The Indian Ocean spans across the globe from Asia in the east to Southern Africa, covering 21 million square miles. Within these warmer waters swim 19 species of sharks, some more dangerous than others. So, are there sharks in the Indian Ocean? In short – yes.
Sharks prey on other marine life such as eels, rays, seals, fish, crustaceans, and so on. The Indian Ocean is rich with life, making it a hotspot for sharks and unfortunate encounters. While most sharks tend to keep themselves to themselves, some species can be aggressive to humans.
Attacks on humans tend to happen when the shark mistakes surfers in the water for seals. Most shark attacks in the Indian Ocean occur around the French island, Reunion Island. Sightings and diving encounters with sharks can be had across the Indian Ocean, from Koh Lipe in South East Asia to Africa’s East coast.
Sharks are often brandished with the same bad rep, no thanks to Jaws for vilifying them. However, not all encounters are terrifying! If you can see past the rows of teeth and cold-blooded eyes, these marine creatures will blow you away.
|Latin Name||Prionace glauca, Carcharhinidae|
|Key Features||Intense blue body and white abdomen, long pectoral fin, 2.5-3 m in length|
|Where To Find Them||Across all oceans, slow swimming close to the surface|
|Conservation Status||Low risk / Near threatened|
To start us off, we have a slender shark, with long pectoral fins and a narrow head. However, the blue shark is most distinctive in its intense blue color on the upper body and white abdomen. These sharks don’t have any other markings.
Blue sharks are possibly the most widely spread shark species across the globe. They can be found in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. This species prefers cooler waters but can tolerate warmer waters of around 21ºC. They migrate clockwise through the global oceans and can be sighted close to the surface in deeper waters.
They typically grow up to 3 meters in length and have been known to swim as deep as 150 meters. Its preferred meal is squid and other small fish. Even though these sharks appear to be dangerous, the intent is not there so you are relatively safe sharing the waters.
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus falciformis|
|Key Features||Dark grey or brown in color on the upper side, white belly, long and rounded snout|
|Where To Find Them||Across all oceans and in coastal areas|
|Conservation Status||Not listed|
Next up is the silky shark: a fairly large but slim shark with a rounded nose and featuring an inner dorsal ridge. Again, these sharks are best identified through the distinct coloring, however, there are other species that silky sharks could easily be confused with. They are dark grey, grey brown or bronze brown in the upper body, and have a white underside. There can also be a white band along the flank that is slightly harder to spot.
Silky sharks are another widespread species that is often seen around coastal areas with water temperatures of 23/24ºC. They hunt in groups in both shallow and deep waters. These sharks are quick, active, and often aggressive.
They average around 2.5 meters in length, however, some have been known to reach over 3 meters. Due to their size and abundance in population, silk sharks are often considered dangerous to humans. When approached by divers the sharks display extremely defensive behavior.
Oceanic Whitetip Shark
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus longimanus|
|Key Features||High and broad dorsal fin, paddle shaped pectoral fins, grey-bronze color|
|Where To Find Them||Near the surface offshore tropical waters|
|Conservation Status||Low risk / Near threatened|
Large and stocky describes the oceanic whitetip sharks well. These sharks often reach over 3 meters in length and have long, broad, and paddle-shaped pectoral fins. The dorsal fin is notably high.
The upper body of this shark is grey-bronze in color and they have white mottling markings along the flank and fins. This species feeds on oceanic bony fishes, occasionally dining on stingrays, sea birds, turtles, carrion from marine mammals, and unfortunately even garbage.
As an oceanic shark, the whitetips are usually found far offshore on the surface of temperate waters. They are common in tropical and warm regions of the Indian Ocean. Whitetips are extremely bold and persistent in hunting, mating, and territory. Because of this behavior, oceanic whitetip sharks are considered to be extremely dangerous.
|Latin Name||Rhincodon typus|
|Key Features||20+ meters in length, blue-grey color with white spots, flattened head|
|Where To Find Them||Coral spawning reefs i.e Ningaloo Reef, Australia|
The largest fish in the sea is the whale shark. This gentle giant can reach up to 66 feet in length (over 20 meters). Whale sharks are iconic and easy to identify. Besides the enormous size, its key characteristics include:
- Blue-grey color with white spots and stripes
- Flattened head and blunt snout
- Two dorsal fins set at the rear of the body
Whale sharks are filter feeders which means their diet consists of plankton. They feed by swimming along the surface of the ocean with their colossal mouths wide open, scooping up everything as they go.
One of the best places in the world to experience swimming with these docile marine creatures is from the Ningaloo Reef on Australia’s west coast. They are also found across Southeast Asia’s coral spawning reefs, however, unfortunately, some nations still hunt these majestic beings.
|Latin Name||Carcharhinus leucas|
|Key Features||Medium sized, short and blunt nose, long pectoral fin|
|Where To Find Them||Tropical coastal regions in the Indian Ocean, inland estuaries and brackish waters|
|Conservation Status||Near threatened|
Bull sharks are kind of like the bully in the schoolyard. These brutes are aggressive and guilty of many shark attacks around the globe. Unlike other species, bull sharks have the unique ability to cross from salt water oceans into fresh water estuaries and waterways.
Bull sharks are medium sized sharks reaching up to 3.5 meters and they pack a lot of punch and are considered the most aggressive shark in the world. They are grey on top and white underneath with a fairly long pectoral fin. The name comes from its short, blunt snout resembling a bull. They also tend to headbutt their prey before an attack to stun the victim.
Usually, these sharks can be found in tropical coastal regions. But they have also been known to venture quite far inland through brackish waters. Diving with bull sharks is possible, just make sure you listen to your buddy and give the sharks plenty of space.
|Latin Name||Galeocerdo cuvier|
|Key Features||Striped tiger-like pattern, short snout, over 5 meters long|
|Where To Find Them||Shallow coastal waters|
|Conservation Status||Near threatened|
Yet another aggressive shark with a bad rep swims through the Indian Ocean. The tiger shark is a nocturnal and aggressive hunter that is known to even attack other sharks in the heat of the moment. These sharks don’t care for social interaction, it’s all about the hunt.
Key characteristics for identification include:
- Distinctive striped tiger-like pattern in the adults, mottled pattern in young sharks
- Crest-shaped serrated teeth (if you get close enough to see)
- Short snout but a large head and slender body
- Long and pointed tail fin with reinforced ridge
These cold-blooded killers can reach up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) and can weigh nearly a metric tonne. Tiger sharks take their aggression with them through life and they are known to eat just about anything, including humans.
The tiger shark is most commonly seen in shallow coastal waters. However, they have also been sighted an astonishing 350 meters deep. This species populates tropical waters and individuals migrate from island to island.
Great White Shark
|Latin Name||Carcharodon carcharias|
|Key Features||Torpedo shape, strong tail, grey upperside and white belly|
|Where To Find Them||Deep open ocean|
And last but not least, we have the notorious GWS. Great whites were launched into infamy by Hollywood, portraying this species as the biggest and scariest sharks in the water. And well, Hollywood kind of hit the nail on the head!
Sighting of great white sharks in the Indian Ocean is possible but rare. This is because this species prefers colder water, such as the likes of the Atlantic and Pacific.
Great white sharks are torpedo-shaped and have extremely powerful tails that help propel them through the water in speed. They can reach up to 24 km/hr (15 mph) while hunting their chosen prey of seals and even dolphins.
Despite the bad press, great whites don’t make a habit of hunting surfers and swimmers. Most encounters are accidents and only rarely result in fatality.
What to do if you see a shark unintentionally?
Some people choose to dive with sharks. But if you didn’t choose to get up close and personal with a set of teeth this big, make sure you know what to do if you swim into one while enjoying the Indian Ocean.
- Stay calm and don’t make any sudden movements
- Move slowly without thrashing your arms or legs either to the shore or the boat, whichever is closest
- Don’t block the shark from open water
- Never turn your back to the shark as you move away
Don’t let sharks keep you out of the water. Sure, there are a select few species of sharks in the Indian Ocean that are more aggressive than swimmers would like. But, with tracking, monitoring, and shark spotting a key focus in main tourist areas, you have nothing to worry about from those sharks in the Indian Ocean.