Are there sharks in Australia? Yes, there most certainly are. Sadly, the home of BBQ grilling and hopping kangaroos is a well-known stomping ground of the great beasts of the deep blue sea. In fact, stats show that Australia sees upwards of 680 shark attacks in an average year. That’s the second highest number in the whole world, with only the USA counting more.
That should hardly come as a surprise, mind you. Just look at where Australia sits: Right on the convergence of three large oceans. You’ve got the Indian Ocean to the west, the Southern Ocean to the south, and the Pacific to the east. Throw in nutrient-rich currents and water temps that range from frigid to balmy, and it’s easy to see why all sorts of sharks come this way.
This guide will home in on seven species of shark that are found in the waters around Oz. It will deal with the feared great whites that are the scourge of surfers from Queensland down to Victoria and run through a handful of other marine beasts that navigate the H2O around this continent-sized nation. Are there sharks in Australia? Yep, and here are several of the most common or unique…
Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? Cue the great white shark. The star of Jaws, the most feared beast in seas from Australia to California, and an all-round monster of a critter – they’re pretty formidable. The biggest specimens of these have been measured at a whopping 5.8 meters in length and a mega two tons in weight. Yikes!
Known in Oz as white pointers or the white death shark, these are present in many of the most popular coastal destinations in the country. They’ve attacked surfers in New South Wales, QLD, and South Australia in the past, and are regularly spotted up and down the shores of Western Australia. In fact, the great white was one of the main driving forces behind the installation of shark nets at key swimming and surf locations, such as Bondi Beach and Byron Bay.
Given the colossal size, it’s usually pretty easy to identify an oncoming swimmer as the great white. Other noticeable features include the crescent-shaped tail fin, the small pectoral fins, and the pale underbelly. Great whites are now officially protected by certain state authorities in Australia and are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
Are there sharks in Australia that can kill? Well…we’ve already mentioned the fear-inducing great white, and that certainly fits the bill. However, many experts say that the bull shark is the most dangerous species currently present in Australian waters. They’re known to be highly aggressive by nature and love to hang around riverine estuaries near shallow beaches and sandbanks, often close to the shore.
That’s not great news in a country where the shoreline is one of the top draws, for both surfers and swimmers looking to enjoy the waters from balmy Queensland all the way to Margaret River in WA. Mhmm…bull sharks regularly come into contact with humans in Australia and the results aren’t always pretty. To date, it’s thought that they’re responsible for the second highest number of fatalities of any shark in the region.
Bulls have an appearance that really matches their name. You’re looking for a stout, stocky, thick-set shark with a rounded off snout. They’re moderately sized for apex predators, coming in at an average of around two meters in length, or just a little longer for the female of the species. It’s the bite that you’ll need to watch out for – it’s got one of the highest forces per inch of any fish in the sea.
Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
The tiger shark is the third member of what’s considered the trio of the most dangerous sharks in Australia. Aggressive like the bull shark but also stealthy and masters of silent swimming, they combine all that with some serious bulk. We’re talking fully grown adults that can hit more than five meters in length!
The other thing to know about the tiger shark is that it’s a creature that often strays into parts of the ocean that are favored by us humans. It mostly enjoys warmer tropical waters, reefs and beaches near the shore, and river estuaries. In Oz, it makes its home on the west coast in WA and all up the east coast, from around Sydney to the tropical reaches of the Northern Territories.
The name here comes from the pattern that covers the side haunches of most tiger sharks. It’s a dappled black and grey that resembles the designs of their big-cat namesakes. The species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, mainly because of serious population decline in the face of overfishing.
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
The whale shark takes us from the most feared sharks in Aussie waters to one of the most loved. This BFG of the underwater world is hailed as one of the most elegant critters in the depths. Divers flock from all over to try and catch a glimpse of them in key locations like the Ningaloo Reef, a UNESCO site that’s a known gathering point for the beasts off the shores of WA.
The kicker here is that whale sharks are 100% harmless to us humans. Instead of possessing rows and rows of serrated chompers like the great whites and bull sharks of this world, they have huge mouths that are adapted to filtering out plankton and tiny fish from the sea.
They’re an incredible animal to behold in the wild. Certain specimens have grown to a whopping 18 meters from tip to tail fin but most hit 10-12 meters. Whale sharks have eyeballs that protrude from the sides of the head, capable of moving in multiple directions. The top of the body is speckled with patterns of lines and dots that resemble monochrome leopard print.
Pygmy shark (Euprotomicrus bispinatus)
The pygmy shark doesn’t make headlines for its jagged teeth, its muscular body, or its aggressive nature. Nope. It makes headlines because it’s the smallest known shark to live anywhere. These guys can only manage a meagre 9 inches in length, while females tend to be just a touch bigger than that, at around 10 inches at full adulthood.
And they really look nothing like their larger compadres. Pygmy’s are colored a dark hue of black on top, which transforms to silken blacks and greys on the sides. They have flap-like fins and large blueish eyes. Their chosen prey is small crustaceans and shrimp, which they chase on the bed of the ocean.
One of the most common stomping grounds of the critter are the reefs right off the south-westernmost tip of Australia, around the edges of Western Australia. There have also been reports of them living just over the Tasman Sea around the tip of New Zealand’s North Island, along with other locations in South Africa, Madagascar, and the Maldives.
Bronze whaler (Carcharhinus brachyurus)
The bronze whaler has another name: The copper shark. It’s called that for the unique hue of brownish-orange that shimmers along the sides of fully-grown adult members of the species. That’s almost the sole identifying mark that helps distinguish it from other members of the same tree of sharks, which is why these guys are regularly confused with bull sharks and the like.
Bronze whalers are found all along the south side of the country. Preferring colder waters, they tend to live around the shores of South Australia, Victoria, and up to the capes of southern Western Australia. Usually, they’ll be spotted between the surf and up to a kilometer off the coast, diving to no more than 70-100 meters down.
Coppers like to feed on large schools of smaller fish, such as cuttlefish and pilchards. They do attack humans. Studies have shown that they’re just about in the top 10 deadliest shark species on the planet, with around 20 attacks per year globally to their name.
Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni)
We thought we’d finish up with a mention of a shark that can only be found in Australia. Cue the curiously named Port Jackson shark. This one gets its moniker for the precise reason that it’s not seen anywhere else on the globe apart from in the waters of Port Jackson near Sydney, and the surrounding regions of NSW, Victoria, South Australia, and WA.
Yep, this is a true Aussie shark in the sense that it’s totally endemic to the Land Down Under. You almost certainly won’t come across one on your travels, though. The reasons? Firstly, it’s a bottom dweller, meaning it lives close to the ocean floor and rarely emerges from there. Secondly, it’s nocturnal, only coming out to feed at night.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of a Port Jackson shark is its teeth. They’re not like other sharks in that they’re blunted and almost flat at the back. That’s an adaptation that helps these guys grind and crush the shells of mollusks, their main diet. It also happens to mean that they aren’t great at biting humans – the only known attack saw the victim swim away with only minor injuries.
Are there sharks in Australia? Our conclusion
If you clicked this way wondering “are there sharks in Australia?” then we hope we’ve answered that question. It’s a big, resounding yes on that count. In fact, the Land Down Under is host to some of the most feared sharks on the planet, which leads to some of the most startling shark-attack stats on the globe – think over 680 each year!
This guide has focused in on seven of the most common and unusual shark species that live in Australia. From the colossal great white to the formidable bull shark, all the way down to the miniature pygmy shark. It’s showcased some that can kill in a single bite and others that don’t pose a threat to us at all.