Sharks have a bad reputation. Each week, another shark attack sneaks into the headlines, leaving us with images of terrifying blood-thirsty marine monsters that hunt down unsuspecting humans. This picture is far from reality.
Even the most dangerous shark species attack infrequently, and others are so friendly they behave more like puppies than predators!
Far from the senseless killers that the media presents them as sharks are generally non-aggressive, and most shark attacks are a case of mistaken identity rather than intentional savagery. Sharks aren’t natural-born killers – merely carnivorous predators hunting for food.
Not all sharks behave that way, however. There are even some sharks that don’t bite.
Filter feeders like the basking shark and whale shark, for example, have such tiny teeth that they couldn’t bite you even if they wanted to. Others are so inquisitive and friendly that they’re totally harmless to humans.
Even Dangerous sharks, like the bull shark and great white, are unwilling to eat humans, even if they might take an experimental bite out of one from time to time. There are more sharks that don’t eat humans than are potentially life-threatening.
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Top 12 Least Dangerous Sharks That Don’t Bite You
There are approximately 440 different species of shark, most of which are harmless. While I wouldn’t recommend trying to befriend a great white, the following friendly shark species are generally safe to interact with.
#1 Whale Shark
The whale shark is both the biggest and most docile shark species in the world.
Before snorkeling with whale sharks in Mozambique, I was assured by the group leader that it would be safe. I wasn’t convinced, so I asked him, “Can sharks be friendly?” He laughed and told me to wait and see.
As soon as I was in the water with these 40-foot giants, I understood his reaction.
There were over 20 whale sharks in the water with us, many of which swam so close to us that we struggled not to touch them.
Despite their proximity, at no point did the whale sharks show any signs of aggression or irritation. Once they’d had enough of our human company, they drifted away in search of deeper waters.
Whale sharks might be the size of a bus, but their tiny teeth mean they pose very little danger to humans.
These non-aggressive sharks don’t even hunt for their food, preferring to use their huge mouths to strain shrimp, plankton, and small fish from the water as they swim.
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#2 Basking Shark
Measuring up to 33 feet long, the basking shark looks far more intimidating than it is. Like the whale shark, it’s a filter feeder and therefore lacks the shark teeth and jaw strength needed to execute a serious attack.
One of the least aggressive shark species, the basking shark is found in temperate waters in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Although non-aggressive, this large shark species has over 1,500 teeth in its three-foot-wide mouth.
At less than 6mm long, these teeth aren’t much used when capturing or eating food.
They are thought to play a part in the reproductive process, however. Experts believe the basking sharks use their teeth to hold onto one another during internal fertilization.
The basking shark is the largest shark species to breach and can leap nearly four feet out of the water.
This is the only time a basking shark might harm a human. After all, a 10,000-pound creature launching itself out of the water at 18 kph could cause some severe damage!
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#3 Bamboo Sharks
There are around 12 species of bamboo sharks, the largest of which reaches just over 40 inches long. Also known as long-tailed carpet sharks, these bottom dwellers spend most of their time walking around on the seabed.
Using their pectoral and pelvic fins to propel them along, they wriggle along the bottom of the ocean in search of small mollusks and crustaceans.
Although the bamboo shark attacks its prey with skill and precision, it presents no threat to humans.
One of the least aggressive shark species, the bamboo has been known to nip divers if provoked but is generally docile enough that you can safely interact with them and even pet them.
#4 Greenland Shark
The Greenland isn’t the friendliest shark species, mainly because it lives in such a cold, deep environment that few people will ever get the opportunity to interact with one.
This ancient species dates back 400 million years and can survive hundreds of years.
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Measuring around 14 feet long, the Greenland shark is undoubtedly large enough to harm a human, and some believe the species has been responsible for at least one attack.
In 1859, someone reported catching a Greenland shark with a human leg in its stomach. The incident was never fully investigated nor proven.
Nevertheless, the Greenland shark is an indiscriminate and opportunistic hunter that’s known to ambush seals and feast on the remains of moose, reindeer, and even polar bears!
There is no evidence of it attacking a human, so we can safely assume that it’s one of the friendliest sharks you’re likely to encounter – should you venture 7,000 feet underwater to find it.
#5 Cow Shark
This harmless shark species belongs to a primitive family of sharks known as Hexanchiformes.
Also known as the Broadnose Sevengill shark, the cow shark came into existence some 250 million years ago. With its seven gill slits and single dorsal in, it retains some similarities with prehistoric shark species that are now extinct.
An apex predator like the great white, the cow shark is a generalist species that eats a variety of coastal prey, including other sharks, seals, and bony fish.
Despite being at the top of the food chain alongside the great white, they are usually placid, friendly sharks. There have been a handful of attacks over the past few hundred years, but none are deadly.
This video shows just how aggressive these seemingly friendly sharks can be. It also serves as a useful reminder that we should never get too comfortable in the water with sharks, regardless of their reputation.
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#6 Leopard Shark
If anyone asks you, “What is the nicest shark?” you could do worse than opt for the leopard shark.
With their distinctive black saddle marks and silvery skin, these small sharks can easily identify if you can distinguish them from the sandy environments they inhabit.
While they have been known to attack on occasion, for the most part, they’re considered harmless to humans. Even when a leopard shark attacked a surfer back in 1955, the damage was superficial, and there have been no further attack reports since then.
Humans are definitely not on the leopard shark’s menu. They mostly feed on small crustaceans that they track down using a special organ that detects vibrations in the water.
#7 Goblin Shark
With its oversized snout and a mouthful of jagged teeth, the goblin shark certainly doesn’t look like a friendly shark species, but experts say it’s a lot less scary than it appears.
This rare species can shoot its jaw out in what scientists call a “slingshot feeding” mechanism.
The Goblin shark can project its jaws forwards at high speed, covering over 3 meters per second and extending it to around 8 to 9% of its entire body length.
This unusual ability means that this seven-foot creature could cause some real harm to a human if it managed to get its teeth into them. However, as this video shows, a wet suit provides adequate protection against an attack.
The chances of encountering a Goblin shark are slim as they inhabitant an area known as the “midnight zone.” The sunlight never penetrates this part of the ocean, which exists some 3,000 to 9,000 feet below the surface.
#8 Thresher Shark
The Thresher shark might be an aggressive predator, but it’s generally quite shy when humans are around.
My closest encounter with a Thresher shark was when I hooked one while deep-sea fishing off the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
The one I nearly caught was relatively small at around 5-feet long, but I was still thankful not to land it.
According to the skipper leading the trip, once onboard, a Thresher shark can cause considerable damage as it thrashes around, which is hardly surprising as its tail is longer than the rest of its body.
Despite its size and scythe-like tail, however, there is only one recorded attack by a Thresher shark and even that isn’t corroborated in the International Shark Attack File.
According to the unsubstantiated report, the attack occurred after the individual grabbed hold of the shark’s tail.
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#9 Angel Shark
Although this species is often portrayed as a friendly shark, it’s not as docile as you might think.
With its flat body and ability to camouflage itself on the seafloor, the angel shark looks like a ray, but its sharp teeth and powerful jaws give away its true identity.
Preferring a diet of crustaceans and bony fish over humans, the angel shark only attacks if trodden on or, as in this incident, repeatedly provoked. It is perfectly safe to dive with angel sharks, as long as you give them the space and respect they deserve.
Once prolific, the Angel shark population has declined rapidly over recent years due to it getting trapped in commercial fishing nets.
#10 Nurse Sharks
Nurse sharks might be friendly and relatively harmless, but they do bite, and when they do, they’re often unwilling to let go.
Nurse sharks use a combination of long, sharp teeth and suction to secure their prey, which includes shellfish, crustaceans, and squid. If it gets hold of a human, its grip is so tight that surgical instruments may be required to remove it.
Often referred to as the “couch potatoes of the ocean,” nurse sharks are notoriously sluggish and yet capable of high-speed attacks.
Nurse sharks are bottom dwellers that either ambush their prey or use the filaments, or barbels, at the front of their snouts to seek out crustaceans hiding on the seafloor.
Slow-moving and docile they may be, but there have still been over 40 attacks attributed to the nurse shark.
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None of these were fatal, and most were the result of humans getting too close or provoking the shark.
According to the International Shark Attack File, there has been a notable increase in attacks “in recent years as a result of ecotourism feeding operations.”
#11 Caribbean Reef Shark
While not exactly a friendly shark species, the Caribbean Reef shark tends to avoid human interactions as much as possible.
Compared to other species of reef shark, they’re timid and non-aggressive but have still notched up a few attacks over the years.
Nevertheless, the International Shark Attack File lists just four recorded attacks by Caribbean Reef sharks since 1580.
Known more for their curiosity than their aggression, Caribbean Reef sharks are one of the most commonly encountered by humans because of their habitat.
This shark species frequents some of the world’s most popular diving destinations and spends much of its time hanging out on coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea.
It rarely attacks without first performing an intricate threat display that involves arching its back like a cat, lowering its pectoral fins, and raising its head.
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#12 Sand Tiger Shark
With 36 recorded attacks on humans, you’d be hard-pushed to describe this species as sharks that don’t bite.
Despite that, the docile manner of the Sand Tiger shark and its lack of aggression around humans gained them a controversial place on our list of the least dangerous sharks.
Also known as ragged-tooth sharks, this species looks aggressive with its mouthful of gnarly teeth and starts its life of predation before it’s even born.
Responsible for 36 recorded attacks on humans, it’s far from the friendliest shark species, but it generally ignores divers and snorkels that enter its habitat.
It’s certainly a lot friendlier than the most dangerous shark species. The great white shark, for instance, has a whopping 297 official attacks to its name, making the sand tiger look decidedly timid in comparison.
Can Sharks Be Friendly?
Some sharks are friendly, even when encountering human imposters that don’t naturally occur in their submarine world.
Angel shark, for instance, will even tolerate some provocation before bothering to attack, while the leopard shark often seems more interested in getting a belly rub than a mouthful of human flesh.
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What is the Least Dangerous Shark in the World?
Filter-feeding shark species like the whale and basking sharks don’t have the teeth needed to cause severe harm, making them two of the least dangerous sharks you’re likely to encounter.
The friendliest sharks include the docile nurse shark and the seemingly affectionate leopard shark even though both species can deliver a firm bite if provoked.
Sharks are often portrayed as being blood-thirsty killers but this is far from the truth.
Even the most dangerous sharks rarely attack humans and, when they do, it’s usually a case of mistaken identity rather than intentional aggression.
Many shark species are too small to cause serious injury, while others are too lazy or docile to bother attacking a human.
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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.