Dubai is known for its unbeatable shopping malls, extreme heat, vibrant culture, and golden, sandy beaches. It is home to people from all over the world, with the bulk of its population comprising ex-pats.
It’s not only people who flock to its crystal clear waters – sharks also pop in from time to time, and your chances of seeing a whale shark in Dubai Marina are relatively high.
Although the Persian Gulf provides a habitat for many species of sharks, few approach the busy beaches.
Experts like Paul Hamilton, the general manager at the National Aquarium in Abu Dhabi, say this is because “there’s nothing really that would interest them.”
There are sharks in Dubai, but most stay well away from the busy coastal areas, preferring to occupy deeper waters where food is more abundant.
Let’s explore what types of sharks you can find in Dubai and how much of a threat they pose to the people enjoying the golden beaches and warm Gulf waters.
How Common Are Sharks in Dubai?
Sharks are extremely uncommon in Dubai. Even shark sightings are few and far between, making the probability of a shark attack reassuringly low.
Occasionally, a whale shark pulls into the Dubai Marina, seemingly attracted by the bright city lights, but they pose no threat to humans.
The last time a potentially dangerous shark was seen near the Dubai coastline was in November 2022, but even then, the encounter passed without incident.
It’s been nearly four years since any sharks have been seen near Dubai Palm, making it a safe place to enjoy the tropical waters.
Back in 2017, a blacktip reef shark was seen swimming close to Oceana Beach on the Palm, but it didn’t stay long.
Since then, only whale sharks have been seen on the coastline, particularly in Dubai Marina and around Palm Jumeirah.
What Sharks Are There in Dubai?
There are sharks in Dubai, and even potentially dangerous ones, but they tend to stick to the deeper waters, giving the warm coastal areas a wide berth. The types of sharks you can find in the Persian Gulf include:
#1 Blacktip Reef Shark
Blacktip Reef sharks are arguably one of the most abundant shark species in the Persian Gulf and one of the few that will enter shallow coastal waters.
Blacktip reef sharks can tolerate comparatively high water temperatures of between 59 to 86℉ but generally prefer it slightly cooler at between 68 to 77℉.
That means they’re unlikely to enter Dubai’s coastal waters during the summer when the water temperature hovers at around 90℉.
Blacktip reef sharks are generally quite timid creatures that avoid contact with humans and are difficult to approach.
They usually attack only when provoked, although they have been known to bite the legs of swimmers and waders, presumably mistaking them for prey.
The bite of the blacktip reef shark is nothing compared to that of the great white, although it is capable of inflicting injury.
There are no recorded fatal attacks by this species, even though it’s thought to be responsible for around “16% of the shark attacks around Florida” each year.
#2 Sickle-fin Lemon Shark
The sickle-fin lemon shark, also known as the sharp-tooth lemon shark, is a relatively common visitor to the Persian Gulf and was added to the area’s shark fauna in 2010.
Sicklefin lemon sharks prefer shallow waters less than 300 feet deep, which means they tend to stray into areas utilized by humans.
They also enjoy warm, tropical waters, so could easily be attracted to the Dubai coastline, even though sightings are few and far between.
Capable of growing up to 12 feet long, sickle-fin lemon shark is large enough to harm a human and will respond aggressively when provoked. Despite that, there are only a handful of attacks by the species on record.
The last known attack by a sickle fin lemon shark occurred off the coast of Western Australia, some 9,000 km away from Dubai.
Sicklfin lemon sharks are not migratory and occupy small home ranges that they defend against other sharks and the occasional human.
#3 Sandbar Shark
Sandbar sharks are one of the world’s largest coastal shark species and can be found in both temperate and tropical waters
They grow to approximately 7.5 feet long and look extremely intimidating with their stocky bodies, long dorsal fins, and saw-like teeth. Despite that, they pose little threat to humans.
Not only do they tend to avoid beaches, but they are rarely aggressive, and their preference for smaller prey means they’re unlikely to mistakenly bite a human.
Sandbar sharks frequent shallow coastal waters over sandy or muddy bottoms where they hunt for small bony fishes, like menhaden and snapper, crustaceans, and the occasional octopus.
Officials were quick to point out that this was a bite rather than an attack, as the shark made no attempt to feed on its victim.
#4 Bull Shark
The bull shark looks very similar to the sandbar shark but is much more aggressive and dangerous. Known for its ability to live in both fresh and marine waters, the bull shark frequently comes into contact with humans, but not in Dubai.
In the Arabian Gulf, bull sharks avoid the hot summer months but are relatively common off the UAE coast during the winter.
According to Paul Hamilton, although bull sharks have a high salinity tolerance, they tend to stay away from Dubai’s coastline, where “the water gets really salty,” opting instead for the deeper channels, where the salinity is a little lower, as is the temperature.
Bull sharks like warm waters of around 68℉ or a little warmer but tend to steer clear of the warmer waters found close to Dubai’s top beaches.
This is good news for anyone planning a trip to Dubai, as the bull shark is notoriously aggressive and dangerous towards people. Like the great white, the bull shark tends to bite first and ask questions later.
The bull shark is one of the world’s most dangerous species and, according to the International Shark Attack File, has been responsible for 119 attacks on humans, of which 26 proved fatal.
#5 Tiger Shark
The tiger shark is one of the world’s largest marine predators, reaching lengths of up to 14 feet and weighing over 600 kg. They are aggressive, opportunistic hunters with a wide-ranging diet that encompasses everything from shellfish and sea turtles to suits of armor and chicken coops!
Known as the garbage can of the sea, the tiger shark’s indiscriminate approach to food means it’s more likely to attack a human than almost any other shark species.
Since records began, tiger sharks have been responsible for 142 attacks, of which 39 proved fatal.
They aren’t as common in Dubai waters as bull sharks, and there’s no evidence of a resident tiger shark population, although Hamilton believes “they definitely do come through the Gulf.”
In August 2023, a tiger shark killed a man off the coast of Egypt, causing widespread panic around the Red Sea and the nearby Persian Gulf.
Hamilton believes people visiting Dubai have little to fear as the tiger sharks in the area are focused on hunting “their primary food source” – the sea turtle – rather than humans.
#6 Whale Shark
Whale sharks are seen in Dubai waters more frequently than any other species, but as filter feeders pose no threat to humans, despite their considerable size.
Growing to lengths of up to 39 feet, the whale shark is the largest shark species in the world but the least dangerous. Unlike the great white, the whale shark feeds on tiny microscopic organisms and couldn’t attack a human even if it wanted to.
Although whale shark has around 3,000 teeth in its enormous mouth, they measure less than an inch long and are vestigial – a remnant from the past.
Whale sharks evolved into filter feeders a long time ago, so they no longer use their teeth to hunt or feed. Instead, they pass large quantities of water through their filter pads which extract nutrients in the form of algae, plankton, and krill.
#7 Great Hammerhead
The largest species of hammerhead, the great hammerhead inhabits tropical waters worldwide, preferring temperatures between 59 and 89℉. It is not commonly seen in the Persian Gulf but may well pass by the Dubai coast on one of its seasonal migrations.
Reaching lengths of around 13 feet, the great hammerhead is certainly large enough to attack a human, but it rarely does.
There are nine different species of hammerhead, and collectively they’ve only been responsible for 18 attacks, none of which were fatal.
Although great hammerheads do frequent coastal waters, in the Persian Gulf they appear to stay offshore, where there’s a greater abundance of prey.
Great hammerheads have an eclectic diet consisting of stingrays, skates, sharks, bony fish, squid, and bottom-dwelling crustaceans.
#8 Whitetip Reef Shark
The whitetip reef shark is one of the most common shark species in the Arabian Gulf, inhabiting coral and rock reefs where it both lives and hunts.
Whitetip reef sharks have long, agile bodies that enable them to maneuver through caves and crevices in their chosen habitat, hunting down reef fish, octopuses, and crustaceans.
While many shark species are largely solitary, the whitetip reef shark is a very social creature that often sleeps together, lying side-by-side on the ocean floor or stacking themselves on top of one another.
Whitetip reef sharks grow to around 5.3 feet and, while curious, rarely attack, although they have been known to harass spear fishers and become aggressive around food.
#9 Tawny Nurse Shark
The tawny nurse shark is a bottom-dwelling shark that prefers sandy flats and reefs.
A type of carpet shark, it swims just above the ocean floor, searching for unsuspecting prey, which it sucks from the sediment with an audible slurping sound.
It feeds on various species, including sea urchins, crabs, and octopus. The tawny nurse shark can reach lengths of up to 10 feet and has strong jaws and sharp teeth, making it a potential danger to humans.
However, it’s usually quite docile and rarely attacks humans unless provoked.
#10 Sand Tiger Shark
The sand tiger shark is a larger predatory species known for its rows of jagged teeth and unique ability to swallow air to make itself more buoyant. It’s a large coastal species that was first recorded in the Persian Gulf in 2012.
Although they look ferocious, sand tiger sharks are surprisingly docile and only attack humans when provoked. Despite that, there has been a flurry of attacks by sand tiger sharks near Long Island, with at least four people being bitten in two days around the Fourth of July holiday in 2023.
Sandtiger sharks prefer sandy coastal waters and shallow waters less than 626 feet deep. By filling their stomachs with air, these sharks can achieve neutral buoyancy and “hang” above the ocean floor watching for prey.
A voracious eater, its diet consists of small sharks, bony fish, crustaceans, squid, and rays.
Shark Attacks in Dubai
Shark attacks in Dubai are extremely rare, making Dubai’s waters as safe as the city itself.
According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), there were just four shark attacks in the United Arab Emirates between 1900 and 2022.
The only suspected attack in Dubai occurred in 2010 when Australian surfer Michael Geraghty was dragged off his surfboard at Umm Suqeim Beach.
It’s not clear what bit Geraghty that day, and experts believe “it may have been a barracuda or another largish predator.”
Although you can’t dive with sharks off Dubai’s coastline, you can at the Dubai Mall Aquarium.
You can also enjoy open-water dives with several operators where you can meet some of the Persian Gulf’s more colorful inhabitants, but where the chances of seeing a shark are extremely slim.
Is it Safe to Swim in Dubai?
Yes, it’s safe to swim in Dubai, despite there being sharks there.
Few sharks enter the salty coastal waters frequented by humans, making your chances of running into one extremely slight.
There have only been a handful of possible shark attacks in the area, none of them fatal.
Are There Great White Sharks in the Persian Gulf?
While no one can say for definite there are no great white sharks in the Persian Gulf, it seems likely that their presence there is rare, to say the least.
There is one record of a great white caught in the Persian Gulf back in 1984, but it was never confirmed.
Are There Great White Sharks in the Arabian Gulf?
The Arabian and Persian Gulfs are the same thing, so if there are no great whites in the Persian Gulf, then there are none present in the Arabian Gulf either.
Are There Hammerheads in the Persian Gulf?
There is evidence to suggest there are great hammerheads in the Persian Gulf, but that’s the only hammerhead species to have been spotted there.
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.