Sharks aren’t as dangerous as you might think. Last year, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File confirmed a total of 112 shark bites on humans, of which 11 were fatal.
By comparison, toasters kill around 300 Americans every year.
Nevertheless, a toaster isn’t a particularly intimidating or aggressive appliance, whereas some sharks are. Thanks to sensationalist news stories and movies like Jaws and The Shallows, many of us find sharks terrifying, even if the statistics suggest we should show more fear for our home appliances!
To establish which shark species is the most aggressive, we used the following criteria:
- Number of recorded attacks on humans
- Levels of aggression
- Habitat and proximity to humans
Our research revealed that the most dangerous shark species in the world to humans is… you’ll have to read to the end to find out!
The Top 10 Most Dangerous Sharks In The World
- Great White Shark
- Bull Shark
- Tiger Shark
- Oceanic White Tip Shark
- Blue Shark
- Blacktip Shark
- Sandtiger Shark
- Hammerhead Shark
- Bronze Whaler Shark
- Wobblegong Shark
#10 Wobbegong Shark
According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, the wobbegong shark has been implicated in 19 unprovoked attacks on humans since 1580. That works out at around one every 20 years or so.
The wobbegong is a species of carpet shark and spends much of its life languishing on the ocean floor. Measuring between 1.5 and 1.8m in length the wobbegong isn’t a massive shark, but it can be aggressive and has long, sharp teeth that it won’t hesitate to use if it feels threatened.
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The Australian Shark-Incident Database indicates that wobbegong sharks were responsible for 51 fatal attacks on humans between 1900 and 2009, 24 of which occurred in the last nine years of that period. John G. West, the curator of the Australian Shark-Incident Database, says the increase in attacks is due to a growing shark population and changes in human behavior.
While the wobbegong looks gentle enough, they can attack “with incredible ferocity if harassed.” Once a wobbegong’s snuck its teeth into you, it’s often unwilling to let go, causing severe lacerations.
Most attacks by the wobbegong occur when people inadvertently enter its territory or step too close to its mouth. The wobbegong attacks either to defend its territory or because it’s mistaken the human for prey.
#9 Bronze Whaler
The bronze whaler, also known as the copper shark, rarely makes it onto a list of the world’s most aggressive sharks. It usually loses out to the nurse shark, but these omissions fail to take its “size and aggressive predatory behavior” into consideration.
Statistics concerning bronze whaler attacks on humans are wildly inconsistent. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) lists just 15 unprovoked, non-fatal attacks by the bronze whaler since 1580. Meanwhile, the Australian Shark-Incident Database has recorded six incidents recorded since 1990.
Further research revealed several deaths and attacks, including one in New Zealand in 1976 and another in New South Wales in 2014.
While a different shark species may have been responsible for these attacks, the bronze whaler still deserves a place in the top 10 in terms of unprovoked shark attacks.
The bronze whaler isn’t usually antagonistic towards humans but, in the presence of food, becomes “aggressive and agitated.” It has been known to harass and steal catches from spearfishers and has, on occasion, bitten swimmers.
Measuring approximately 11ft long the bronze whaler belongs to the family of requiem sharks and, as such, can be difficult to distinguish from other members of this species, like the blue or white tip reef sharks.
It’s therefore impossible to know how many of the 68 unprovoked attacks attributed to requiem sharks were carried out by bronze whalers.
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#8 Hammerhead Shark
There’s no mistaking the hammerhead for any other shark species. With its flattened and extended head, the hammerhead is quite distinct and not, under usual circumstances, all that aggressive.
When swimming with hammerheads off the coast of Mozambique some years ago, I was struck by how small their mouths were. Although the sharks themselves measure around 13 feet long, their mouths are disproportionately small compared to other shark species, but not so small that they can’t bite a human.
Over the years, the ISAF has recorded 16 hammerhead attacks on humans, and the Australian Shark-Incident Database, only one. These statistics are surprising given how frequently hammerheads enter the shallow waters utilized by humans.
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According to Save Our Seas Foundation chief executive officer James Lea, humans are a much greater threat to hammerheads than sharks are a danger to us. He says, “Overfishing has left seven of the nine hammerhead shark species either endangered or critically endangered.”
#7 Sand Tiger Shark
The sand tiger shark also goes by the name of the spotted ragged-tooth, which gives you some insight into its terrifying appearance. With a mouthful of protruding, “dagger-like” teeth, the sand tiger shark looks far more aggressive than statistics suggest. Since 1580, there have been just 36 recorded attacks by sand tiger sharks, none of which were fatal.
Like the hammerhead, the spotted ragged-tooth shark has a small mouth that makes it physically impossible to kill a human. Despite that, in 2012, a sand tiger shark was filmed attacking a diver during a routine medical procedure. You can view the attack here, but be prepared for some graphic coverage!
The injuries were severe but not life-threatening, and the diver made a full recovery.
The sand tiger shark’s jagged teeth are designed to grip slippery prey species, like squid, but cannot bite through larger species, making them relatively harmless to humans.
Although largely docile, they become killers before they’re even born! As discussed in our article on the shark’s life cycle, the sand tiger shark spends a year in the womb, living off unhatched eggs and cannibalizing its siblings.
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#6 Blacktip Shark
As we discovered in our article about how close sharks come to shore, blacktips are one species that frequent the shallow waters close to the beach.
Not to be confused with the blacktip reef shark, the blacktip shark, or Carcharhinus limbatus, occurs globally, using the shallow waters to forage for small schooling fish. Mature blacktips are around 6-foot long and feed on larger species such as squid, octopus, and smaller rays and sharks.
Although the ISAF records just 41 non-fatal unprovoked attacks by the blacktip, experts believe they are “likely responsible for the majority of bites in Florida.”
These attacks are, Tyler Bowling, the manager for the Florida Program for Shark Research, says, “most often a case of mistaken identity.”
Most attacks occur in low visibility water and target the legs of feet of waders.
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#5 Blue Shark
The likelihood of being the victim of a blue shark attack is extremely low. According to the ISAF, there have only been 13 attacks, of which four were fatal. That statistic makes the blue shark the first of our most dangerous shark species to have killed a human.
While the blue shark isn’t the fifth most aggressive, it is the fifth most dangerous.
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Preferring the deeper waters of the pelagic zone, blue shark and human interactions rarely occur. Spearfishers and divers sometimes encounter them but usually survive the experience unscathed. Blue sharks will approach humans out of curiosity, but they rarely attack.
Most blue shark attacks appear to occur after air or sea disasters when the sharks opportunistically target any survivors floating in the open ocean.
Although the blue shark is generally friendly, experts recommend approaching it with caution.
#4 Oceanic Whitetip
In some respects, the oceanic whitetip is less dangerous than the blue shark. Of the 15 whitetip attacks recorded, only three have proved fatal. As the whitetip has attacked more people than the blue shark, however, I felt it merited a higher rank.
Dubbed the “the most dangerous of all sharks” by the famous French undersea explorer environmentalist Jacques Cousteau, the oceanic whitetip is large, aggressive, and very powerful. These opportunistic hunters were, it’s believed, responsible for finishing off the survivors of the torpedoed U.S.S. Indianapolis in 1945.
As aggressive as they may be, the oceanic whitetip is another shark species that is more endangered than dangerous. These sharks were once considered the “most abundant large animal… on the face of the Earth,” but their population has been declined dramatically over recent years.
The international demand for shark fin soup has all but destroyed the oceanic whitetip, and its reputation for being a man-killer hasn’t helped either.
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#3 Tiger Shark
The tiger shark is the first of the so-called “big three.” According to the ISAF, tiger, white, and bull sharks are the most dangerous because of their size, proximity to humans, and ability to cause serious injury.
The tiger shark is a voracious hunter and scavenger with “a nearly limitless menu of diet items.” Humans have also been on that menu comparatively frequently, and the ISAF has 138 confirmed tiger shark attacks, of which 36 were fatal.
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In 2016, a surge in shark attacks off the island of Maui caused widespread concern. According to a National Geographic documentary, tiger sharks were responsible for six of those seven attacks.
Despite this, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology, Carl Meyer, maintains that tiger sharks aren’t aggressive and “generally avoid interactions with people.”
#2 Bull Shark
The bull shark hasn’t attacked or killed as many people as the tiger shark, but many experts consider them “the most dangerous sharks in the world.”
The bull shark earns this status because it favors the shallow waters close to highly populated areas and therefore comes into contact with humans more frequently.
Bull sharks are also aggressive and agile predators. The turbulent waters of river mouths and estuaries have poor visibility, and most bull sharks “attack people inadvertently or out of curiosity.”
Also known as the Zambezi, the bull shark has “the largest bite force value among all studied sharks,” which makes it highly dangerous even if it’s only investigating.
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#1 Great White Shark
Since 1580, great white sharks have killed 57 people and attacked over 350. Despite that, experts say this 20-foot predator has “a softer side.”
Morne Hardenberg, an underwater cameraman who’s studied the behavior of great whites for the past 16 years, has captured incredible footage of great whites communicating with each other and calmly interacting with humans.
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With a better understanding of their sophisticated body language, Hardenberg believes we can more easily avoid the danger posed by these daunting creatures. “When the shark’s agitated, you see body spasms run along its back,” Hartenberg explains. “If the back arches, again, that’s agitation.”
Most attacks on humans occur when a great white mistakes them for a prey species, like the seal. These attacks are so fast and ferocious that few people even see them coming.
Most Dangerous Sharks FAQ
What is the #1 Deadliest Shark?
With its incredible size and strength, not to mention its aggressive predatory behavior, the great white is easily the world’s number one deadliest shark.
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What is the Most Evil Shark?
No shark species is inherently evil – they’re simply performing their natural behavior.
In low visibility waters, sharks sometimes mistake us for potential prey, but they’re not the mindless killers Hollywood has made them out to be.
Are Mako Sharks Dangerous?
The shortfin mako shark swims faster and further than any other shark species.
They are specialized hunters that use a combination of ferocity and intelligence to outwit and intimidate their prey.
They are one of the ocean’s apex predators and, at around 12 feet long and 1200 lbs, are more than capable of severely injuring a human.
Do Mako Sharks Attack Humans?
Mako sharks live too far offshore to come into regular contact with humans. The ISAF lists only nine recorded attacks by shortfin mako sharks, including one fatality.
Mako sharks sometimes get caught in commercial nets and longlines. They occasionally bite fishermen during their struggle to escape. Although that’s how most mako shark attacks occur, last year, a mako shark attacked a paraglider off the Jordanian coast.
Such attacks are extremely rare. According to Adi Barash, the chair of an Israel environmental conservation organization said, “The last time something like this happened was 40 years ago.”
Are Hammerhead Sharks Aggressive?
Hammerhead sharks are aggressive hunters, but they don’t generally exhibit that hostility around humans.
Hammerheads rarely attack people but will defend their territory if they feel threatened.
Are Hammerhead Sharks Dangerous to Humans?
As the marine biologist and shark expert, Jonathan Davis says, “I would not classify hammerheads as a danger to humans and would definitely put their ‘attack’ rate as very rare.”
Are Sand Tiger Sharks Dangerous?
With its mouth full of protruding, the sand tiger shark looks deadly, but it’s quite a docile creature. It may retaliate defensively if provoked but prefers to keep its distance.
Shark attacks are extremely rare and usually occur by mistake or out of curiosity.
Although the ISAF keeps a record of all unprovoked shark attacks, as Peter Benchley, the author of Jaws, points out,
“We provoke a shark every time we enter the water where sharks happen to be, for we forget: The ocean is not our territory — it’s theirs.”
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.