It might surprise you to know that there are a whopping 47 species of sharks living in the Mediterranean Sea. The temperate and fish-teeming waters of the Med make it the perfect hunting ground for a variety of sharks. What’s more, there’s a real abundance of different habitats spread across the 2.5-million-square-kilometer body of water, from sandy bays to rock reef to coral garden and more.
Before you start rebooking that trip to Spain’s Costa del Sol or Greece’s Aegean islands, it’s worth noting that only 15 of the 47 sharks out there are considered dangerous to humans. And of that 15, some are deep-sea dwellers that no casual swimmer is likely to ever encounter. On top of that, some are so darn rare that any marine scientist would say you’d be positively lucky ever to see one!
Many shark species are becoming even rarer. Shark population numbers are falling all over the world due to overfishing and habitat destruction, global warming and water pollution. But with over half of their species now threatened or endangered, the sharks of the Mediterranean are actually considered the most at risk of all. For now, these seven species can still be sighted in the Med, but they might not be there forever…
The blue shark is one of the most common sharks in the Mediterranean Sea. They generally prefer deeper, slightly cooler water, and only venture near the shore when very young, lost, ill, or injured. Blues tend to cause concern due to their size, which can hit a whopping 10 foot from tip to tail. There are actually fairly regular reports of sightings of these giants on the beaches in Spain, France (especially Corsica), and Greece, and there have been multiple swimming bans because of blues in recent years.
That said, though they may look fearsome, incidents of blue shark attacks on humans are infrequent. Fatal attacks are extremely rare. One of the few documented incidents of a blue shark attack in the Mediterranean occurred in 2016, when one bit a man’s hand.
Blue sharks have a high reproduction rate compared to other species of shark. They can begin to reproduce at only 3-4 years old and can deliver a litter of up to 135 pups at a time, which explains why they are one of the most common sharks in the Mediterranean. Despite that, though, even this once abundant species is becoming a much rarer sight, and the species has been listed as critically endangered within the region since 2016.
Great white shark
Considered the most dangerous shark in the world, the great white is responsible for the most unprovoked attacks on humans, not to mention the most fatalities overall. These ocean monsters can grow to 20 foot in length, weigh up to two tons, and manage top speeds of up to 16 miles per hour. Oh, and, yes, great white sharks do live in the Mediterranean Sea. Eek!
Although the great white is not exactly a common sight in the Med, we’ve included it here because it is undoubtedly the most famous and most feared of all sharks known to reside in the region. Any sighting of a great white understandably causes panic, especially when spotted near tourist areas. So, when one was sighted off the coast of Mallorca in 2018, it made headlines all over the continent and really rattled the local travel industry.
This was the first confirmed sighting in Spanish waters for at least 30 years, but there have been sightings elsewhere in the Mediterranean. An encounter in Croatia in 2008 led to a man being bitten on the leg by a great white. Amazingly, the incident was not fatal.
Some scientists believe that the Mediterranean, specifically the Strait of Sicily, serves as a nursery where great white sharks can birth and raise their young. They think the shallow, warm water and abundance of marine life that’s drawn up from the southern Med and down from the Tyrrhenian Sea make the area a perfect place to keep baby sharks safe and fed until they’re old enough to fend for themselves. This theory has received confirmation by the sighting of both pregnant and young great whites and would mean that the Med is not just a habitat for great white sharks but vital to the survival of the species as a whole.
Smalltooth sand tiger shark
For those who actually want to see some sharks, listen up! Smalltooth sand tiger sharks have been recorded annually gathering in a location aptly named ‘Shark Point’ in Beirut. Although the purpose of this once-a-year shark moot remains unclear, it is thought to be related to their mating patterns. Whatever the reason, since this species is increasingly rare, this is a unique opportunity to see an animal currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.
And for anyone who accidentally sees one, not to worry…These sharks are not considered to be in any way dangerous to humans. There are no recorded incidents of attacks. That’s right: Zero. Nada. In fact, when threatened, these sharks are known to turn their back and take flight, shaking their tails rather than gritting their teeth at any threat.
Little is known about the smalltooth sand tiger shark’s habits because its numbers are so small and also because of its regular confusion with the more common grey nurse shark (more on those below). Although this confusion leads to a lack of cohesive data, it has worked in this shark’s favor. When the grey nurse shark went on the conservation list in Australia, they added the smalltooth sand tiger shark along with it to prevent one species from being mistaken for the other. Thus, the smalltooth was officially protected thanks to a case of mistaken identity!
Grey nurse shark
This shark has the dubious claim to fame of being the first shark ever to be listed as a protected species. Unfortunately, despite having been on the protected list since 1984, its numbers are still very low, and the grey shark is still considered a vulnerable species in the Med.
The grey nurse shark is one of the most fearsome-looking sharks living in the Mediterranean Sea. It has a bulky body, can grow up to 10 feet long, and has multiple rows of vicious-looking teeth that form sort of inward-bent daggers in multiple rows. However, this alarming appearance masks a slow-moving, docile nature. These sharks have never been known to be aggressive towards humans, and it’s said that their mouths are not even big enough to cause a fatal bite to a person. That might sound reassuring, but we don’t recommend testing the theory should you come across one!
Chances of you seeing one are fairly low, however. Not only are they endangered, but grey nurse sharks are most active at night. During the day, they mainly linger under rocky shelves and in submerged grottoes. They feed primarily on crustaceans and bottom-dwelling fish such as rays and skates, although they are known to eat other, smaller shark species, too.
Black tip shark
Blacktip sharks are fans of shallow water, preferring to stay in areas that don’t exceed 30 meters in depth. They especially like to be close to coves, lagoons, and coral reefs, rather than out in the open ocean. And if that sounds like that means the Mediterranean is the perfect habitat, that’s because it is! Yep, black tips are one of the most commonly seen species in the region. They’re especially common in the Eastern Med, around Israel and Egypt, after having migrated up from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal.
They are recognizable by the distinctive black edge (or ‘tip’) to their fins and occasionally their tail. Not the biggest of sharks, they only grow to an average of 4-5 feet. But they are powerful, fast swimmers, and very athletic; they often leap out of the water after their prey. Unfortunately, this trait makes them highly prized by big game fishermen, who enjoy the sport of trying to reel them in from the deep.
Despite being a close relation to tiger and bull sharks (two of the three most dangerous sharks in the world), the blacktip shark is not known to be dangerous or aggressive towards humans. There are incidences of them being overly curious of scuba divers, but they are generally timid and rarely bite.
Not one but three species of hammerhead sharks can be found living in the Mediterranean Sea. The largest, the great hammerhead, can grow to around 20 feet long, while the smooth hammerhead reaches 16 feet, and the smallest and most common, the scalloped hammerhead (pictured), rarely grows any larger than 14 feet from end to end.
These fantastic creatures are instantly recognizable by the unique shape of their heads, which is also how you would tell these three species apart. All three have the same broad, flat heads (or cephalofoils) unique to the hammerhead shark, but the shape of the front edge of the head differs. As the name might suggest, the scalloped hammerhead’s head is ridged like the edge of a scallop shell. The smooth hammerhead’s head is curved like a crescent. Finally, the great hammerhead’s is straight along the front.
Although it would be incredible to encounter any of these sharks in the ocean, we advise you to stay away. While they do not actively hunt humans, they are aggressive, apex predators, and their size and speed demand respect. They can be very curious around divers, and there have been incidents of hammerhead sharks harming – though rarely killing – humans in unprovoked attacks.
All three of these sharks suffer from overfishing due to the value of their large fins used for shark fin soup. As a result, two of these three species are on the IUCN’s endangered list, while the smooth hammerhead is classed as vulnerable.
Now for something altogether smaller and less threatening: The catshark. It’s a species you have a little more chance of seeing, too, although you probably wouldn’t recognize it as a shark if you did. There are three species of catshark that call the Mediterranean home. There are the Atlantic and the black-mouth catsharks, who live at such depths that the average swimmer or diver is unlikely to encounter them. And then there’s the small-spotted catshark, which likes shallower water, around reefs and sandy sea beds.
Conservation efforts are occurring in Malta to help catshark numbers thrive, and young catsharks are regularly reintroduced to the wild there. So, if you want a chance to go catshark spotting, snorkeling in Malta is a great choice. (Scratch that, snorkeling in Malta is a great idea whether you want to see sharks or not!)
These guys don’t have the traditional body or fin shape of a shark. They only grow up to 3 feet long and have slender bodies with a soft dorsal fin set back towards their tail. Their skin is a pale, brownish-grey color with darker spots. They are harmless to humans, so views can just relax and enjoy the sight.
Shortfin mako shark
The shortfin mako shark is one truly elegant specimen. Ultra streamline yet distinctly muscular and stocky, it’s known as one of the fastest customers in the seas. In fact, makos are regularly mistaken for dolphins from a distance, because they can manage flips and twists in the air, and hit speeds of a whiz-by-without-seeing-them 45 miles per hour! That’s about as fast as a car on a British country road.
These guys love both tropical and temperate waters, and have a range that spreads from the Gulf of Mexico to the South Pacific. They are thought to have moderate population numbers in the Med, but that’s declining heavily. In fact, the whole global population of shortfin makos is declining heavily, mainly because they’re a big draw for game fishers who like the challenge of pursuing the fastest shark of the lot. Makos are now officially endangered on the ICUN lists, while the Spanish government has recently placed bans on commercial fishing of makos in their North Atlantic territory.
Some of the largest ever mako specimens are thought to have been found in the Mediterranean. One that was plucked from waters just off of Italy way back in 1881 is said to have weighed a ton and measured four meters from end to end! Another, fished in France in the 1970s, stretched 4.5 meters in length. Makos aren’t known to be overly aggressive but have attacked fishing ships and scuba divers. Some divers have even reported witnessing makos performing predatory circles in the water and blowing bubbles in order to confuse them as prey.
Regularly mistaken for the aforementioned black tip shark, the spinner is another requiem shark that likes to reside in warm and shallow waters that don’t exceed more than 100 meters from surface to seabed. The name comes from the fast, twisting motions that the species makes when it’s in full attack mode. Thankfully, said attack mode is rarely unleashed on humans. They aren’t thought to view large mammals like us as potential prey, and the only dangerous incidents recorded are when spinner sharks became agitated with spear fishers in the presence of freshly fished catches.
Scientists have a bit of a hard time tracking exactly where there are considerable populations of spinner sharks. That’s mainly down to the fact that they’re pretty hard to discern from the slightly smaller black tip shark. That said, it’s generally agreed that these guys have colonized the coastal areas of the southern Mediterranean, ranging from the end of the Levant, past the Suez Canal and all the way to the edges of Morocco.
Sadly, spinner shark numbers are also on the decrease. These guys are highly prized for their liver oil and fins, which are commonly used in Southeast Asian soups. What’s more, they tend to be relatively easy to catch because they like sticking close to the coastline. Today, they are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and there are new fishing bans in place in North America.
Are there shark attacks in the Mediterranean Sea?
Yes, there are Shark attacks in the Mediterranean Sea, although they don’t happen often. Italy has the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks in the Med, with only 26 incidents since 1900. Of those 26 attacks, 10 were fatal.
Is the Mediterranean Sea shark infested?
Sharks do live in the Mediterranean Sea, 47 species of them, in fact. But most of them are completely harmless. Sightings of dangerous sharks are infrequent, and attacks are extremely rare. So, we’d have to say no, the Med is not shark-infested.
Is the Mediterranean sea safe to swim in?
Yes. The Mediterranean is generally a safe place to swim. Dangers are few, and incidents of injuries and fatalities are rare. That’s especially true when it comes to shark attacks. Drownings due to rip currents, flooding, and coastal accidents are more common dangers.
What is the most dangerous animal in the Mediterranean Sea?
The great white shark, although rare, is the most dangerous animal living in the Mediterranean Sea. There are now pretty common sightings of the beast, especially in the food-rich Strait of Sicily, where it’s thought great whites birth and bring up their young.