Are there sharks in Italy? Buckle in pizza lovers and Tuscan wine buffs, for the answer to that question is one big, fat, mozzarella-doused, passata-covered yes. Sadly, the boot of southern Europe is home to something like 47 individual shark species, which live between the western and the eastern Mediterranean Sea that surrounds the country on three sides.
For the most part, that 47 isn’t dangerous. However, Italy has seen its fair share of shark attacks in the last 100 years – there have been 15 recorded attacks on humans since 1950 in these parts. Plus, there are regular closures of beaches thanks to shark sightings during the spring and summer months. Sorry, but the upshot here is that you might not be quite as safe on the sands of Italia, gelato in hand and sun spray at the ready, as you originally thought you were!
This guide will home in on just a handful of the types of sharks that could be found in the warm and sparkling waters around Italy. It’s got a nod towards the beast of the ocean, the great white (yep, they could make an appearance on your Mediterranean adventure!), but also sections on more common European shark species like the blue shark and the thresher. Let’s begin…
Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
There’s no more feared a marine animal than the great white shark. A veritable swimming monster of the seas, this one’s the creature that’s been responsible for the most deaths of any of the animals on this list. Yep, records show that 333 attacks on humans have been perpetrated by these guys since those records began, with over 50 resulting in fatalities. They’ve even been known to attack whole boats!
And just when you were thinking that there’s no way that the formidable Carcharodon carcharias exists in the home of risotto rice. Think again. Scientists have recently outlined how the Strait of Sicily in southern Italy is actually a breeding hotspot for these kings of the deep. It’s thought that large numbers of them come and go throughout the year thanks to the region’s huge tuna populations that provide ample food and sustenance.
That’s borne out by a history of sightings and more. In fact, there’s evidence from ancient paintings and murals that date back to Roman times that fishing folk were being attacked by great whites in the Med around Sicily at least 2,000 years back. Specimens of great whites were also fished from Italian waters in the first decade of the 1900s, hauntingly with human remains said to be in their belly! What’s more, there have been numerous beach closures in southern Italy on account of reported great white sightings.
It’s certainly not surprising that this type of shark makes its home in the Med. They’re highly adaptive and versatile sharks that are known to live in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. They’re also an apex predator at the top of their food chain. Difficult to miss, great whites can clock up lengths of five meters and weigh in at over five tons. Yikes!
Blue shark (Prionace glauca)
If you were going to spot any sort of shark in Italy, then the chances are it would be a blue shark. Why? These guys are thought to be the most common and populous shark in the whole of the Mediterranean basin. Numbering in the thousands, they are often spotted along the French Cote d’Azur and the Italian Riviera, around Sicily and Sardinia, regularly causing beach closures and red-flag warnings.
True to their name, blue sharks really are blue. They have a deep navy-like coloring on the top of their body, leading to a lighter shade of whitish blue on the underbelly. They’re a medium-sized species that typically grows to just a touch over three meters at full adulthood, weighing no more than 200kgs. Males are much smaller than the females of the species, coming it at almost half the size.
Blue sharks can be dangerous to humans, but incidents are extremely rare. In almost 500 years, it’s thought that the blue shark has only bitten around 13 people, killing under five in total. On the flip side, they have been heavily commercialized by us. They are now fished for their meat and fins, and sometimes sought by sport fishers who prize them for their velocity and agility in the water.
Grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus)
The grey nurse shark is probably the most endangered type of Italian shark you’ll find on this list. Now listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, their numbers have been decimated in recent years due to overfishing on account of their highly prized nature. Grey nurse sharks are sold as meat in various Asian and African nations, but also seen as a source of liver oil and shark fins, particularly in Japan. Add to that a relatively low reproductive rate and it’s easy to see why their numbers are dipping so severely.
Today, the waters of western Italy, from the Ligurian Sea to the join with the Ionian Sea in the south remain one of the last strongholds of the creature. There are also populations to be found in the protected Adriatic Sea on the eastern side of the boot. From there, they also live around the warm-water beaches of southern Spain and along the African Mediterranean Coast from Tunisia to Morocco.
Also known as sand tiger shark, this one’s a relatively small specimen of swimmer. They grow to about three meters maximum but retain a slender body profile that keeps them swift in the water and light to boot – fully grown adults are typically under 100kgs. They’re recognizable on account of their pointed head and upturned snout. They usually live in shallower waters around river estuaries and rocky reefs.
Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus)
The porbeagle shark is a bit different to the large requiem sharks listed here in that it’s a mackerel shark. It also looks a touch different, coming in at just under 2.5 meters in most cases and weighing no more than 150kgs in the largest of specimens. It’s noticeable for its distinctly stout body, which thickens to a bulky midsection before tapering quickly out to the fins and the snout. The coloring is metallic silver with a white undersection.
These guys are mainly known as the colonists of the far North Atlantic and the far South Pacific. They tend to reside out on the edges of the continental shelf, hunting unsuspecting small fish and smaller shark species. However, there have been recorded sightings of them in shallower waters and – here’s the kicker for those on the lookout for sharks in Italy – inside the Mediterranean.
Often misidentified as the fast-swimming shortfin mako shark, porbeagles are known to be potentially dangerous to humans. However, attacks are thought to be VERY rare – there are only three recorded attacks in history! Again, the same can’t be said in the other direction, since humans have fished these guys to near extinction in the past in certain regions. They continue to be fished today, too, mainly for their meat, and are officially listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.
Common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus)
The common thresher shark has done so well in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea that it can now even be found way up in the even-warmer Black Sea. It resides all around the region, from the shores of Andalusia to the islands of the Greek Aegean. Italy is there, too, smack dab in the middle of its range. Comfortable in both the deep ocean and the shallower reaches of the shoreline, they can often be seen near to beaches and coves, particularly younger members of the species.
A defining feature of a common thresher shark is the outline of its body. These guys posses one of the longest back fins in the whole of the shark world. In some cases, it’s even longer than the bulk of the rest of the body, a fact that’s inspired folklore stories of these guys decapitating prey with one swoop of their tail. They also stand out for the white spots that top off the pectoral fins and the silvery-blue coloration around the body.
Said to be shy and cautious by divers, thresher sharks are rarely implicated in attacks on humans. In fact, records show that there’s only ever been one incident where the perpetrator was likely to be a thresher. Now listed as endangered by the IUCN, there have been serious drops in population counts of these guys in the last 20 years or so because of climate change and overfishing.
Are there sharks in Italy – a conclusion
As you can see, the answer to the question ‘are there sharks in Italy?’ is a resounding ‘yes.’ There most certainly are sharks in Italy. In fact, there’s estimated to be nearly 50 different types of them, ranging from small dogfish to larger predatory species that can pose a threat to humans. This guide outlines five of the most incredible types of sharks in the home of pasta and pizza. It’s got info on the massive and mighty great white, which are thought to breed around the Strait of Sicily in the south of the country, along with details about the common thresher shark and the docile grey nurse shark, one of the most endangered sharks in the Med.
Are there sharks in Italy?
There are an estimated 47 shark species in Italy. They are the ones that are known to live and reside in the Mediterranean Sea, which is the sea that surrounds the country on three sides. It’s also possible that some other species of migratory sharks also make it to Italy through the small connection between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean.
Are there great white sharks in Italy?
There are great white sharks in Italy. In fact, scientists have recently shown that the rich straits of Messina and the waters around Sicily are key breeding and birthing spots for the most feared shark in the oceans of planet Earth, mainly thanks to their abundant food sources and tuna populations.