It’s summer 2023, and you, like thousands of others, have headed to Spain to soak up some sun and splash in the waves.
You spent months planning and organizing the trip and thought you’d covered everything. When you reach the ocean, you suddenly realize you never asked anyone, “Are there dangerous sharks in Spain?”
Given the headlines that emerged from Spain during June and July 2023, it is glaringly obvious that there are dangerous sharks in Spain and sharks at the Spanish coast.
But just how dangerous are they, and are you likely to encounter them swimming, diving, or snorkeling off the Spanish coast?
Experts believe the chances of encountering a shark in Spain are quite high, but fortunately, attacks remain scarce.
Let’s explore a little deeper and find out what sharks live in Spanish waters and how much of a threat they really pose to humans.
What Sharks Live in Spain?
It’s only recently I discovered there are around 50 different species of sharks in Spanish waters, ranging from the diminutive Spiny dogfish to the colossal whale shark.
While we won’t list all 50 here, we will give you some interesting facts about some of the most common shark species in Spain and how likely you are to bump into them.
#1 Blue Shark
The most common shark found in Spanish waters, the blue shark was responsible for most scares during the summer of 2023.
Blue sharks aren’t usually dangerous and rarely attack humans unless provoked, although one did attack a 40-year-old man in Costa Blanca a few years ago, leaving him with a gaping wound in his hand.
Blue sharks measure around 10 feet in length and are equipped with powerful jaws and razor-sharp teeth. They’re known for their curious nature and may nip out of interest rather than aggression or deadly intent.
#2 Spiny Dogfish
The spiny dogfish might be small, measuring just 2.5 to 3.5 feet long, but they have a secret weapon that keeps most predators at bay.
Spiny dogfish are one of the few species of venomous sharks. It has two venom-producing spines in front of its dorsal fins, which it uses to fend off potential attackers.
While spiny dogfish can sting a human, it’s unlikely and relatively harmless. It will cause pain and swelling, but it’s not fatal.
You certainly shouldn’t be put off by the thought of spiny dogfish swimming around in Spanish waters – they tend to stay well away from humans and spend most of their time on the ocean floor, where they hunt opportunistically, eating whatever they find.
#3 Basking Shark
The basking shark is one of the world’s largest, measuring around 40 feet long and weighing over four metric tons, but that shouldn’t stop you from dipping your toes in Spanish waters.
As this video illustrates, basking sharks are gentle creatures that possess none of the aggressive tendencies often associated with sharks. They eat only microscopic plankton, which they sieve out of the water using huge gill rakers.
Basking sharks are seen quite regularly off the Spanish coast, especially during May and June, which experts believe could be due to the “increase in phytoplankton concentration, which is higher during the spring.”
Alternatively, it might just be seeking some winter sun. According to scientists from the University of Exeter, “The primary drivers behind basking shark migrations are still unclear, but they may include mating, searching for foraging grounds, and finding water of preferred temperature.”
#4 Whale Shark
If you think the basking shark is big, think again! The whale shark can reach lengths of nearly 60 feet and weighs around 14 metric tons, making it the largest shark species in the world.
Fortunately, its behavior is more like that of the basking shark than the great white, so sharing the water with one is more of a privilege than a peril.
Although whale sharks are more commonly found in warmer waters around Australia, the Maldives, and Indonesia, they have been known to enter the Mediterranean, and one was spotted off the coast of Almadraba in December 2022.
Whale sharks don’t move very quickly and yet travel vast distances, with the longest known whale shark migration currently standing at just over 20,000 km!
#5 Tiger Shark
As its name suggests, the tiger shark is a ferocious predator that hunts opportunistically and indiscriminately.
Just a few days before writing this, a tiger shark attacked and killed a Russian man in the Red Sea, but attacks by tiger sharks are nevertheless rare, especially off the coast of Spain.
Tiger sharks are rarely seen in Spanish waters but have been spotted off the coast of Malaga. Experts believe climate change and ocean warming could bring more tiger sharks to the area, increasing the chances of attack.
Growing to lengths of around 10 to 14 feet, the tiger shark is the second largest predatory shark behind the great white.
They are solitary hunters that travel hundreds of kilometers through vast home ranges to find prey.
They eat almost anything, including fish, lobsters, shellfish, small sharks, and marine birds. They’ve also been known to consume unlikely items such as porcupines, bats, rubber boots, and even Barbie dolls.
#6 Great White
The last time a great white was seen close to the Spanish coastline was in June 2018, when one was spotted close to the Balearic Islands.
It was the first time a great white had been seen in the area in over 30 years. Nevertheless, it means the answer to “Are there great white sharks in Spain?” is a tentative “yes.”
Great whites enjoy a vast range that incorporates both coastal and open waters. Preferring shallower waters less than 650 feet deep, the great white will descend to depths of up to 4,000 feet to access the abundance of food available in the so-called twilight zone.
The great white is responsible for more attacks on humans than any other species, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily has a taste for human meat.
Great whites have taste buds inside their mouths and throats, enabling them to identify their prey before swallowing. Sadly, a single exploratory bite from a great white is often fatal for a human.
Like its cousin, the porbeagle is an impressive and predatory species related to the great white.
However, it poses little threat to humans as it rarely attacks without provocation. Most of the people bitten by porbeagles have been fishermen trying to either land or release a shark.
Porbeagles travel vast distances and can be found in most of the world’s oceans, although their numbers are declining rapidly due to overfishing. In the Mediterranean, porbeagles are now critically endangered, although the European Union has introduced measures to combat their decline.
Despite that, a recent report from Greenpeace revealed that “EU fishing fleets from Spain and Portugal are consistently fishing in shark nursery grounds in the North Atlantic,” putting species like the porbeagle under increased pressure.
#8 Bull Shark
The bull shark is known to be one of the most aggressive and potentially dangerous.
Like the great white, they tend to bump and bite their prey before a full-blown attack. This behavior “often leads to serious, often fatal, injuries,” making the bull shark one to avoid.
Bull sharks are extremely adaptable creatures, capable of living in both fresh and saline water, which brings them into proximity to humans.
Fortunately for those on vacation in Spain, they are more commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean near the Canary Islands than in the Mediterranean.
The International Shark Attack File attributes 119 unprovoked attacks to the bull shark, of which 26 proved fatal.
These combative creatures attack not only humans but also boats. One of the most recent attacks saw a large bull shark repeatedly attacking a fishing boat off the coast of Florida and shaking it “like a bag of popcorn.”
#9 Shortfin Mako Shark
The high-speed hunting techniques of the shortfin mako shark are legendary. Reaching up to 50 mph speeds, the shortfin mako pursues its prey in swift pursuit before biting off the tail and immobilizing it.
This approach means the shortfin mako can prey on some of the ocean’s fastest-moving fish species, including tuna and swordfish.
Although aggressive and potentially dangerous, the shortfin mako shark prefers open waters and rarely comes close enough to shore to pose a threat.
They are rarely seen in Spanish waters, with the last sighting occurring in July 2022, when a shortfin mako was spotted off the coast of Garraf, not far from Barcelona.
The shortfin mako shark is becoming increasingly rare in the Mediterranean, where the commercial fishing industry has targeted it.
Highly sought after for its high-quality meat and fins, the shortfin mako is now protected in Spain’s Mediterranean waters, where the landing and sale of the sharks were banned in 2021.
#10 Silky Shark
Silky sharks are among the world’s most abundant open-water species and are commonly found around Madeira, Spain, and Angola in the Eastern Atlantic.
Its name comes from its dermal denticles being so tightly packed that they create a smooth, almost silky surface.
The silky shark is a large, predatory species that reaches lengths of 8 to 11 feet. It spends most of its time in the open water, hunting for tuna, squid, and octopus.
Although the silky shark is curious and known to approach divers, attacks are rare, primarily because few humans enter its oceanic territory.
Unlike the great white or bull shark, the silky shark stays far from the shore, so it rarely comes into contact with humans.
Are there any Dangerous Sharks Living in Spain?
There are dangerous sharks in Spain, including the formidable great white, the pugnacious bull shark, and the famously indiscriminate tiger shark.
While these species all potentially threaten humans entering the water, the risk of attack is small.
According to the International Shark Attack File, both fatal and non-fatal bites are decreasing worldwide, probably due to “advances in beach safety, medical treatment, and public awareness.”
Shark Attacks in Spain
The most recent suspected attack occurred in September 2017, when a 13-year-old boy sustained serious injuries to his foot and lower leg.
Officials never confirmed if a shark was responsible for the attack, although many suspected a blue shark could have caused it.
Are there Tours to go Snorkeling or Diving with Sharks in Spain?
If you want to dive with sharks in Spain, you’ll probably have to settle for diving in an aquarium.
Both Palma Aquarium and Aquarium Lanzarote offer shark diving experiences, with the Palma Aquarium boasting the deepest shark cage in Europe.
There are some great snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in Spain, but none offer shark-specific experiences.
Are there Sharks in Barcelona?
Sharks appear to find the beaches of Barcelona as attractive as humans do, and their presence sometimes forces authorities to close the beaches, as they did in 2022.
The combination of two blue sharks patrolling the coastline and a shortfin mako shark swimming a few miles offshore caused officials to close several beaches in and around Barcelona at the peak of the 2022 holiday season.
Reportedly, Maritime Rescue officers said the beaches were closed as “a precautionary measure” as “these are two species of shark that do not attack people and, therefore, do not pose a danger to bathers.”
There might be a few people who disagree with that statement – like the 40-year-old man who nearly lost his hand to a blue shark in 2016!
Are there Sharks in Murcia?
There are so many sharks and rays around the coastal city of Murcia in south-eastern Spain that researchers call for the area to be “declared an Important Shark and Ray Area, or ISRA.”
In addition to some of the more common species, like the blue shark and short-fin mako, the area is also home to some unusual types, like the lantern shark and guitar shark.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.