It might surprise you to know that almost 30 species of sharks live in the Adriatic Sea. But don’t worry, the vast majority of them are completely harmless to humans. And many of them are so rare that you would be lucky ever to spot one. So there’s no need to let them put you off visiting this glorious sea.
With balmy temperatures, brilliant water clarity, and an abundance of marine life the Adriatic Sea is a paradise for snorkellers, divers, swimmers, and anglers. And, since it’s sandwiched between the twin coastlines of Italy and Croatia, it’s also a massively popular holiday destination.
While most holidaymakers won’t ever come across any sharks on their Adriatic adventures, it’s always good to be prepared. So in case you want to know what’s swimming beneath your boat, here’s a list of 9 species of sharks who live in the Adriatic Sea.
Shortfin Mako Shark
The shortfin mako shark, also known as the Blue Pointer or Bonito Shark, is one of only two dangerous sharks found in the Adriatic Sea. It’s a large, powerful shark whose speed and agility make it a favorite for big game anglers worldwide, despite the fact that this shark is considered an endangered species by the IUCN.
Capable of growing up to 4m (13ft) long and with a stocky, muscular build, the mako shark would definitely give you a fright if you saw one in the water, especially given their tendency to swim with their mouths open, displaying some pretty fearsome teeth. Luckily they tend to stick to deep waters and are rarely encountered by casual swimmers. They have little interest in humans and tend to avoid contact wherever possible. Incidents involving Mako’s attacking humans are rare, and fatal attacks even more so. The majority of incidents occur as a result of anglers provoking the shark.
They’re also scarce in the Adriatic Sea, to the point where if one is sighted, it tends to be headline news. The last one was spotted in 2019 off the Dalmatian coast and became something of a celebrity as people followed its progress around the coast, photographing it over the following few days.
Great White Shark
The second dangerous shark on our list is the most infamous of all, the great white. This much-feared species is considered the most dangerous shark in the world, responsible for the most unprovoked attacks on humans and the most fatalities. Capable of reaching 6m (20 ft) in length, weighing up to two tons, and managing top speeds of up to 16 mph, these sharks are fearsome indeed. And although sightings of them are rare, these monsters do live in the Adriatic sea!
There have been only an estimated 60 sightings in the last 200 years, so the chances of you encountering a great white on your vacation are almost zero. However, there have been incidents and a few fatal attacks by great whites were recorded in the Adriatic in the ’60s and ’70s. The most recent incident occurred in 2008 when a spear fisherman was attacked as he swam off the coast of the island of Vis. The great white grabbed the man’s leg inflicting heavy damage, but the man was rescued from the water, and miraculously, the attack was not fatal.
This attack worried many people because it happened so close to shore. However, it’s thought that the shark was attracted to the location by the dead fish the spearfisher was carrying around his waist. Other fatal attacks involving great whites in the Adriatic often involve something of this sort: blood or chum in the water from some sort of fishing occurring nearby. A spike in the numbers of great white sightings and attacks in the 1960s was attributed to the increased action of fishing boats around one of Croatia’s largest ports. When the activity ceased, the sightings of sharks reduced again.
Blue Sharks are deep water dwellers and generally prefer cool water rather than the balmy temperatures of the shore. However, they will come to shore for a few reasons, such as when they’re very young or injured.
They’re a large species of shark that can grow upwards of 3m (10ft) long. So they tend to cause concern when they’re spotted near beaches or holiday destinations. But these sharks are not dangerous to humans. In the history of shark attack recordings, incidents of blue sharks attacking anyone are so few – only 13 incidents in over 400 years – that it’s safe to say that these sharks do not go looking for trouble. If they are left alone, they will not cause any harm.
If you do spot one, you’ll recognize it by its beautiful blue color, so different from the grey of most sharks. And if you’re around a breeding ground, you might be in for quite a sight because they’re prolific breeders and can produce large litters of up to 100 pups at a time! Yet, incredibly, despite this amazing birth rate, their numbers are still in decline, and they are listed as near-threatened by the IUCN and critical in some areas.
Another pretty shark that lives in the Adriatic Sea is the angel shark. It’s often mistaken for a ray because of its flat body and tendency to lurk around the ocean floor. But it’s definitely a shark and a scarce one at that. Angel sharks are on the critically endangered list and are a very rare sight indeed.
Once numerous along the Croatian coast, they are now almost extinct and they have disappeared from the Mediterranean sea completely. Numbers are thought to have declined due to overfishing, habitat reduction, and pollution. Conservationists are working to restore them to their once healthy numbers in both seas before it is too late.
If you’d like to spot one, your best chance is near Murter Island, Croatia, where a small population of them still live. If you do see one, celebrate your good fortune, but keep your distance because they can give a nasty bite thanks to their powerful jaws and teeth. Divers should try not to approach them from the front, and as always with any marine creature, never try to touch or grab one.
The biggest shark found in the Adriatic Sea is the basking shark which can reach an enormous 8 m (26ft) long! The basking shark is the second-largest shark in the world – after the whale shark – and it can often strike fear into the hearts of anyone who spots it. This monster shark looks fearsome with its gaping mouth, massive size, and tendency to lie – or bask – on the surface of the ocean. But, not to worry, it’s a slow-moving vegetarian, which eats only plankton and is entirely harmless to humans.
Unfortunately, its huge size and lack of speed have led to this majestic creature being overfished to the point where it is now an endangered species. They are now protected within the EU, so any sighting of one is a cause for celebration by conservationists. The last confirmed sighting in the Adriatic was in 2015, by fishers off the coast of Istria.
Common Thresher Shark
The common thresher shark is extremely distinctive thanks to the long tail fin, which gives the shark its name. The upper section of the tail can sometimes be the same length again as the shark’s body. So the common thresher, which is the largest of the thresher species, can grow to a length of 6m (20ft), with its tail fin accounting for 3 of those meters.
These tails are not just for show, they are used to great effect while hunting. The thresher shark will whip its tail through the water, slapping smaller fish and stunning them before eating them. This slap can sometimes be hard enough to be fatal. The powerful tail also makes these fish fast, agile swimmers, and they use it to propel themselves out of the water, breaching and jumping with great acrobatic skill. Their speed, power, and agility mean they are, like the mako shark, highly prized by game anglers.
While these sharks do live in the Adriatic Sea they prefer the open ocean to the coastline so you’re extremely unlikely to encounter one off a beach while swimming or snorkeling. They’re rarely spotted by divers either since they mostly swim at depths lower than the average diver will go. But keep an eye out if you make any boat trips because watching one of these sharks breaching out of the water is quite something!
The smallest shark on our list is the spiny dogfish. These little sharks only grow to around 1m (3.3ft) long and are more interested in hunting marine invertebrates such as squid jellyfish and shrimp, than humans. For people, the worry is not their teeth but their spikes. These spiny dogfish live up to their name and have spines along their backs which they can use to stab predators with should they get too close. These spines do contain a mild venom so if you do meet one, resist the urge to touch them!
And, strange though it may sound, you might have eaten one of these sharks without actually knowing it. They feature quite heavily on European menus, mostly in the UK, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. But their name is often changed so that the consumer often doesn’t know what they’re eating.
If you’ve ever had huss in a fish and chip shop, chances are it was spiny dogfish. And if you thought the rock salmon or small salmon you ordered was, well, salmon, think again, you were probably eating spiny dogfish. Some measures have been implemented to put a stop to such misleading practices, but since the numbers of spiny dogfish have already decreased an alarming 95% in European waters, these changes might have happened too late.
Are there sharks in the Adriatic Sea?
There are around 30 species of sharks living in the Adriatic Sea. Sharks of all sizes and shapes, from the massive basking shark to the small-spotted catshark, to the flat ray-like angel shark.
Are the sharks in the Adriatic Sea dangerous?
Only two species of sharks in the Adriatic Sea are considered dangerous to humans. The great white and the shortfin mako, are both capable of severe and fatal attacks on humans. But sightings of them are extremely rare. So don’t let them put you off enjoying an Adriatic vacation!