Are There Sharks In Thailand? 7 Land Of Smiles Species

are there sharks in Thailand

Are there sharks in Thailand? Of course there are sharks in Thailand! This country is divided between the bath-warm waters of the Andaman Sea and the sunny Thai Gulf. It’s got 3,150 kilometers of coastline in all, a whole host of celebrated marine reserves, and one of the highest rates of marine biodiversity in Asia. What did you expect?

The good news is that shark attacks in Thailand are very, very rare indeed. The best stats we’ve got to show there’s been just a handful of unprovoked attacks in the Land of Smiles since the late 60s, only two of which have proved deadly to the victims. Compare that to say, the United States, where there’s something in the region of 40 shark attacks every single year!

Anyway…back to Thailand. Sunny beaches and palm-threaded islands, salt-washed reggae bars and idyllic beach resorts keep many a traveler returning to the shores of this balmy country each year. That’s why we thought we’d put together this guide to answer “are there sharks in Thailand?” And answer it with some specific details about seven of the species you can find in local waters at that…

Blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus)

Blacktip reef shark
Photo by David Clode/Unsplash

Many experts think that the blacktip reef shark was the culprit in one of the most recently recorded shark attacks in Thailand, which took place on the sandy beachfronts of western Phuket back in 2022. Thankfully, the incident didn’t end fatally, but only because the would-be victim – a boy of just eight years old, no less – managed to fend off his attacker by kicking and screaming!

Known to reside all throughout the coastal reaches of the Indian Ocean and especially in the Thai Andaman Sea, blacktip reef sharks are among the most commonly seen type of requiem shark in coral reef systems around the globe. They are medium-sized animals that grow to around 1.6 meters and are noticeable, just as the name implies, by the distinct black dash that covers the top of their dorsal fins.

Scientists say that this species is usually very timid and reserved; unwilling to enter into aggressive contact with humans. However, they will attack if provoked and, because they’re regularly spotted in diving locations and in the shallow areas close to major beaches, incidents happen more often than with other deep-water shark species.

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

bull shark
Photo by Malek Bee/Unsplash

The feared bull shark is probably the shark you should worry about most when you paddle out into the bays of Koh Samui or Koh Phangan. These aggressive critters of the underwater world have been recorded in Thailand and are known to live all throughout the gulf part of the country, a region that includes all the holidaying meccas on the eastern side of Thailand.

Bull sharks are big. They can hit 2.5 meters or more in length at full adulthood and weigh in at nearly 100kg apiece. They’re noticeably stout in appearance, with a thick-set body that tapers to a blunt nose and a shovel-like head. If you get a glimpse of the teeth (and we hope you don’t!), you’ll notice rows of serrated chompers that recall dagger blades. They’re backed up by the strongest bite force of any shark, anywhere. Yikes!

What really sets bull sharks apart from the crowd is the fact that they have good tolerance for freshwater and brackish habitats. They are known to regularly swim into estuaries and even miles up riverways. In Thailand, that brings them very close to the shoreline and often into the vicinity of popular beach towns and resorts.

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)

Whale shark in Thailand
Photo by Alain BERGER/Pixabay

Many a diver has an encounter with a whale shark close to the top of their bucket list. These great grazers of the ocean are among the largest fish species on the planet and one seriously majestic beast. They are also 100% harmless to humans, dining – as they do – on nothing butt plankton and krill.

There are better places than Thailand to go if you’re determined to swim with whale sharks – Oslob in the Philippines and whole of the Maldives come to mind. However, those vacationing in the Land of Smiles looking to meet the great giants of the underwater world could do well dropping by the diving meccas of Koh Tao and Koh Samui, where they’ll sometimes be found feeding close to key sites.

Size is the headline story here. Rhincodon typus can grow to a mighty 12 meters from fin to nose and have a mouth span alone that’s over 1.5 meters from end to end. That makes this one by far the largest non-whale animal on the planet! Pretty cool, eh?

Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Tiger shark
Photo by Gerald Schömbs/Unsplash

Although now listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, the tiger shark remains one of the most common shark species found in Thailand. In fact, they don’t just have a presence in the home of Muay fighting and sticky mango rice, but also all over the Indian Ocean, from Sri Lanka all the way to the coast of Madagascar.

They get their name from the distinct set of dark black and brown stripes that run down the flanks of their torso. They are HUGE sharks, capable of growing to a whopping 4.5 meters in length and weighing over a ton in all. That makes them the third largest shark species going!

Tigers are known to be particularly aggressive towards humans. That’s not so much down to their nature as it is their chosen hunting grounds, which have a big crossover with where humans tend to like to go when on the coast – think sandy reefs and harbor areas.

Grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos)

Grey reef shark
Photo by David Clode/Unsplash

The mid-sized grey reef shark has a geographical range that means you’ll find it on the northern shores of Australia all the way to the islands of Hawaii. And Thailand just about squeezes in there, too – the Land of Smiles marks the northwesternmost territory of this endangered requiem shark.

Famed for their elegant, slim-look body formation and darkened back fins, the white highlight on their dorsal fin, and long, narrow snouts, these guys typically grow to no more than two meters in length.

Their chosen habitat is the area that hovers between shallow reef gardens and the steep drop-off into the open ocean. There, they’ll often hunt for sailfish and octopi, though there have also been recorded incidents of groups of up to 30 reef sharks chasing much larger prey. In Thailand, you’ll most likely spot these guys swimming in the gulf, but they are also present on the Andaman side of the country.

Great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)

Hammerhead shark
Photo by David Clode/Unsplash

Yep, though rare, the strange and UFO-like great hammerhead shark can be found in Thailand. The creature is known to reside in the warmer waters of the upper Indian Ocean, and throughout the whole of the Thai Gulf, from Hua Hin in the west to the islands that dot the Cambodian border to the east.

That’s not all that great news for divers and swimmers, since the great hammerhead is a key culprit when it comes to unprovoked attacks on humans. They have huge, very sharp teeth and aren’t usually scared to take down larger prey such as stingrays and big fish.

There’s no missing one of these guys. Look out for the oddly protruding head shape that puts the eyes almost a foot out from the main forehead. The mouth – the bit that does all the damage – is concealed well below that. Great hammerheads can grow up to 3.5 meters in length and weigh a quarter of a ton.

Whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus)

Whitetip reef shark
Photo by joakant/Pixabay

Don’t confuse the whitetip reef shark with its much-bigger bro, the blacktip reef shark (see above). These guys are positively minuscule compared to their compadres, and hardly pose any danger to human life. They’re also common customers to the Indo-Pacific region, seen regularly in rocky reefs and coral gardens close to the shores of countries as diverse as Thailand and the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.

You can recognize a whitetip from its face first and foremost. They have dull, glazed eyes set on the sides of a blunt, broad head, with a lower lip that’s pulled back from the upper to expose double rows of small teeth.

As we’ve mentioned, whitetip reef sharks aren’t deadly to humans but they have been known to attack us. However, incidents usually occur when the shark comes into contact with divers or snorkelers. There have also been incidents associated with spear fishers, since whitetips are known to attempt to steal catches right off the spear itself!

Are there sharks in Thailand? Our conclusion

Are there sharks in Thailand? There sure are! Many of the most famous oceanic and coastal species of shark that inhabit Asia and the Indo-Pacific region also make their home in the fabled Land of Smiles. Many aren’t considered all that dangerous to humans, such as the whitetip reef shark and the colossal whale shark. However, there are some that could pose a threat, like the bull shark and the blacktip reef shark.

Joseph

For more than 11 years, Joe has worked as a freelance travel writer. His writing and explorations have brought him to various locations, including the colonial towns of Mexico, the bustling chowks of Mumbai, and the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not crafting his next epic blog post on the top Greek islands or French ski resorts, he can often be found engaging in his top two hobbies of surfing and hiking.

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