Are There Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea?

Sharks are associated with tropical waters and coral reefs for many people. However, with over 500 known species, sharks can be found in all the world’s oceans, including the Mediterranean Sea.

So, having answered “are there sharks in the Mediterranean Sea” with a firm yes, which sharks might you see there?

We’re going to take a look at some of the fascinating sharks that call the Mediterranean their home. We’ll also consider how common there are and if there are any real risks of a shark attack.

15 Sharks Found in the Mediterranean Sea

Are there sharks in the Mediterranean sea? A European Union report states that the Mediterranean Sea is home to at least 47 species of shark.

are there sharks in the mediterranean sea

Let’s start by looking at some of the most common Mediterranean sharks. We’ll take in some of the more infamous species and consider their fearsome and usually unreasonable reputations.

1. Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)

Maximum Length – 3.8 m / 12 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The blue shark, also known as the great blue shark, is a requiem shark usually found in the deeper waters off the Mediterranean coast. The sharks get their name from the deep blue color on the upper side of their bodies. 

Blue sharks have long, relatively thin bodies and long pectoral fins. They are known to be curious and friendly, and tours are arranged to snorkel and scuba dive with them when the water is in their preferred range between 12 and 20 °C (54–68 °F).

Blue Shark

Blue sharks mainly eat squid. However, they are also known to eat octopus, cuttlefish, lobster, crabs, shrimps, fish, and smaller sharks. It is reasonably common to see blue sharks hunting together to herd their prey and make it easy to capture.

The main predators of blue sharks are larger sharks, including the great white shark. They may also be hunted by killer whales (Orcinus orca), who are known to exist year-round in the western Mediterranean around the Strait of Gibraltar.

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Blue sharks are not considered to be dangerous to humans. The international shark file records just 13 unprovoked blue shark attacks since their records began in 1580, with only four fatalities.

Unfortunately, blue sharks are killed for shark fin soup, shark meat, and as bycatch and during sport fishing activities. Their population in the Mediterranean is regarded as critically endangered, which is worse than their international near-threatened listing.

2. Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Maximum Length – 2.8 m / 9.2 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Vulnerable

The blacktip shark is usually observed in waters shallower than 30 m (98 ft) close to the coast. They are known for the noticeable black edges on their caudal, dorsal, pelvic, and long pectoral fins. Blacktips are colored gray/brown on their upper bodies with a white stripe running from their long pointed nose to their tail. They are almost entirely white underneath.

Blacktip Reef Shark

Blacktip sharks hunt schooling fishes, including sardines, mackerel, mullet, and jacks. The shark will often approach the fish from below and make spinning jumps out of the water as they capture their prey. In addition to fish, blacktip sharks also eat smaller sharks and rays. They are opportunistic feeders and are readily attracted by fishing boats dumping bycatch into the water.

This shark species is generally nervous about human activities, although they can act aggressively when food is around. However, since records began, while there have been 41 recorded incidents, there have been no known fatalities.

3. Shortfin Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)

Maximum Length – 4.45 m / 14.6 ft 

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The shortfin mako shark is a large mackerel shark known as the fastest of all shark species. This shark can comfortably move at 50 kph / 31 mph with the ability to burst to an incredible 74 kph / 46 mph.

They also hold the record for the strongest shark bite ever measured at approximately 3,000 lbs. or 13,000 newtons of force.

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The longest recorded shortfin mako caught on hook-and-line measured 4.45 m (14.6 ft) and was captured off the French Mediterranean coast in 1973. 

Shortfin Mako Shark

The shortfin mako has a brilliant metallic blue coloration on its upper side and is white underneath. 

This shark species is typically found in the open sea and rarely seen near the Mediterranean shore. They will travel long distances to find food and mate, and, as with other sharks in the Mediterranean, individuals may leave the area entirely at certain times of the year.

Shortfin mako sharks feed mainly on fish, including swordfish and tuna. They will also eat cephalopods, sea turtles, and porpoises and have also been seen taking seabirds resting on the surface. As a highly active species, the shortfin mako needs to consume at least 3% of its body weight every day to stay healthy.

Like many other sharks in the Mediterranean, the shortfin mako is more endangered here than in other areas globally. The shark is captured for its meat, but many are killed accidentally as bycatch during the driftnet fishing industry.

Humans are not prey for the shortfin mako, as is standard for all sharks. Record attacks are very rare, and many incidents have involved the shark being attracted by spearfishing.

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4. The Common Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus)

Maximum Length – 6 m / 20 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Endangered

Threshers are fascinating sharks that get their name from their unusually long tails. They use these during hunting as a whip to maneuver schools of fish into compact groups and will even stun their prey with a targeted strike before eating it. 

Common Thresher Shark

Thresher sharks may be found in deeper waters close to the shore, but they are usually away in the open ocean in the Mediterranean.

Although Threshers are a large species, they have relatively small mouths and teeth for their size compared to other sharks.

They tend to be very timid and are rarely seen by scuba divers. There are no recorded attacks by the common thresher shark on humans.

Large numbers of thresher sharks are caught commercially by longlines and gillnets and by sport anglers. The thresher shark has a low reproduction rate, and accordingly, its population is severely threatened.

5. Sand Tiger Shark (Carcharias taurus)

Maximum Length – 3.2 m / 10.5 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Coastal waters from Gibraltar to as far east as Adriatic and Libyanian coasts

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

Also known as the grey nurse shark, the sand tiger shark lives on sandy coastlines where it hunts bony fish, crustaceans, squid, and smaller sharks.

Sandbar Shark

This shark is extremely rare in the Mediterranean, and the last recorded sighting was in 2003. It is doubtful that you’ll come across one in the ocean. However, they can be seen in the Barcelona Aquarium if you are interested.

With rows of sharp teeth, this shark has a frightening appearance. However, the sand tiger shark is very docile, and this shark has no recorded human fatalities.

6. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini)

Maximum Length – 4.3 m / 14 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Coasts of Spain, Morocco and Algeria and the Balearic Islands

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The scalloped hammerhead is the most common species in the hammerhead family worldwide. However, it is now scarce in the Mediterranean, thanks mainly to overfishing caused, in particular, by the demand for shark fins.

This shark is smaller than either the smooth or great hammerhead, also found in the Mediterranean. 

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

The scalloped hammerhead mainly feeds on fish, including herring, sardine, and mackerel. As a coastal pelagic shark, its regular habitat is deep water that’s close to the coast.

Island areas like the Balaerics are an ideal environment and probably present the most significant opportunity for sightings.

This fascinating shark isn’t considered any threat to humans, and the international shark attack file does not list any recorded unprovoked shark attacks.

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7. Smooth Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna zygaena)

Maximum Length – 5 m / 16 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The smooth hammerhead gets its name thanks to its head’s flattened and extended shape. It is the second-largest hammerhead shark species and has the widest distribution thanks to its relatively high tolerance for cooler seas.

In the Mediterranean, the smooth hammerhead is critically endangered due to overfishing of both the shark itself and its favored foods of seabass and herring. 

Smooth Hammerhead Shark

Smooth hammerheads are usually found in relatively shallow coastal waters of about 20 m (66 ft) deep. This could include estuaries and bays, although it may be rare in the Mediterranean thanks to the typically busy levels of human activities.

This shark has the potential to be aggressive to humans if provoked. Reported incidents are typically a result of close interaction with the shark caused by fishing and spearfishing.

8. Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran)

Maximum Length – 6.1 m / 20 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – North coast of Africa

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The largest of all hammerhead sharks is a rare sighting in the Mediterranean as it is only believed to be found along the warmer coastline of North Africa. However, as sea temperatures rise, you may find this fantastic shark further north.

The great hammer particularly enjoys eating stingrays, and it has been observed using its head to pin the ray down on sandy sea beds before delivering immobilizing bites to its wings. The shark is also known to eat bony fishes, crabs, octopus, and squid, as well as other sharks.

Great Hammerhead Shark

Great hammerheads have an inquisitive nature backed up by their large size.

Although they typically don’t pose any threat, great hammerheads will often approach scuba divers seemingly without any fear and circle them as if trying to work out what these mysterious creatures in their habit are doing.

The population globally of this shark has decreased dramatically in recent years.

Unfortunately, the shark’s large fins are especially popular for shark fin soup, and commercial fishing has actively targeted great hammerhead sharks.

9. Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark (Odontaspis ferox)

 Maximum Length – 4.1 m / 13.5 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – North African coast from Morocco to Algeria. Italian coast and Adriatic.

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The rare smalltooth sand tiger shark is usually found in rocky areas in deep water. They are often mistaken for ​​grey nurse sharks. However, they are a distinctly different species.

Smalltooth sand tiger sharks have stocky bodies with long, somewhat flattened snouts.

Smalltooth Sand Tiger Shark

Their mouths are filled with projecting teeth which the smalltooth sand tiger shark uses effectively to capture bottom-dwelling fish, shrimp, squid, and rays.

In the Mediterranean, smalltooth sand tiger sharks have been observed by scientists at depths of up to 250 m (820 ft).

However, on occasion, they have been seen shallower by scuba divers, where they appear calm and uninterested. The shark prefers cooler temperatures and so may move north during the summer.

Mediterranean smalltooth sand tiger shark populations are thought to be in decline thanks to overfishing, pollution, human disturbance, and habitat destruction.

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10. Sandbar Shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

Maximum Length – 2.5 m / 8.2 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Endangered

The sandbar shark is typically found in areas with muddy or sandy sea beds, including quiet bays, harbors, estuaries, or river mouths. They are closely related to bull sharks and are among the largest coastal sharks found in the Mediterranean, with particularly heavy-set bodies compared to their length.

Sandbar sharks have distinctive tall triangular dorsal fins and very long pectoral fins. Their snouts are rounded and shorter than other requiem sharks.

Sandbar Shark

The diet of a sandbar shark is typically made up of rays, crabs, and fish. Other larger oceanic sharks, including the great white and tiger shark, may prey on an unlucky sandbar that they come across.

Scientists have studied sandbar shark nursery grounds in Marmaris, Turkey, in the Mediterranean. They have noticed significant reductions in juvenile sharks each year, which is thought to be due to the adults being hunted for shark meat.

Sandbar sharks are not dangerous to people. The five noted unprovoked attacks in the international attack shark file are all listed as non-fatal. Many anecdotal incidents worldwide that have taken place have involved either active shark feeding or spearfishing.

11.  Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)

Maximum Length – 3 m / 9.8 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – North African Coast

Red List Assessment – Vulnerable

The spinner shark is a requiem shark often confused with the blacktip shark. This shark takes its name from its hunting method, where it will spin in the water while attacking its prey.

When the spinner shark finds an appealing school, it will charge into it from below.

As this shark rushes vertically through the water, it will spin with its mouth open catching any fish that gets close enough. The spinner shark will often end up dramatically spiraling through the water’s surface before splashing back to begin its hunt once again.

Spinner Shark
Spinner Shark (Photo: Oceana.org/Kevin McGee on Flickr)

Spinner sharks enjoy tropical and temperate waters, so they are not seen in the northern waters of the Mediterranean. The sharks are commercially hunted for their fins, meat, and liver oil.

These sharks are not considered dangerous to humans. Their diet consists of smaller fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans, and the shark’s small mouths mean that larger mammals of any kind are not on their food radar.

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12. Copper Shark (Carcharhinus brachyurus)

Maximum Length – 3.3 m / 11 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Known in the West and Suspected in the Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Data Deficient

The copper shark, also known as the bronze whaler, exists in the Mediterranean Sea between Morocco and the Canary Islands. Indeed, scientists have studied a nursery area off Al Hoceima in Morocco.

This shark is rare in the Mediterranean, and the Red List has noted it as data deficient, meaning that they do not have sufficient information to assess the population.

Copper Shark

In the rest of the world, the shark is rated as vulnerable, and it is reasonable to assume that Mediterranean populations are at least as threatened, if not more so.

Copper sharks can be found in various habitats, including deep offshore waters, shallow bars, and even brackish rivers. The shark favors bony fish, and in many locations worldwide, they are known to hunt in reasonably large groups.

These sharks are not considered aggressive to humans. However, several incidents have involved spearfishers who have been injured when the copper shark tried to steal their catch.

As they are not common in the Mediterranean, incidents involving people are infrequent.

However, sensible caution should always be displayed when swimming or fishing in an area where there have been recent sightings.

13. Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus)

Maximum Length – 7.9 m / 26 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Endangered

The basking shark is the world’s second-largest fish, and it has reached this impressive size by feeding only on microscopic plankton.

Basking sharks slowly swim at the ocean’s surface, filter-feeding plankton from the water. They have a large dorsal fin that often breaks the surface while they feed, which can cause alarm to unsuspecting visitors.

basking shark

However, the basking shark is entirely harmless to people, with the only potential injury being if a swimmer gets too close and the shark accidentally collides with them or swipes them with its tail.

Basking sharks have mainly been seen in the western Mediterranean, although they have been sighted repeatedly as far east as the Dardanelles Strait in Turkey. Any shark encounter with this giant fish is lucky no matter where they are.

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“Fearsome” Mediterranean Sea Sharks

Many people asking, “are there shark attacks in the Mediterranean sea?” are concerned with the infamous “big three most dangerous sharks,” the great white, tiger, and bull sharks.

Let’s see if you might find these in Mediterranean waters.

14. The Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)

Maximum Length – 6.1 m / 20 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Entire Area

Red List Assessment – Critically Endangered

The world’s most infamous shark, the great white shark, is indeed found in the Mediterranean. Great white sharks have been sighted over the centuries in the whole area, including the Turkish Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus.

Great White Shark

Great white sharks in the Mediterranean don’t have the standard ready supplies of food that they have in other areas, which contributes to them being quite rare.

Typically the great white shark may eat the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), although their populations are severely reduced, or hunt bluefin tuna.

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There have been very few great white shark attacks in the Mediterranean sea, particularly when you consider just how much human in-water activity takes place.

There have been 31 incidents involving great white sharks over the course of 200 years. So while the great white shark may be engaged in the most incidents worldwide, the Mediterranean is certainly not a hotbed of activity.

15. Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

Maximum Length – 5 m / 16 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – Uncertain

Red List Assessment – Near Threatened

Although there is quite a distance between them, the tiger shark comes in second in the shark attack file for incidents involving humans, with 138 unprovoked incidents worldwide since records began in 1580.

Several confirmed sightings have proved the existence of tiger sharks in the Mediterranean.

However, it is not known for sure if these were one-offs or part of an established population. Either way, we can say that the tiger shark is extremely rare in the Mediterranean sea.

Tiger Shark

The first confirmed sighting of a tiger shark in the Mediterranean was in Malaga, Spain, in 1994, and there was a second seen in Sicily, Italy, in 2000. Subsequently, two juvenile tiger sharks were caught off the coast of Libya, suggesting a population may exist, perhaps off the African coast.

There has never been a shark attack involving a tiger shark in the Mediterranean, so it seems pretty reasonable not to be concerned about this shark.

The Bull Shark – UNCONFIRMED (Carcharhinus leucas)

Maximum Length – 4 m / 13 ft

Known Distribution in the Mediterranean – No Confirmed Sightings

Red List Assessment – Vulnerable

Bull sharks hold third place in the shark attack file. However, there has never been any confirmed bull shark sightings in the Mediterranean.

Bull sharks are known to exist on the West African Atlantic Ocean coast as far north as the south of Morocco.

Bull Shark

Accordingly, it may one day, with global warming, be possible for a bull shark to make their way to the Mediterranean. However, there is no evidence that they have done so for the time being.

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Other Mediterranean Sharks

As we answered, “are there sharks in the Mediterranean sea?” we don’t have enough time to show you them all in detail. Other Mediterranean sea shark species include:

  • Dusky Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus)
  • Kitefin Shark (Dalatias licha)
  • Longfin Mako Shark (Isurus paucus)
  • Shortnose Spurdog (Squalus megalops)
  • Bluntnose Sixgill Shark (Hexanchus griseus)
  • Angelsharks (genus Squatina)
    • Sawback Angelshark (Squatina aculeata) 
    • Smoothback Angelshark (Squatina oculata)
    • Common Angelshark (Squatina squatina)
  • Three Catshark Species (family Scyliorhinidae)
    • Small-Spotted Catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula)
    • Atlantic Sawtail Catshark (Galeus atlanticus)
    • Blackmouth Catshark (Galeus melastomus)

How Common Are Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea?

Sharks in the Mediterranean are not as common as in other comparable seas. Extensive fishing, both of the sharks themselves and their food, has meant that Mediterranean shark species are less common than they should be.

In addition, high levels of human activity in many areas mean that seeing a shark in the Mediterranean has become increasingly uncommon.

What Are the Most Common Shark Species in the Mediterranean?

The most common shark species in the Mediterranean are the Carcharhiniformes, including blue sharks, blacktip sharks, and the three species of hammerhead shark found here. Other dangerous sharks, like the great white or tiger, are extremely rare.

Are Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea Endangered?

Yes, almost all shark species in the Mediterranean sea are endangered.

A 2019 report by the WWF stated that Mediterranean sharks were the most at risk globally, with almost a third of shark species close to the level of extinction.

Are There Registered Shark Attacks in the Mediterranean Sea?

The international shark attack file records all known shark attacks and breaks them into the species involved and the country they took place in.

Of the countries bordering the Mediterranean sea, the highest number of shark attacks since records began in 1580 have occurred in Greece (15), followed by Italy (13), Spain (6), and Croatia (5).

Are There Any (Other) Dangerous Animals in the Mediterranean Sea?

When people ask are there great white sharks in the Mediterranean sea, they are focusing on a very rare, albeit infamous animal.

There are other dangerous animals in the Mediterranean sea which can cause injury or even death.

These may include potentially deadly jellyfish, including the Portuguese man o’ war, or the venomous stonefish, scorpionfish, lionfish, and weeverfish.

Generally, there is much more to worry about than shark attacks or even other dangerous sea creatures.

By far, the most significant number of injuries or deaths involve human activity and accidents.

Conclusion

We’ve answered the questions “are there sharks in the Mediterranean sea?” with a big yes.

There are no fewer than 47 species of shark living in the Mediterranean sea, and we’ve shown you some of the most common and interesting.

We’ve also looked at how two of the world’s most dangerous sharks are present in the Mediterranean but seen that they are scarce and haven’t been the cause of many shark attacks over the years.

So, what do you think? Were you surprised that so many different sharks lived in the Mediterranean? Let us know in the comments which you found the most interesting.

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