Are there sharks in the Black Sea? That’s what we’re here to answer. And, as with most salt-water habitats around the globe, the answer is affirmative: There are sharks in the Black Sea. But before you go canceling that vacation to Sunny Beach or the Bulgarian riviera with visions of ferocious great whites on your mind, be sure to check out this list of species.
It will outline five of the most common shark types that there are in this corner of Eastern Europe. What you’ll find is a rather niche array of creatures. Many of them are rated as vulnerable by the IUCN because they’ve been severely overfished. And there are others that scientists simply cannot agree have any significant population numbers in the Black Sea.
The upshot? You’re not likely to come across any during a normal holiday to the region! So, settle down, keep scrolling, and don’t worry too much about any great white monsters swimming up to ruin that plate of Bulgarian dumplings while you laze on the sands of Varna…
The spiny dogfish is by far the most common species of shark still found in the Black Sea. Also known as the mud shark, the piked dogfish, and the spurdog (a little Shakespearean, huh?), it’s a relatively small type of squalidae that’s found right across the Mediterranean Basin, close to the shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean, and even in the Pacific Ocean (although the Pacific spiny dogfish is now considered a separate species).
Spiny dogfish might not be giants in the same way the great whites of this genus are, but they’re not bijou creatures by any stretch. Males can clock up a meter in length at full adult growth, while females can grow to over 1.5 meters from tip to tail. They’re noticeable because of their sleek body shape and blunt nose, along with the pointed dorsal fins.
There are some unique properties about the spiny dogfish that make it a shark worth watching out for. First, it’s got spines hidden up its back that can actually be used to inject mild venom into predators. Second, these guys are well adapted pack hunters, and are often seen preying on jellyfish and large squid in numbers that can exceed 1,000 at a time!
Sadly, they are now listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. That’s largely because populations of spiny dogfish sharks in the Black Sea and beyond have been decimated in recent decades by overfishing They’re actually a prized seafood catch right around the world, sold for shark fin soup in China and as small salmon in France.
Smooth hammerhead shark
It’s very rare and unlikely that you’ll come across a smooth hammerhead shark while paddling around the Black Sea. But it’s not impossible. It’s just that most scientists agree that this shark species is mainly limited to the Mediterranean Sea and the greater Atlantic beyond, however some sources say it’s present further north, perhaps accidentally as part of a seasonal migration to cooler waters.
Nevertheless, if you do spot on, you will probably know it the moment you do. Yep, the smooth hammerhead is a very large customer. It can grow to a whopping five meters from end to end and comes in as the second-largest hammerhead shark overall, dwarfed only by the great hammerhead. On top of that, they are distinct thanks to the elongated cephalofoil head – you know, the hammerhead!
Amazing creatures though they are, the smooth hammerhead is considered highly dangerous to humans. It’s thought that this species has been responsible for a number of attacks – the International Shark Attack File records 34 attacks on humans by the hammerhead, one of which has been fatal. They’re also said to be highly territorial and aggressive, not to mention armed with two rows of serrated teeth on both sides of the jaw.
However, humans are almost certainly a bigger threat to the smooth hammerhead than they are to us. That’s because this species is prized for its fin meat, which is used throughout the Far East in shark fin soup. It’s also regularly caught as a bycatch by commercial fisheries, with some fleets in South Africa reporting that almost half of the sharks accidentally wrapped up in their nets turn out to be one of these!
You’d probably have to be a trained biologist with a PHD in sharks to know the difference between the spiny dogfish and the longnose spurdog at a glance. These two species are extremely similar. They both have the pointed dorsal fins with concealed spines, along with white spotty patterns and a blunted nose with inset eyes that are colored a light mustard yellow. They also both grow to similar lengths – anything between 80cm and one meter is normal at full adulthood.
However, the longnose spurdog tends to be much harder to find than its more-common compadre. That’s mainly down to the fact that they prefer to live in deeper waters, closer to the continental shelf and at least 50 meters below the surface. They have been observed much deeper than that, though, into depths of around 1,500 meters. That’s pretty far down in the Black Sea especially, which only manages to hit 2,200 meters at its deepest point.
But spurdogs aren’t that rare. They’re not just thought to reside around the Bulgarian coast at the end of Eastern Europe. They’re also present in Australia, and have been spotted around the Atlantic in the Canary Islands archipelago, and even along the shores of Senegal in Africa. Sadly, they are a big target for fishermen and their meat is eaten widely around the globe, so numbers are thought to be in decline.
There have been confirmed sightings of the common thresher in the Black Sea, not to mention around the coastlines of the Aegean Sea and the greater Mediterranean. That makes them one of the more widespread species of shark to be found in Europe, although scientists do think that they live all around the globe, in most places with cool-to-temperate waters, from the shores of Brazil to the surf-washed bays of California.
Common thresher sharks are very easy to distinguish from other types of sharks. That’s down to a few things, but mainly it’s the stretched out upper caudal fin, which points like the nose of a swordfish up into the air. It can measure more than the length of the whole shark itself, curving like a scythe behind the creature.
Although there has been one recorded attack on humans by common thresher sharks, these guys are widely considered to be pretty harmless. There are regular reports from scuba divers that they are extremely timid in the water and prefer to swim away than approach. On top of that, they have quite small teeth, which helps matters considerably if you ask us!
Again, threshers have been fished very heavily in the last century. Despite still having populations all over the globe, they are another shark that’s officially listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. It’s thought that a whopping 411 tons of the animal was being caught for their meat and fins by 2006, so there are now commercial quotas in place in some of the most overly fished areas.
There’s no need to go raising the alarm when you see a small-spotted catshark. These humble little creatures are virtually entirely harmless to humans. They’re also really common, found in most European waters, from the cool UK and the North Sea around Norway all the way down to the balmy Aegean Sea and the Greek islands.
To be honest, it doesn’t even look that much like a shark. It’s got a max length of about one meter from tail to snout, a fattish body with a curved head shape, topped by a small dorsal fin. You’re likely to notice them first from the color – it’s a mix of pale white, dark grey, and black, always spotted (hence the name) on the bulk of the torso and the fins alike.
Small-spotted catsharks don’t have any confirmed population numbers in the Black Sea. However, given how ubiquitous they are around Europe, it’s likely that they reside all the way up the Bulgarian, Romanian, Russian and Turkish coastlines. They tend to prefer shallow water to deep, and prey opportunistically on small mollusks and sea snails.
One study by the University of Exeter concluded that small-spotted catsharks even have individual personalities. Led by the Marine Biological Association of the UK, the paper found that these critters each react differently to different stimuli under the water. Some were aggressive, some were timid. It also found that catsharks had rigid social structures.
Are there sharks in the Black Sea? The conclusion
Yes, there most certainly are sharks in the Black Sea. However, there’s nowhere near the same variety of sharks that you get in the wide Atlantic Ocean or the vast Pacific Ocean, for example. Not only do the sharks tend to be on the small side in this corner of Eastern Europe, but they often don’t have any significant population numbers, so are very rarely seen by tourists and even marine researchers.
If you do spot a shark in the Black Sea, the likelihood is that it will be a spiny dogfish. They are the most common type in the area and are characterized by their dull grey-and-brown color scheme, with a pointed dorsal fin. However, the biggest shark in the Black Sea is probably the common thresher shark. They can grow up to six meters and are distinguishable by their uber-elongated tail fin.