Are There Sharks in Nassau Bahamas?

Yes, there are sharks in Nassau, Bahamas, with around forty species visiting the surrounding islands.

The Bahamas is sometimes called the Shark Capital of the World, largely because of the huge population of Oceanic whitetips off the coast of Cat Island. 

Whitetips aren’t particularly common around Nassau, but it is home to several other captivating shark varieties, including the Caribbean reef shark and notoriously docile nurse shark.

Sharks have long inhabited the warm waters of the Bahamas, and attacks have occurred, albeit infrequently.

The International Shark Attack File has only 33 attacks listed for the Bahamas, while other sources put the total at 132. The earliest recorded attack occurred in 1860, and the most recent, just a few months ago. 

That’s why, if you’re planning a trip to Nassau, you might want to familiarize yourself with the types of sharks that frequent the area and just how dangerous they can be. 

are there sharks in Nassau?

What Sharks Are There in Nassau? 

The waters off the Bahamas are home to over 40 different species of sharks, making it one of the world’s shark hotspots.

Most of the sharks head to Grand Bahama Island, but nothing stops them from visiting Nassau, and many do. 

Some of the most common shark species found in Nassau include:

#1 Caribbean Reef Shark

Caribbean Reef Sharks

The Caribbean reef shark is the shark species you’re most likely to encounter off the coast of Nassau. This shallow-water shark hangs around the outer edges of Nassau’s reefs and sometimes rests on the sea floor.

The best place to see the Caribbean reef shark in Nassau is at the Runway Wall, where regular feeding dives ensure consistent gatherings of the species. 

Caribbean reef sharks respond more willingly to feeding dives than any other species, and although they are potentially dangerous, tend to ignore humans and focus on the food instead.

Although not normally aggressive, this shark species is excitable and can become dangerous when there’s food around, as diver Jason Dmitri discovered in 2014. 

Dmitri fought off a curious Caribbean reef shark while hunting for lionfish off the Cayman Islands. This is one of just a handful of attacks attributed to the species, none of which have proved fatal. 

#2 Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

Nurse sharks are widely distributed across the tropical and subtropical waters of the Eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

It also occurs in the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea, where large groups congregate on reefs and nearby sandy flats.

It is an abundant species in the Caribbean and is frequently seen off the coast of Nassau. These benthic sharks are docile and slow-moving, so pose little threat to humans, which makes them a popular species for shark encounters.

You can swim with nurse sharks at several locations around the Bahamas, including Blue Lagoon Island, a 20-minute boat trip from Nassau.

Nurse sharks have a unique way of feeding – they suck their prey out of its hiding place and crush it with its powerful jaws.

Using this technique, the nurse shark feeds on various bottom-dwelling species, including crustaceans, bony fish, squid, and stingrays.

Although generally non-aggressive creatures, nurse sharks have attacked humans in the past.

The most recent attack in the Bahamas occurred in 2022 at Compass Cay, where several sharks bit an 8-year-old boy. He was subsequently admitted to hospital, where he underwent a three-hour operation to repair the damage. 

#3 Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

The tiger shark is large, aggressive, and downright dangerous. It also likes hanging out in the Caribbean, and there’s a resident population of the predators off Tiger Beach on Grand Bahama Island. 

The tiger shark is a large creature, measuring approximately 10 to 14 feet long.

It gets its name from the distinctive vertical stripes visible on the juveniles. Experts believe these stripes help to camouflage the young sharks, protecting them against possible attack. 

Tiger sharks have a widely varied diet and are often referred to as the garbage cans of the sea.

They usually hunt alone under the cover of darkness but, around the Bahamas, are often seen in groups.

After the great white, the tiger shark is one of the world’s most dangerous species and is, according to the ISAF, responsible for over 100 attacks on humans, of which 39 have been fatal. 

In 2019, three tiger sharks attacked a 21-year-old woman off the coast of Rose Island in the Bahamas. Jordan Lindsey from Los Angeles was snorkeling with the island’s famous swimming pigs when the attack took place.

Although she tried to escape,  she tragically succumbed to her injuries after being dragged from the water. 

Although tiger sharks are aggressive, attacks are relatively rare, with this attack being “the first shark-related fatality in the Bahamas for over 10 years.”

#4 Lemon Shark

Lemon Shark

We know more about the lemon shark than almost any other species due to its ability to survive in capacity.

It has been widely studied and has proved to be surprisingly sociable, often hanging out in groups with other individuals of the same size and gender.

Lemon sharks are seasonally migratory but always return to the same places to give birth. The females seek out shallow coastal habitats, such as mangrove forests, that provide their young with food and protection from predators. 

Although lemon sharks can be seen off the coast of Nassau, they are more common in the mangrove forests around Bimini.

Lemon sharks are generally regarded as docile and friendly, and only 10 unprovoked attacks have ever been recorded, none of which were fatal. 

The most recent lemon shark attack occurred in the Dry Tortugas National Park off the coast of Florida in February 2022. A six-foot-shark latched onto the foot of 42-year-old Heather West while she was snorkeling in the area. 

West punched the shark repeatedly in the face, causing it to let go. Her efforts saved her foot which she thought the shark had bitten off – “seeing it still there, even though it was completely mangled, was a huge relief,” she said. 

#5 Bull Shark

Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

Not only are bull sharks large and aggressive, but they also turn up in places you may not expect them.

Bull sharks have an unusual ability that enables them to live in both fresh and salt water. As a result, they’ve been found in freshwater lakes and rivers, sometimes hundreds of miles from shore. 

In Nassau, however, the bull sharks stick to the saline waters of the Caribbean Sea rather than exploring the freshwater systems and appear to only visit the area, rather than living there permanently. 

Bull sharks prey on various species, including turtles, fish, other sharks, and marine birds. They habitually bumping their prey with their noses before delivering the first exploratory bite, which is delivered with a bite force even greater than that of the great white.

The size and ferocity of the bull shark make it potentially dangerous to humans, as the large number of attacks indicates.

According to the ISAF, bull sharks have attacked 119 people, of which 26 died due to the attack.

This figure may not include the most recent bull shark attacks, one of which took place off the coast of Nassau in February 2023. 

#6 Great Hammerhead

Great Hammerhead

Great hammerheads only visit the Bahamas in the winter, when the cooler water temperatures make the environment more tolerable.

They tend to congregate off the coast of Bimini but may occasionally swim into the coastal waters around Nassau.

During the day, great hammerheads are fairly docile as they do most of their hunting at night.

There is no record of any fatal attacks by the species, possibly because it doesn’t eat mammals or because its 360-degree field of view means it doesn’t mistake humans as prey. 

Great hammerheads have perfected the art of hunting stingrays, using their huge heads to pin them to the seafloor while plucking off their wings with their saw-like teeth.

In addition to stingrays, great hammerheads also feed on squid, crustaceans, and other sharks. 

#7 Oceanic Whitetip

Oceanic Whitetip

You may not encounter an oceanic whitetip off the coast of Nassau, but they’re not far away, and a quick 30-minute flight to Cat Island could be all it takes to spot these agile underwater predators. 

Each spring, these inquisitive sharks follow the tuna migration to Cat Island and congregate offshore, giving divers and underwater photographers the opportunity for a close encounter.

With bright white tips on their rounded fins, oceanic whitetips are easy to identify.

It’s virtually impossible to confuse them with the white-tipped reef shark as the two species occupy very different habitats, with the oceanic whitetip being a pelagic or open-water species, as opposed to a reef shark.

As oceanic whitetips tend to stay in open water, far from the coastal areas utilized by humans, encounters and attacks are extremely rare.

#8 Silky Shark

Although silky sharks are more commonly seen patrolling the open waters around the Bahama’s Cat Island, every year they head to an oceanic crater known as the Lost Blue Hole in Nassau to breed. 

Situated 10km from the Nassau coastline, the Lost Blue Hole descends 300ft below the surface, providing a natural breeding sanctuary for the migratory silky.

Every June, hundreds of silky sharks gather at the Lost Blue Hole to perform their complex courtship displays and secure themselves a mate. 

Like many shark species, the silky shark’s mating rituals epitomize tough love, with the male biting the female as he battles to hold her in place so copulation can occur. 

The wounds inflicted on the female are known as mating scars and sometimes result in permanent damage, as well as superficial cuts and scrapes. 

Although the silky shark is a large marine predator with sharp enough teeth to do some serious damage, they rarely attack people, primarily because they stick to open waters where few people venture. 

Shark Attacks in Nassau

The first shark attack recorded in Nassau occurred in 1860 when a pilot fell overboard while on a boat being towed by a ship. 

Although the ship stopped and fellow passengers attempted to assist by giving the pilot the end of an oar, the man disappeared, apparently “carried underwater by a large shark.” The shark was never identified, but witnesses believe it may have been a tiger shark. 

A similar incident occurred recently, although there is no proof a shark was involved. 18-year-old Cameron Robbins jumped overboard from a cruise ship on 24 May 2023 and promptly disappeared. 

An extensive search failed to recover his body. Although there is no evidence of a shark attack, Royal Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Raymond King says the water Robbins entered is  “really shark-infested.”

The disappearance of Robbins came just months after a 58-year-old woman died from a fatal shark attack while snorkeling near Nassau.

It’s thought a bull shark was responsible for the attack, which caused fatal injuries to the woman’s “upper extremities.”

Shark Tours in Nassau

Several operators offer shark expeditions and dives in Nassau and other parts of the Bahamas.

You can dive with Caribbean reef sharks and watch them feed, or if you’re an advanced diver, head to the Lost Blue Hole to see silky and nurse sharks in their natural habitat.

If you want to dive with hammerheads, you’ll need to head to Bimini, while those brave enough to meet a tiger shark will have better luck in Grand Bahamas.  

Is It Safe to Swim in Nassau?

The waters off the coast of Nassau are warm and calm, making them ideal for swimmers of all levels.

Few sharks venture this close to the busy city, making the waters safe for swimming.

FAQ

Which Island in the Bahamas has the Most Sharks?

West End on the island of Great Bahama has some of the most shark-infested waters in the world. It’s teeming with iconic species, including the great hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, tiger shark, bull shark, and many more. 

Are there Great White Sharks in the Bahamas?

The Bahamas might be the Shark Capital of the World, but it doesn’t attract the most dangerous species of all – the great white.

Great white sharks prefer cooler waters and tend to steer clear of the balmy seas around the islands. 

What is the Most Common Shark in Nassau?

The Caribbean reef shark is the most common shark in Nassau, although the population is declining due to climate change and overfishing.

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