Turkey is surrounded by the deep waters of three seas: the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, and the Aegean Sea. And yes, there are sharks; in fact, there are over 50 shark species swimming in Turkish waters, including hammerheads and the notorious great white sharks. So why don’t we hear of more shark attacks and horror stories from sharks in Turkey?
The Mediterranean Sea covers over 2,500,000 km squared alone, so even when beaches are crowded, sharks have plenty of space to swim and live peacefully. But quite frankly, sharks don’t have humans on their menu. Sharks feed on fish and go where the fish go. Therefore, over-fishing in coastal regions has led to depleted stock, pushing sharks further out to sea.
Shark attacks in Turkey are very uncommon, with fatalities even more so. So if you suffer from selachophobia (fear of sharks), rest assured you are safe paddling in Marmaris and other popular Turkish resorts. Sharks in Turkey do their utmost best to avoid tourists in the beautiful sun-splashed beach resorts!
Great White Shark
|Latin Name||Carcharodon carcharias|
|Key Features||Individuals can grow extremely large, torpedo-shaped, grey and white color|
Between 1881 and 2011, a total of 46 great white sharks were identified and recorded in Turkish waters. The individuals range in length and weight, measuring from 85 cm at 12 kg to a more impressive 8 meters at 4,500 kg. Population numbers follow a trend with tuna stock in the ocean, with sightings occurring off fishing boats and near tuna fishery farms.
Great white sharks have a bad rep and are often portrayed as the villans in movies. However, most of the time these sharks are completely misunderstood. Unfortunately, great white sharks sometimes get confused, mistaking swimmers or surfers for seals basking on the surface.
This is the most recognizable shark species in the world. They are shaped like a torpedo with a distinct two-tone color, grey body and white underbelly. The dorsal fin is broadly triangular and the tail is crescent-shaped. The Strait of Sicily is believed to be a breeding ground for birthing and raising young great white shark pups.
|Latin Name||Sphyrnidae lewini|
|Key Features||Can grow up to 20 feet, large hammer-shaped heads|
|IUCN Status||Critically Endangered|
Hammerhead sharks are another lethal predator swimming through Turkey’s waters. In fact, there are three species of hammerheads in the Meditteranean alone: the great, the smooth, and the scalloped. All often grow over 12 feet, with some reaching 20 feet in length. Unlike the famous great white sharks, hammerheads travel in groups.
Identifying these sharks is straightforward thanks to their distinctively shaped head. While seeing hammerhead sharks would be an incredible experience, it’s advised that you avoid encountering this species by all means. They don’t actively hunt humans, however, they are known to be aggressive and unpredictable in behavior. They are incredibly curious around scuba divers and accidents can happen.
Two of the hammerhead shark species are endangered across the globe, with the smooth hammerheads listed as vulnerable. Population decrease is due to several factors including the over-fishing of fish numbers and poachers selling the large fins.
Sand Tiger Shark
|Latin Name||Carcharias taurus|
|Key Features||Found on sandy shorelines and around submerged reefs|
|IUCN Status||Critically Endangered|
Not to be mistaken for the widely known tiger shark with stripes, the sand tiger shark is a completely different species found in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. This is one of the most common species of sharks in Turkey, inhabiting sandy shorelines (hence the name sand tiger shark) and submerged reefs.
Despite the teeth, and notorious cousins, the sand tiger shark is actually not dangerous to humans. There are no known cases of this species being involved in any shark attacks. In confrontation scenarios, the sand tiger shark often chooses flight over fight!
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus limbatus|
|Key Features||Stealthy hunting tactics, recognizable black tip to the dorsal fin|
Blacktip sharks are widespread across global waters, preferring to stay in warm and temperate conditions. They are often found near estuaries, in shallow bays, or on reefs where the water is warmer. During the summer months, the blacktip sharks migrate to slightly cooler oceans, such as Cape Cod around Massachusetts USA.
These sharks are often spotted leaping out of the water during the hunt for prey. This is part of a stealthy tactic used to attack bony fish near the surface, striking from below suddenly with force. Other creatures on the menu include skates, stingrays, squids, and some crustaceans, and they have been known to follow fishing boats picking up scraps.
Unfortunately, due to this species coastal habitat, numbers have been affected by human activity and development. They are currently listed as near threatened on conservation lists.
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus plumbeus|
|Key Features||High dorsal fin growing up to 8.5 feet, found in shallow waters|
Sandbar sharks are often mixed up with the similarly named sand tiger shark, however, they are a completely different species. This shark is actually closely related to the much-feared bull shark, with heavy-set bodies and rounded noses. The very high first dorsal fin and interdorsal ridge are distinguishing features of sandbar sharks.
This shark ranges in length from 6 feet up to 8.5 feet. Despite their large size, sandbar sharks are not often at the center of shark-human encounters. Unlike bull sharks, the sandbar shark species is docile, making them one of the best varieties to swim with.
True to the name, these sharks stick to muddy or sandy bottoms in shallow coastal waters such as bays, estuaries, harbors, or the mouths of rivers. They are also known to swim into deeper waters. One of the main nursery grounds is in Boncuk Bay in Marmaris. This is one of the most common sharks in Turkey.
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus brevipinna|
|Key Features||A triangular dorsal fin, unique hunting technique propelling themselves out of the water|
|IUCN Status||Near Threatened|
Spinner sharks are aptly named after their unique hunting and feeding strategy. These sharks dramatically leap out of the water, the momentum and high speed causing them to spin through the air. This is quite a spectacular sight for fishermen lucky to see the action!
These sharks average 2 meters in length and have slim and streamlined bodies. Upon first glance, these sharks can be mistaken for blacktip sharks because of the coloring on the rear fin. However, the spinner shark’s first dorsal fin is slightly more triangular in shape and further back along the body.
Typically, these sharks don’t pose a threat to humans. The narrow teeth are designed for grabbing rather than cutting, this limits the size of prey the spinner shark hunts. That being said, these sharks do get extremely excited when feeding and often go into a frenzy, so spearfishers should always be cautious when in the water with spinner sharks.
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus brachyurus|
|Key Features||Bronze to olive color, sickle-shaped dorsal fin|
Copper sharks are slender with a streamlined body and a slightly arched profile just behind the head. The snout is long and pointed, the eyes are rather large and protruding, and the dorsal fin is long and sickle-shaped. As the name suggests, they are bronze to olive-gray above with a metallic sheen, sometimes a pink cast, along with a white underbelly.
Despite their relative nonplus nature, these sharks are tenth on the list of unprovoked shark attacks on humans. When food is in the mix, copper sharks can become aggressive and unpredictable. They have been known to steal fishermen’s catches and even having ‘arguments’ with spearfishers in their territory.
These sharks are found across the world in temperate waters. They are commonly seen in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Morrocco but have been sighted further east towards the Turkish coast. Copper sharks live in between the surf zone and the deep ocean shelf.
|Latin Name||Prionace glauca|
|Key Features||Deep blue color, large pectoral fins, and large eyes|
|IUCN Status||Near Threatened|
Blue sharks swim throughout the world’s oceans, migrating long distances, like New England (USA) to South America. These sharks average around 3 meters in length and prefer colder and deeper water. While they often swim in a lethargic manner, blue sharks can pick up the speed when needed.
This shark species is iconic. They have light bodies and long pectoral fins. As the name clearly depicts, these sharks are a deep blue with a two-tone light underbelly, like most shark species.
Blue sharks rarely attack humans. From 1580 up until 2013, there have only been 13 reported cases of blue shark biting incidents, four of which were fatalities. Those are pretty good odds for sharing water with this majestic creature.
|Latin Name||Squatina squatina|
|Key Features||Unique flat body shape, similar to a ray, spotted and camouflage color|
|IUCN Status||Critically Endangered|
And to wrap up the list of sharks in Turkey, we have the angel shark. This is the rarest shark species found in Turkish waters. These sharks are incredibly unique in their characteristics and features, making them difficult to find in the ocean.
Angel sharks have great similarities to rays. The body is flat with enlarged pectoral and pelvic fins. These features are excellent for camouflaging the angel shark against the seafloor, perfect for ambushing unsuspecting prey.
These sharks can grow up to 2.5 meters and many have spotted markings, somewhat similar to whale sharks. Generally, these sharks are not aggressive towards humans. However, if provoked they could potentially bite. Most interactions with scuba divers see the angel shark remaining still or swimming away, though one circling a diver with its mouth open is recorded.
Shark Attacks Across The Mediterranean Sea, The Black Sea, And The Aegean Sea
Between 1931 and 1983, there were 13 recorded shark attacks in Turkey; these attacks were against humans and boats in Turkey’s waters. These shark attacks were spread across the Turkish coast:
- 10 out of the 13 attacks (76.9 %) occurred in the Sea of Marmara
- 2 attacks were recorded in the Mediterranean
- 1 attack in the Aegean Sea
Over half were involving fishing boats. Just under 25% of the attacks involved scuba divers and spearfishers, with even less involving swimmers. Only two of the shark attacks have been fatal in Turkey.
Are sharks common in Turkey?
Even though there are plenty of sharks in the oceans around Turkey, shark sightings from the Turkish coast are rare. Local authorities are likely to close beaches where sharks have been sighted for the protection of both swimmers and the sharks. If you were hoping to encounter one of these large and majestic creatures, the best place to go is Boncuk Bay in Marmaris on Turkey’s coast, a popular breeding ground for sandbar sharks.
Does Turkey have great white sharks?
Great white sharks do swim throughout the Meditteranean Sea which gently laps onto the Turkish coastline. But don’t panic! These giant sharks tend to stay well away from the coastline and don’t have tourists on their menus.
How many shark attacks have there been in Turkey?
Despite the millions of tourists that hit the sandy beaches of Turkey, there have been very few shark attacks reported. In fact, between 1931 and 1983, there have been only 13 recorded shark attacks in Turkey.