Are there sharks in the Aegean Sea? It’s a question asked by thousands of holidaymakers each year. Most of them will be bound for the shimmering, bath-warm waters of Greece, Cyprus, or Turkey – some of the continent’s stand-out sun, sand, and sea destinations, where glinting beaches and pebbly coves offer up some of the most inviting H2O this side of the Caribbean.
The truth is that, although shark attacks are more commonly associated with the tropical reaches of places like Australia and South Africa, there are, occasionally, some of these big ocean beasts lurking in the Aegean. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they tend to be the smaller, harmless kind. What’s more, attacks on humans are pretty rare.
That all means that a Jaws-like encounter shouldn’t ruin your sea volleyball sessions on Mykonos. It shouldn’t spoil the honeymoon boat trips to Santorini. However, it could be good to know what sorts of sharks inhabit this corner of the globe, which is why we’ve slung together this guide of five you could see between the isles of Greece and the Turquoise Coast of Turkey….
This harmless little shark is part of the squalidae family. Also known invariably as a spurdog, a mud shark, and a piked dogfish, its name comes from the way they feed, which some say looks just like a canine eating. They usually feed in large groups, sometimes even in packs of thousands. Dogfish sharks are found mostly in far-offshore, shallow waters and, although not common to the Mediterranean and Aegean, they do occasionally venture that way.
Perhaps the strangest feature of the dogfish is that it has two spines. The reason? To defend itself against predators. Should a predator get too close, the dogfish will arch its back and secrete a mild venom from needles on the anterior spines. The venom may not match up to some tropical snakes, but it is usually enough to scare off attackers both big and small.
You can recognize a dogfish by the white spots on its back. They stand out clearly against the greyish-brown color of the skin. Dogfish are typically quite small, measuring between 40 and 60 inches long. They have an average lifespan of 20 years, but some have even been known to live up to an amazing 54 years! Dogfish enjoy the warm waters of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, although sightings are relatively rare. It is unlikely you will encounter one on your vacation. However, they are occasionally sighted by fishermen out in the deeper waters, well past the shoreline wall.
The basking shark was given its name by an 18th-century naturalist called Thomas Pennant. Thomas spotted the shark one day, which appeared to be basking in the sun. He wanted to name it the sunfish but that name had already been taken. So he named it the basking shark, which isn’t that accurate since the shark doesn’t actually ‘bask’ at all. That said, the basking shark does tend to be more observable in the ocean than other species, as it will hunt for its food close to the surface rather than along the seabed.
The basking shark measures an enormous 26 feet in length on average, making it the second-largest shark in the world (the largest being the whale shark which measures an extraordinary 62 feet!). And it’s not just size that helps these guys stand out, but also the unique, mottled, greyish-brown skin. The basking shark enjoys warm waters and is known to travel long distances, often in search of more temperate environments. They mainly reside out by the continental shelf, but the species has occasionally been seen in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.
One of its most prominent features is its huge mouth. Measuring a whopping meter in width, it can scoop up whole shoals of plankton in one sitting. This large predator has a deceptively small brain, though. In fact, it’s got the smallest brain of all sharks. It’s actually that feature that makes the basker a very passive creature. So, although its size can make it appear threatening, basking sharks are generally harmless to humans.
Thresher sharks are usually found in the open water and rarely stray into coastal areas. They are endothermic, meaning they keep their body temperature above that of their surroundings. Unfortunately, this species of shark is on the vulnerable to extinction list, which was issued by the ICUN in 2007. The reason is that they have become a prime target for shark hunters. They are captured and sold for food, shark liver oil, and shark fin soup.
Thresher sharks get their name from their thresher-like tails, which can actually grow to be as long as their body! They use these tails as weapons, to lash out at prey. A lash from the tail can reach speeds of up to 80 miles an hour. This allows it to take out big portions of sardine shoals in a single attack. The thresher shark will grow to around 14 feet in length, and can live for up to 22 years. You can usually recognize a thresher shark by its torpedo-shaped body and its long tail fin.
Thresher sharks enjoy temperate waters and are generally found around the continental shelves of North America and Asia. They have been spotted in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, though. The good news? They’re not considered to be a threat to humans.
Angelsharks generally reside in shallow waters, off of coastlines around the Mediterranean and the sun-kissed Canary Islands out in the Atlantic. They are relatively small compared to other sharks, and grow to just 7 feet in length on average. Angel sharks are now an endangered species due to an increase in fishing, so spotting one is now sadly quite rare.
You can recognize an angelshark by its unusually flat shape. In fact, they’re often mistaken for rays or flatfish. However, the angelshark hides extensible jaws and sharp, needle-like teeth. To catch their prey, these guys will use their unique camouflage to blend in with the murky sand on the seabed. There, they lay in wait until it’s time to pounce. Most of the time, their diet includes molluscs, crustaceans, and other small marine creatures.
Whilst not intentionally aggressive to humans, reports of angelshark encounters turning sour aren’t too uncommon. That’s mainly down to the fact that they regularly reside in areas where there’s lots of human traffic, largely from fishing vessels and scuba divers.
The blue shark enjoys temperate waters, and can be found off the coast of almost every continent at different times of the year. It is a fairly large species, measuring up to 10 feet in length. The name comes from the beautiful blue tint of its skin, which is rather unusual for a shark species, who are mostly just grey and off-grey.
The blue shark is a predator. It feeds on smaller fish such as lobster, shrimp, and crab, and has even been known to leap from the water in order to catch low flying birds! There have been stories of blue sharks attacking humans. However, it’s thought to be very rare indeed – there have been an estimated 13 incidents since 1580 AD, only a few of which have ended fatally.
You can recognize the blue shark by its beautiful dark blue back, pale blue sides, and white underbelly. The blue shark migrates throughout the year, following the warm currents of the Gulf Stream. It has been spotted off the coast of the United Kingdom during the summer months, and has made its way into the Mediterranean and Aegean seas on occasion. However, reported sightings in these areas remain extremely rare.
Great white shark
Oh, the great white. This one’s unquestionably the most famous shark of the lot. Seen as the mightiest apex predator in the marine world, it was the star of the hit Hollywood shark horror, Jaws, and is by far the most feared on this list. Thankfully, it’s thought to be extremely rare in the Aegean Sea. The species tends to prefer the cooler waters of the major oceans, and has particularly high population numbers around South Africa, Oceania, and parts of North America.
But that doesn’t mean that there are none in the Aegean. There probably are. In fact, recent scientific surveys have hinted that the mineral-rich waters of the Strait of Messina just off of Sicily could be a key breeding ground for great whites. That’s a mere 400 miles or so from the start of the Aegean Sea in Greece, so migrations of the shark from its birthplace to the waters around the home of gyros and tzatziki can’t be ruled out. It’s also well-documented that Istanbul’s Bosporus was a hotspot for great whites up until the 1950s.
Sometimes confused with other predatory sharks, the great white can grow to a whopping five meters from end to end. They are discernible thanks to their whitish underbellies (hence the name) and double rows of serrated teeth (don’t get close). Great whites – and here’s the kicker – are known to be responsible for more human attacks than any other species, although there’s only been a single documented case in the Aegean until now.
Shortfin mako shark
The shortfin mako shark is one of the longest-suffering sharks on the planet. It’s famed for its underwater agility and speed, which have made it a traditional target for game hunters looking to do battle with the best the ocean can throw at them. Couple that with the fact it’s prized all across East Asia and Western Europe for its fins and meat cuts, and it should hardly come as a surprise that they’re listed as Endangered by the IUCN.
As with basically all the sharks on this list, numbers of shortfin makos are thought to be very low in the Aegean Sea. These guys tend to prefer living in deeper waters of up to 150 meters and often steer clear of land completely. However, they’re also known to travel extremely long distances to hunt for food, so one venturing into the sun-splashed Aegean islands can’t be discounted.
Shortfins can grow very long, up to four meters from snout to tailfin. But they’re not as beefy or bulky as other mackerel sharks like the great white, having a cylindrical body shape that’s slender and streamline. What’s more, they have distinct teeth patterns, with spiny-like chompers, some pointing in, some pointing out.
So, are there sharks in the Aegean Sea?
Anyone wondering if there are sharks in the Aegean Sea should know that there are, potentially. Despite the region’s reputation for calm swimming coves and sun-kissed sands filled with bronzing bodies, the shore waters here are a habitat for the hunters of the deep. However, most of the shark species that find their way into the Aegean are small and relatively harmless to humans, even if some – like the blue shark – have been known to attack on occasion.
TL;DR: Are there sharks in the Aegean Sea? Yes. But it’s very unlikely that they pose a danger.
Is it safe to swim in the Aegean?
Swimming in the Aegean Sea is considered very safe – the region is a major beach destination that’s known around the globe for its lapping waves and crystal-clear waters, after all! The risk from sharks remains very low in the region, with jellyfish or rip currents coming in as far greater hazards. On top of that, many popular tourist beaches in Greece have lifeguard protection throughout the main season, which helps cut risks even more.
Are there shark attacks in Greece?
If you’re wondering are there sharks in the Aegean Sea, then it’s likely you’re worried about shark attacks in either Greece, Cyprus or Turkey, which are the three most popular destinations in the area. Greece is the most popular of those three. Statistically, figures record just 15 shark attacks in Greece in the last 170 years, with just one fatality. There was an instance when a fisherman claimed he spotted a great white shark off the coast of Greece some 20 years ago, but it is now believed to have more likely been a small whale that lost its way.