Sharks in Aruba: Everything You Need To Know

Silhouette of circling sharks
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Aruba is a vacation destination at the top of many traveler’s lists and it’s no surprise really when it has the sunniest days in the Caribbean. Covered with award-winning beaches and surrounded by warm, crystal clear waters, it’s expected that you’ll find a vast array of marine life from fish to sharks. Sharks play an important role in the ecosystem and are actually some of the most misunderstood species.

Thanks to films, sharks have had an undeserved bad reputation and people tend to see them as terrifying animals that pose a huge threat to anything that swims in the ocean. But this just isn’t the case. These magnificent creatures are gentle giants that should be treated with respect. So if you’re planning on making Aruba your next destination, it’s worth learning about the sharks that occupy the Caribbean Ocean around Aruba. 

We’ve compiled a guide to sharks in Aruba so you can understand which sharks to look out for. We’ve also narrowed down all the important information you’ll need should you have an unexpected shark encounter

Common Species of Sharks in Aruba

Caribbean waters are home to a vast array of sharks, however, there are only three common species of sharks in Aruba. These common species are Reef Sharks, Hammerhead Sharks, and Whale Sharks. Although sharks are likely to be out in deeper waters you may still encounter them near the beaches. So it’s worth knowing a little bit about each one so you can spot them easily. 

1. Caribbean Reef Sharks

Caribbean reef shark.
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The Caribbean reef shark is the most common species of shark found in the waters around Aruba. They also play a very important role in the marine ecosystem, so much so that the World Wildlife Fund has classified them as one of the most important species on the planet. They are normally dark gray to gray-brown in color on their dorsal side and white to yellow in color on their ventral side. Reef sharks found around Aruba can grow to be around three feet in length. 

Female reef sharks give birth to live young and can litter an average of between two and six pups. Caribbean reef sharks will feed on bony fishes and other large marine invertebrates. Shark attacks on humans are extremely rare and normally only happen when provoked. While these magnificent creatures can pose a threat to humans it’s more likely that we would kill them for their meat, leather, liver oil, and fishmeal, which are all highly desirable. These sharks are excitable and may make close passes at divers but as long as you remain calm, they should just swim on by. 

2. Hammerhead Sharks

Underwater portrait of hammerhead shark
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Hammerhead sharks get their names from the distinctive shape of their head making them one of the most easily identifiable sharks. These sharks are known to frequent tropical waters and have been found in the Caribbean waters surrounding Aruba. They are usually gray in color and may have a slightly greenish tint. Their white bellies allow them to blend into the background when viewed from underneath, allowing them to sneak up on the prey. Although their hammer-like head is overall similar, they do differ between species. 

They are known to range from 0.9 to 6.0 meters in length and weigh between 3 and 580 kilograms. During the day these species have been known to form schools of up to 100 sharks, however, by nighttime, these sharks, like many others, become solitary animals. Unfortunately, though, Hammerhead sharks are most at risk of extinction due to being hunted for their fins which are considered a delicacy in many countries. They will feed on a variety of fish and are normally spotted along continental shelves and coastlines. 

Attacks on humans are by hammerhead sharks are extremely rare and if they do feel threatened in any way they will give you warning signs. These warning signs include wild contortions before they attack. If you are diving in their habitat is advised that you learn the warning signs and how to deal with an agitated shark before you go. Although you may never need it, it might just save your life when you do. 

3. Whale Sharks

Whale Shark
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Whale sharks hold many records for their size in the animal kingdom, most notably for being the largest fish in the sea.  The largest whale shark on record measured an almighty 18.8 meters. They are more often than not found in the open waters of tropical oceans, however, they have been spotted slightly closer to the shoreline in lagoons or coral atolls. Their narrow throats mean they tend to feed on small marine animals. Similar to whales, the whale shark often filter feed and their mouths are located on the front of their head, rather than on the underside. 

Their heads are flat and wide with two small eyes at the front corners. Their spiracles are located just behind the eyes and they have five large pairs of gills. You’ll find they are often dark grey in color with a white belly marked with pale grey or white spots or stripes which are unique to each individual shark. They are now considered endangered due to the risk of fishing nets and boat strikes. These incredible creatures are considered to be gentle giants and do not pose a threat to humans, in fact, they are very sociable creatures.

Sharks in Aruba: Safety Tips

Great white shark making a close pass while photographer leans to take a picture.
Photo by imagesourcecurated via Envato Elements

There’s loads of advice out there when it comes to sharks, but sifting through it all can be overwhelming. So we’ve trawled through the internet and have compiled a list of the most important safety tips so that you have all the information you need in one place. 

Safety Tip 1: Research Local Shark Patterns

Before deciding to go off on a dive, swim, or snorkel you’ll want to research shark patterns. During certain times of the year, sharks will come closer to the shoreline to give birth, although it does depend on the species it is worth knowing this as it will allow you to choose your in-water activities more wisely.

Safety Tip 2: Equipment

Swimming and diving in the ocean is one of the best parts of a tropical vacation, but it can often be hampered if you don’t have the correct equipment. If you’re snorkeling in deeper waters make sure you have fins and goggles and of course, that all-important snorkel. Unless fully trained as a scuba diver, you may want to consider going in a group, if scuba diving is more your type of thing. This way you can be confident that the equipment you’re using is correct and you’ll know exactly how to use it. The diving instructions will also be familiar with the water and know what you can expect to see. 

Safety Tip 3: Clothing Colors

Now this one might seem a little comical but there’s a good reason for it. Sharks have monochromatic vision, so avoiding light colors like white, yellow, or neon colors would be within your best interests as these could stand out against the dark, natural colors of the ocean. Stick to colors that will help you blend into your surroundings.

Silky sharks gather in big schools around Roca Partida Island as part of the mating rituals
Photo by imagesourcecurated via Envato Elements

Safety Tip 4: Sharks Don’t React To Human Blood

Believe it or not, sharks don’t actually react to human blood. It’s one of the biggest myths there are around sharks. Numerous studies have shown that sharks have minimal to no reaction in the brain to humans. So you won’t need to panic or worry if you have a cut or manage to cut yourself in the water. 

Safety Tip 5: Check Your Surroundings, Make Eye Contact, 

Another great safety tip is to act like a predator. Sharks will wait until they find an animal’s blind spot before striking, so acting like a predator, continuously scanning your surroundings will make you appear more aware and less likely to be approached by a shark. But what happens if you encounter a shark in Aruba? Our immediate instinct might be to swim as quickly as possible in the opposite direction, this would communicate the wrong message to a shark. Instead, acknowledge the shark by using eye contact. After all, you want the shark to know you are also a predator. Make sure you don’t get too locked in, where there’s one shark there could be more. Once you’ve made your initial eye contact, look around for further sharks. 

Safety Tip 6: Notice The Shark’s Body Language

Most sharks will give warning signs when they are feeling threatened or ready to attack. Sharks are inherently aggressive, however,  if you notice a shark dropping its pectoral fins or holding its mouth open, slowly back away, give it space, and exit the water as soon as you can. 

How Frequent Are Shark Attacks in Aruba?

Great White shark grabs bait
Photo by Mint_Images via Envato Elements

Shark attacks are extremely rare, however, they do happen. The most notable shark attack in Aruba was in 2015 when a Venezuelan man died during his rescue from a capsized boat. While sharks in Aruba are not known to attack, boaters, divers, swimmers, and snorkelers are advised to stay vigilant. As long as you follow the safety guidance given, are aware of your surroundings, and give sharks a wide berth, you should have no issues with them. In fact, both humans and sharks can live pretty harmoniously together when respect is given.

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Justine King is from the UK and has been a full-time traveller and freelance writer since 2020 after a 6-year career in Hospitality. Clients benefit from her love and knowledge of the sector as she creates informative and inspiring articles to help guide readers totheir next travel destination.