Shark Shockers: Bull Sharks

Bull Sharks, or  ‘Carcharhinus Leucas,’ are considered the third-most aggressive or dangerous shark. Found in fresh and saltwaters, they can grow up to 11.5-feet long; the largest one that has ever been seen weighed 636 pounds. 

Bull sharks have developed special ways of adapting to salt and freshwater. Even when they are in freshwater, they are able to keep salt in their bodies because of glands near their tails and their kidneys. They have even been known to go into rivers and estuaries, and have commonly been found in the Mississippi River, Amazon River, and the Zambezi River.

Bull sharks get their name from their blunt snout and their fierce disposition. They tend to head-butt their prey to stun them before attacking. They use their triangular, serrated teeth to saw and cut through their prey. This is why they often seem likely culprits for attacks on humans. They are medium-sized, but have thick bodies with long pectoral fins. The females are typically larger than the males. A bull shark’s coloring is similar to that of a Great White Shark (grey and white). 


Bull sharks will eat almost anything they see, even other sharks. In addition to their fellow sharks, they typically eat rays, turtles, birds, crustaceans, and dolphins. They do not seek out or hunt humans, so any human fatalities or injuries are usually out of curiosity or by accident. But since bull sharks can swim in extremely shallow water, they are usually held responsible for attacks on humans in those water conditions.


Unlike great whites, bull sharks are able to live up to 25 years in a tank. Oklahoma Aquarium has managed to keep them in their 500,000-gallon tank. Most of the information available to the public about sharks in captivity is about great whites, which cannot survive in confinement for two reasons: the first is the amount of resources the aquarium needs to take care of it, and the second is that the sharks will die outside of the ocean, no matter what. Since it is possible to research these creatures without capturing and killing them, that is what should be done, especially since keeping them in confinement has only taught us that confinement kills them.

1916 Shark Attacks

The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were considered to be the work of a great white, but some experts originally thought that a bull shark was the real culprit. Some of the attacks were farther from shore, which makes sense for great whites, but some were close to shore, which is more typical of a bull shark. Ultimately, no bull sharks were found with human remains in their stomachs, but the great white that was caught had human bones inside.


Bull Sharks are commonly caught off the coast of Florida, Bahamas, and in the large islands of the Caribbean. They can be eaten, and are said to taste delicious. When it comes to hunting sharks, there are many rules fishermen need to obey. The minimum length is 54 inches fork-length, measured from the tip of the nose to the fork in the tail. Also, all bull sharks caught in the closed season of April 1 through June 30 must be released back into the water. There is also a catch-limit of one bull shark per boat, no matter how many passengers are on board.

While Bull Sharks aren't the most popular or famous sharks out in our oceans - or rather, their oceans - they still play a vital part in our marine ecosystem. As always, be aware of what you are walking into, even if it’s not the ocean! Bull sharks can sneak up on you in rivers or other small bodies of water, because they make their homes there, too; we humans are the uninvited guests. Respect the locals!

Cover Photo: Willyam Bradberry

Photo Credit: Rainer von Brandis


Nat Geo, MA Fish Finder

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