With its warm, sunny climate and crystal clear water, the island of Aruba is a popular tourist destination all year round.
Although there are sharks in Aruba, they mainly swim in the deep ocean, making the shallow waters and white, sandy beaches safer for swimming and snorkeling.
If you head further into the ocean water, you might catch a glimpse of one of the more common shark species in the area. These include the Caribbean reef shark, hammerhead, and whale shark.
These species represent just a handful of the sharks found in the Caribbean Sea.
If you head to one of Aruba’s more popular diving locations, you might be lucky enough to see any of the 20 or so species of shark that utilize the region.
What Sharks are Found in Aruba?
A study conducted by Wageningen Marine Research in 2019 showed that Aruba has the “largest shark diversity” of any of the Dutch Caribbean islands.
Using baited remote underwater video and acoustic telemetry technology, researchers found the following reef-associated shark species in Aruba:
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#1 Caribbean Reef Shark
The Caribbean Reef shark is one of the most common shark species in the Aruba area.
Although you’re unlikely to find yourself swimming with sharks in Aruba, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of these sleek predators when snorkeling or diving.
Occasionally seen around the shallow reefs of Boca Catalina, at the northwestern tip of Aruba, the Caribbean Reef shark is a vital component of the region’s ecosystem.
As one of the top predators, this critical species helps maintain the delicate balance of life on the reef by controlling the populations and distribution of their prey species.
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#2 Nurse Shark
Divers and snorkellers encounter the nurse shark more frequently than almost any other shark species in Aruba.
These slow-moving bottom-dwellers are harmless and docile, spending their days dozing in caves and under rock ledges.
Recent footage of tourists swimming with sharks in Aruba shows nurse sharks idling away one the ruins of Isla di Ora, where the mangrove forest meets the shallow coral reef.
They have also been spotted in Mangel Halto, one of Aruba’s top diving locations.
Although the nurse shark grows to around 8-feet long and weighs over 200 lb, it is a surprisingly timid creature that will usually avoid interactions with humans.
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#3 Tiger Shark
The aggressive tiger shark is a relatively common visitor to the Dutch Caribbean Islands but one that few visitors get to encounter. However, it is thought to be responsible for the few Aruba shark attacks recorded.
Field studies using baited remote underwater video (BRUV) spotted five tiger sharks in the deep ocean off the coast of Aruba and one juvenile tiger shark near the neighboring island of St Maarten.
Although tiger sharks are considered a “reef-associated” species, they are rarely encouraged in Aruba’s top diving locations, seeming to prefer the deeper water further from the coast.
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#4 Blacktip Reef Shark
Blacktip sharks are common on coral reefs and ledges and have been spotted around some of Aruba’s top diving locations.
They are also found in nearby Curaçao, St Eustatius, and Saba, but only “in low numbers.”
Preferring warmer, shallow waters, this species is traditionally found in the Caribbean Sea, although climate change has seen its distribution widen to incorporate the cooler waters off the New York coast.
#5 Hammerhead Sharks
The Great Hammerhead is occasionally spotted on the reefs around Aruba, and there is evidence of Scalloped Hammerheads migrating through the area, although sightings are rare.
As the global populations of both species continue to decline, so sightings will become increasingly sporadic.
The pressure from commercial fishing operations, combined with the hammerheads’ low reproductive output, have negatively impacted both species, causing an estimated 80% decline in the past 25 years.
Female Great Hammerheads only breed once every two years, while the Scalloped species produce between 12 and 41 embryos every year.
Juveniles experience high levels of predations, making the future of both species uncertain.
#6 Caribbean Sharpnose Shark
Although rare, the Caribbean Sharpnose shark is an infrequent visitor to the coral reefs off the coast of Aruba.
A small species measuring around 30” long, the Sharpnose is one of the few sharks that adapt well to low salinity. As a result, it is often found in estuaries, river mouths, and tropical bays.
You’re unlikely to encounter a Sharpnose in Aruba during the spring and early summer when they move further south to give birth.
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#7 Whale Shark
The huge, yet docile whale shark is one of the most common species in Aruba. As this video illustrates, some visitors have even been lucky enough to swim with whale sharks.
These massive, plankton-eating sharks move between the deep ocean and shallower in-shore waters. They are usually found close to the surface where their prey is more abundant.
Although whale sharks are roughly the size of a double-decker bus, they are harmless to humans, which makes sharing the ocean water with them a peaceful, yet awe-inspiring, experience.
#8 Bonnethead Shark
One of the smallest of the Hammerhead shark species, the Bonnethead is a migratory species that travel thousands of kilometers throughout the warm ocean waters of the Northern Hemisphere.
It is commonly seen in the Caribbean Sea, traveling long distances as it follows changes in water temperature.
Like many humans, it prefers water temperatures over 70°F (21°C) and similarly enjoys in-shore locations, reefs, and shallow bays.
Bonnethead sharks feast on blue crabs and shrimp during the day, occasionally bulking up their diet with seagrasses.
#9 Bull Shark
The notoriously aggressive bull shark is an infrequent visitor to the Dutch Caribbean region.
Baited remote underwater video footage showed just one bull shark in Aruba.
The absence of any rivers on the island could explain the bull shark’s scarcity as it is commonly found in freshwater river systems and estuaries.
No doubt, if there were more bull sharks in the area, there would also be more shark attacks in Aruba, as this aggressive species has been responsible for over 120 attacks on humans, including 26 fatal encounters.
#10 Lemon Shark
The well-camouflaged lemon shark prefers sandy-bottomed ocean waters to reefs and, unlike many of the other Aruba sharks, prefers a well-defined home range to constant migration.
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The lemon shark poses little threat to humans, even though it shares a similar territory.
Preferring the shallow, coastal waters to the deep ocean, encounters with lemon sharks are relatively common, especially around Florida.
Obtaining lengths of between 8 and 10’, the lemon shark is a large, predatory species that hunts for bony fish and crustaceans in the warm waters of the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea.
How Common are Sharks in Aruba?
Studies indicate that sharks are relatively common in Aruba, although sightings are infrequent and encounters, rare.
Some shark species move into shallower waters to give birth during the spring and summer months, making this the best time for shark sightings.
Shark attacks in Aruba
Aruba is more famous for its shark-free waters than it is for its shark attacks. That’s because shark attacks in Aruba are extremely rare. There is just one listed in the Shark Research Institute’s Global Shark Attack File.
That attack happened in 2015 when a Venezuelan trading boat carrying a cargo of whiskey from Bonaire to Aruba capsized after being hit by a freak wave.
Two of the crew died instantly, leaving Captain Adrian Esteban Rafael and his four remaining crew members clinging to the wreckage.
A Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard helicopter soon came to the rescue but watched in horror as Rafael was dragged from his rescue buoy by what they believed to be either a Tiger or Caribbean Reef Shark.
Although they managed to get Rafael out of the water, he died en route to the hospital.
This incident remains the only known shark attack in Aruba.
A few months before this fatal encounter, tourists reported another shark incident close to Palm Beach.
While swimming near Eagle Beach, a family was approached by a 10’ shark that delivered a “forceful punch,” as if establishing the identity of a potential prey species.
Although the family reported the incident, the shark had vanished into deeper waters by the time the coast guard arrived.
Where Can You See Sharks in Aruba?
Aruba’s top snorkeling and diving locations are some of the best places to swim with sharks. These include:
Boca Catalina is one of Aruba’s most sheltered beaches, making it ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Its shallow coral reefs are home to numerous colorful fish, including banded butterflyfish, bluehead wrasse, and striped parrotfish. You could even come face to face with a Caribbean Reef shark.
Also known as Colorado Point, Punta Basora is sheltered by the reef so you can enjoy its peaceful splendor without the rough and tumble of the waves.
You might even spot a hammerhead or other pelagic shark species at this top diving location.
The secluded beach of Mangel Halto provides an ideal environment for the lemon shark, with its network of mangroves.
Advanced snorkelers willing to take on the strong currents and long swims can go beyond the reef, or cut, to the healthy coral habitat where angelfish, parrotfish, and wrasse proliferate.
Isla di Ora
With an unusual combination of mangrove, sand, and coral reef, Isla di Ora provides a diverse enough habitat to attract almost all the Aruba shark species, from the Blacktip to the Lemon shark.
You can also feast your eyes on colorful reef fish, such as angelfish, snappers, and trumpetfish.
Can You Swim With Sharks in Aruba?
Visitors are attracted to Aruba because of its shark-free waters rather than because they offer shark encounters and experiences.
Nevertheless, as there are no fences in the ocean, you can never be too sure of what you might encounter.
When to go Diving in Aruba?
Aruba enjoys a tropical climate throughout the year. Whether you visit in the dry season, between April and November, or the rainy season at the start of the year, the temperature will be a balmy 80°F.
The ocean water is similarly inviting, ranging between 79°F between January and April and 84°F in October.
More people flock to Aruba because of its lack of sharks than they do for the opportunity to swim with these majestic creatures.
Despite that, research shows there are over 20 different types of Aruba sharks, including iconic species like the hammerhead and whale shark.
Most sharks in Aruba prefer the deep ocean to the shallow waters close to shore, making it safe to swim and snorkel in the area without risking a shark encounter.
Having said that, those visiting the island’s top diving locations may be lucky enough to encounter a Caribbean reef shark or even spot a nurse shark resting under a rock ledge.
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.