsharks are thought to have different personality traits. Still, there have been no recorded attacks on humans, unless you count accidental nibbles when seeking food from divers.
Great White Shark
Up until the last few years, great whites in Bali were unheard of. They are a cold-water species so their presence in Indonesia is thought unlikely. However, multiple suspected sightings have been recorded off the coast of Bali in recent years, and while they are not documented in Indonesia, their global distribution does include tropical waters and the species is well-documented both north and south of the country.
They might be cold-blooded, but great whites have specialized vessels designed to allow them to hunt in cold and warm water. Changes in currents mean this predator could migrate to the warm Indian Ocean, or be seen in passing. This was the suspected case when a group of divers in Nusa Lembongan came across a five-meter Lamnid species, the same order that great whites and mackerel sharks belong to. Although, positive identification can be hard.
The great white shark has the most notorious reputation for posing the biggest threat to humans of all shark species. They are the most aggressive shark in the world with 333 attacks recorded, 52 of them being fatal. Still, they don’t prey on human flesh on purpose but rather often mistake them for seals as a result of their poor eyesight.
They may be great, but they reach similar sizes as hammerheads and thresher sharks, with an average length of 13 to 20 feet.
Are shark attacks common in Bali?
Shark attacks are very rare in Bali, and although there are large numbers of white-tipped and blacktip sharks, none of the five aggressive species of shark frequent Indonesia’s waters. There have been a total of five shark attacks in the island’s waters since 1990, all of which occurred in the small surfing village of Uluwatu on the west coast. None of these attacks were fatal.
Is it safe to swim in Bali?
When it comes to sharks, Bali’s beaches are perfectly safe for swimming. The reef sharks aren’t found at shallow swimming depths, and if they are, they are non-aggressive and will avoid humans. However, the Indian Ocean can pose some other challenges when it comes to getting in the water. Strong undercurrents, wild waves, and poor water quality can make swimming at some of Bali’s most popular beaches less than desirable. Never ignore safety signs and red flags placed at the beach, even during peak season. Bali is a surfer’s paradise for a reason.