Are there sharks in the Atlantic Ocean? If the thought of the mighty marine predators sends shivers down your spine, chances are the question has crossed your mind plenty of times. Well…sorry, folks, but the answer is yes! To be more precise, scientists estimate that an impressive total of 43 species of shark live in the Atlantic Ocean…
Although some regions of the Atlantic simply aren’t known for their shark-infested waters, many do have the dreaded rep. This is the same body of water that washes the UK and Florida, Cape Cod and Cornwall, Portugal and the Western Cape of South Africa. You might spot hulking great whites in some parts but nothing more than a little dogfish in others.
Basically, the Atlantic Ocean is big. Like, really big. We’re talking big to the tune of 106.5 million square kilometers! It hosts some of the world’s most incredible marine species across its vast depths of H2O. This guide will focus on the sharks that are among them, offering info on 11 species, where they are most common, and some ins and outs about what they’re like.
If you are going to avoid one species of shark in particular, make it the bull shark! A bite from a bull shark has the power of 5,914 newtons – easily beating that of a great white’s 4,000 newtons! Bull sharks also have a reputation for being territorial and very aggressive. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that they’ve been responsible for an estimated 100 attacks on humans between 1580–2010, with 27 of those proving fatal!
There’s no doubt that the bull shark is an interesting species of shark. They can live in both fresh and saltwater, meaning that you can sometimes find them in rivers and lakes as well as the ocean. Bull sharks prefer solitude to company, so it is typical to spot them going it alone rather than in packs.
You can spot bull sharks along the coast of the US all the way to Brazil and then between Morocco and Angola in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean. They grow to about 2-2.5 meters in all, and are unique for their low-set caudal fin and small snout.
Recognizable by their trademark yellow bellies, the rest of a lemon shark is actually an olive color. All that makes these guys pretty easy to identify, although there are growing conservation concerns over the species as they are victims of both commercial and recreational fishing.
Lemon sharks prefer shallower waters up to a depth of 188 feet. Like bull sharks, they can venture into freshwater. However, they are less suited to prolonged periods in rivers and lagoons, and usually find their prime spot close to estuaries.
They occupy clear areas on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. Lemon sharks can be found up the coast of West Africa, from the sides of Namibia all the way to Gambia. They also live all down the US Eastern Seaboard and throughout the warm waters of the Caribbean. Records show that they’ve been responsible for about 10 unprovoked attacks on humans, none of which ended in death.
Blacktips are often said to look like the quintessential shark. Their bodies are a greyish brown color, grow to around 1.5 meters from snout to end, and come with distinctive black markings down the edges of the fins (hence the name!).
They only really live in waters that are less than 30 meters deep. One downside of that is that they’re often brought into close contact with human populations, as they stick largely to the shallows close to the coast, near river mouths and ports. They have large population numbers in the Atlantic, going all the way from New England to Brazil, then up from South Africa to the fringes of the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately, blacktips sharks are also prey to commercial fishing. Environmentally, their reliance on shallow waters for their young further leaves the species open to endangerment through habitat destruction.
Characteristically narrow and grey with white spots, dogfish sharks are easily identifiable. Despite their small size – females reach a maximum of just 50 inches – the dogfish can pack a punch! Aside from its strong jaw, the dogfish has a duo of small venomous spines up its back that can be used to incapacitate prey and protect from predators.
The dogfish shark got its name for its pack-like hunting style. Fishermen noticed large groups of dogfish pursuing smaller prey. The dogfish thrives in such packs, often gathering in schools of hundreds.
While on the move lots for hunting, the dogfish shark is also a migratory species. Generally, they migrate northwards for spring and summer months, then south for the autumn and winter. Because of their migration habits, dogfish sharks are found in varying places at different times of the year. They can be found in coastal and deeper waters.
Sandbar sharks are also known as brown sharks due to their brownish-grey coloring. You’ll notice them for their very pale underbelly and hugely elongated dorsal fin, which can measure the same as the whole breadth of the body. They typically reach up to seven feet in length.
Sandbar sharks are primarily found in coastal waters, preferring the shallows and sand bottoms over deeper waters and reefs. They are most common along the mid-Atlantic coast and are famous residents of Chesapeake Bay in the USA – along with the tasty blue crabs!
These guys are highly feared because they’re often spotted in places where humans also like to go. In addition, they are regularly mixed up with their more-formidable cousin, the bull shark. The truth is sandbar sharks are considered pretty chill members of the species and there have been very few incidents involving bites and humans.
Oceanic white-tip shark
Ah, white-tipped sharks – think 11 whole feet of muscular and opportunistic predator. They snack on a range of marine life, including stingrays, sea turtles, and squid. Mhmm…the white-tipped shark is known for its curious approach to trying new foods and tends to explore through its stomach. So much so, in fact, that it was known back in the day as the thing to watch out for if you happened to be shipwrecked. Jacques Cousteau even called it the “the most dangerous of all sharks”.
Interestingly, white-tipped sharks have to keep moving to get enough oxygen. They do that by opening their mouths to pump a continuous stream of water around the gills. Unlike the other sharks on our list, the white-tipped shark prefers deep-water areas. So, thankfully, you are unlikely to see one while lazing on any Atlantic beaches.
Oceanic white-tip sharks are spread globally across tropical and subtropical waters, including in the Atlantic Ocean. Like their compadre, the black-tipped shark, they are identifiable by the small sliver of whiteish skin that fringes the fins.
Atlantic sharp-nosed shark
The Atlantic sharp-nosed shark is another small addition to our list. They only grow to around 32 inches in length, feeding on small fish and mini marine creatures like crab and shrimp. That’s enough to sustain pretty healthy populations, though, especially up the Eastern Seaboard and in the shallows of New England, from Connecticut to Maine.
Despite the small size, they still have that classic shark look – a coloring of grey with a white underside and a spiked dorsal fin poking out on top. Adult sharp noses also have characteristic white dots on their sides, much like the dogfish shark. Of course, the name, “sharp-nosed”, comes from their long and pointy snouts.
The spinner shark earns its name from its unique hunting style. Starting deep underwater, these guys propel themselves towards the surface in corkscrewing jump motions to disorientate and catch prey. They finish the maneuver with an impressive eruption out of the water, and – hopefully for them, at least – a meal!
The spinner shark carries out agile and deadly attacks on fish like tuna and sardines thanks to its slim build. Fortunately, this fierce reputation doesn’t extend to the spinner sharks’’ interactions with humans. Although, this species does prefer coastal, shallower waters. Typically, spinner sharks stay in waters of up to 350 feet deep, so they rarely cross our paths.
Sadly, spinner sharks are under threat from unsustainable commercial fishing. Its similarity to a black-tipped shark does not help cases either, as often spinner meat is sold erroneously as black-tipped shark meat.
Great white shark
The lion of the shark kingdom, the great white gets a lot of attention. And for good reason, too! According to National Geographic, “a third to a half” of all annual shark attacks are attributable to these beefy customers. Despite the fact that most incidents don’t end in death, there’s no doubt that this is the most feared of all the beasts in the Atlantic Ocean.
Great white sharks are HUGE. The largest females of the species can hit a whopping six meters from tip to tail, while fully grown adult males are usually just a touch smaller, at around four meters in all. They can live for up to 70 years and are pretty ubiquitous, living as far afield as Australia and all over the depths and shallows of the Atlantic itself.
Records show that great whites have been responsible for a disconcerting 272 attacks on humans as of 2012. Just over 70 of those are known to have been fatal. Hotspots for shark attacks in the Atlantic are the capes of western South Africa and the cold-water shores of New England.
Hammerheads are another of the most famous shark species to be found in the Atlantic. Much like the great white shark, hammerheads appear in lots of films. That’s mainly because of their distinctive appearance – just check out the shape of the head!
But it’s not cosmetic. The protruding head shape gives them a hunting advantage, improving their ability to scan for prey on the peripheries with wide-set eyes. Hammerheads typically hunt for mid-sized marine animals like fish, octopus, stingrays, and even other small sharks.
Great hammerhead sharks can grow up to 20 feet, making them one of the largest shark species and similar in size to the great white. They are famously territorial and aggressive, especially the largest of the species, the great hammerhead. Sadly, all hammerheads are considered endangered in some shape or form, mainly because of overfishing.
At 40 feet, the basking shark is easily one of the most intimidating creatures on this list. Not so fast, though: Basking sharks are filter feeders, meaning they feed in the same way as whales by filtering small plankton through gill rakers. Yep, not a vicious bite or dagger-like set of teeth in sight, folks. Woohoo!
Basking sharks are, unfortunately, endangered on the IUCN list of at-risk creatures. That said, if you do happen to spot one, you will likely hit the jackpot since basking sharks live in groups that number into the hundreds!
If you want to spot a basking shark in the Atlantic Ocean, the best way is through a sustainable, conservation-focused tour company. Basking sharks, in general, live in the North and South Atlantic Ocean – usually preferring cooler waters.
Are there great white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean?
Yes, there are lots of great white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. As migratory species, they cover large distances and live in most of the world’s oceans.
Which ocean has more sharks, the Atlantic or Pacific?
Both oceans have a high number of sharks, with Australia, South Africa, and Florida all hotspots for shark attacks. However, there has been an increase in shark sightings in the Atlantic Ocean over the past few years.
Where are the sharks in the Atlantic Ocean?
There are sharks across the entire Atlantic Ocean. Some species prefer coastal regions – the black-tipped shark, the bull shark. Others prefer open water – dogfish and great whites. Coastal areas around Florida, the Mexico Gulf, New England and South Africa are particular hotspots.