A vacation in Jamaica has an awful lot to offer. Whether you’re visiting for the nightlife, culture, cuisine, or history, you can’t escape the Caribbean Sea surrounding the island, making water sports a big deal here.
This might lead you to ask, “are there sharks in jamaica?” Like all Caribbean islands, yes, there are sharks in Jamaica.
Whether you’re excited by the idea of seeing these magnificent creatures, or you’re a little concerned about them, we will tell you everything there is to know about the sharks in Jamaica, starting with some of the species of marine life that swim here.
7 Sharks in Jamaica
These are the most common in Jamaica that you might see while snorkeling or scuba diving.
1. Caribbean Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus perezi)
This is the most common reef shark in the Caribbean Sea.
The Caribbean reef is a requiem shark with a long heavy-set streamlined body and can reach a maximum of 3 m (9.8 ft) in length.
It is dark gray or gray-brown on top and usually white or white-yellow underneath and can weigh up to 70 kg (150 lb).
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As its name suggests, you’re most likely to see Caribbean reef sharks amongst the coral reefs. The shark likes to eat bony fish and cephalopods, as well as eagle rays and yellow stingrays.
This isn’t a shark known for any aggression toward humans, although there have been some rare shark attack incidents.
Usually, these have involved either shark feeding or spearfishing. The shark can get quite agitated when hunting, so it’s not a good idea to stay amongst large schools of fish if you see one.
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2. Nurse Sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Caribbean nurse sharks are also very common sharks in Jamaican waters, and they are so docile and friendly that divers often refer to them as being like puppy dogs.
The nurse shark spends most of its time at rest alone on the seabed. They do almost all their hunting for food at night, so they usually don’t move unless disturbed during the day.
The nurse shark can reach up to 3.08 m (10 ft 1 ½ in) long and are brown on top with white bellies.
They don’t have the greatest eyesight, and the rare injuries to tourists that do happen are usually because they have accidentally trodden on the shark or otherwise provoked it.
It’s pretty normal to dive with nurse sharks, and they offer a memorable experience. So long as you’re careful and follow the guide’s rules, these are a fun and friendly shark.
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3. Caribbean Sharpnose Sharks (Rhizoprionodon porosus)
This shark is smaller at just 110 cm (43 in) maximum length and rarer than our first two Jamaican sharks.
The Caribbean sharpnose can be found in coastal waters between just below the surface and as deep as 500 m (1,640 ft).
In Jamaica, most sightings take place in bays where the shark comes to feed on small fish, squid, or shrimp.
The shark may also be found in surfing areas. However, it is not a species that usually causes any concern to humans.
4. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrna lewini)
The scalloped hammerhead is the third largest of all the hammerhead sharks and is the one most commonly seen in Jamaica.
You may be lucky enough to see baby scalloped hammerheads if you visit the mangrove forests, as these and other sharks live amongst the roots for protection.
On the other hand, it is even less common to see adults as they tend to stick to areas where deep water is readily accessible.
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Scuba divers may be lucky enough to encounter a scalloped hammerhead or two.
The sharks do spend time in schools. However, it is more usual to see a single example approaching divers to check them on behalf of a larger group that may be waiting beyond visual range.
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5. Great Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrna mokarran)
The great hammerhead is the largest of this family of sharks, with an impressive maximum length of 6.1 m (20 ft).
This isn’t an especially common shark around Jamaica, so you’re lucky if you see one.
The sharks will occasionally come to shallow waters to feed on the sandy-bottom, particularly if they can find one of their favorite sting rays to eat.
The great hammerhead isn’t generally regarded as being actively aggressive towards humans, although it can certainly be imposing given its significant size.
Almost all incidents which have taken place have involved spearfishing or shark feeding. It is not a good idea to get in between some delicious-smelling marine life food and this particular shark.
Divers entering the water with great hammerheads need to be careful to get down to the bottom quickly where the shark does not seem bothered by them.
While descending or in mid-water, the great hammer can consider the divers to be a threat to its food, and there are stories of aggressive behavior.
6. Lemon Sharks (Negaprion brevirostris)
Lemon sharks take their name from the somewhat yellowish coloring on their upper bodies, which acts as camouflage when they’re swimming over the sandy seabed.
These sharks are found in coastal areas and can reach up to 3.4 m (11 ft) in length. You might see them in Jamaica while snorkeling, but you don’t need to worry about them being dangerous.
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Unfortunately, lemon sharks are far less common than they used to be as they have been targeted heavily by commercial and recreational fishing, which has significantly reduced the local population.
7. Blacknose Sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus)
Adult blacknose sharks usually stay in deep water, so it’s really rare to see one. You might be lucky and spot a juvenile in shallow water feeding amongst seagrass or reef rubble.
The blacknose reaches a maximum length of 2.0 m (6.6 ft). Unsurprisingly, the shark gets its name from a noticeable black spot on the tip of its nose.
There are no recorded incidents of this shark ever attacking humans. It is, sadly, another shark that is becoming rarer due to excessive deep sea fishing, so any sighting in the wild should be considered fortunate.
2 Dangerous Sharks in Jamaica to Watch Out For
So far, all the sharks we’ve looked at are not really considered threatening to humans. But let’s take a look at two species in Jamaica that may be considered dangerous sharks.
1. Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)
The tiger shark has a fearsome reputation as the second most dangerous shark in the world, behind the great white. However, incidents worldwide are still highly uncommon and, in Jamaica, almost unheard of.
Tiger sharks are pretty big and can get up to 5 m (16 ft 5 in). They are known to eat pretty much anything they think might be food and are known as swimming garbage cans in some locations.
Typically tiger sharks stay in deep waters, coming up only to feed. It’s worth remembering that almost all swimming and snorkeling beaches in Jamaica are surrounded by a reef that naturally protects them from larger sharks.
There was a well-known shark attack in 2013 where a tiger shark sadly killed a Jamaican fisherman.
The local fisherman had been spearfishing off the southern Jamaican coast and became separated from his group. While he was alone, he was unfortunately attacked by a shark attracted by the fishing activities.
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2. Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas)
The bull shark is known as the third most dangerous shark in the world and can measure up to 3.5 m (11 ft) in length.
Bull sharks are famous for their ability to swim up freshwater rivers to look for food. However, this isn’t a habit that has been observed in Jamaica.
These sharks can be aggressive towards humans, mainly if there is food around.
Luckily, they are not at all common. However, it’s essential to always follow local information and restrictions before entering the water, just in case a shark has been spotted.
What About Great White Sharks? (Carcharodon carcharias)
Jamaica is shown in the geographic range noted by experts as being believed possible to find great whites, But this theory refers to deep waters, miles out to sea.
Recorded great white sightings around Jamaica were impossible to find. Great white sharks have been tracked by scientists entering the Gulf of Mexico and Bahamas, but it is likely that the more southerly waters around Jamaica are simply too warm.
Great white sharks prefer colder waters with temperatures between 12 and 24 °C (54 and 75 °F).
The lowest monthly average in the warmer waters of, for example, Montego Bay is 26 °C ( 78.8 °F) in January, while it can reach over 31 °C ( 87.8 °F) in September.
Accordingly, we can say that seeing a great white shark in the crystal clear waters around Jamaica is incredibly unlikely.
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Where Are There Sharks in Jamaica?
For most visitors, sharks in Jamaica are not a common sighting. In fact, most local people say that if you’re just swimming or snorkeling at the beach, you probably won’t see a shark.
It’s not that the sharks aren’t in the sea, but that human activity and the barrier reefs tend to keep them away.
Generally, it’s said that most sharks are found off the southeast and south coast of the island. They are considered to be very rare on the north coast.
Can You Swim With Sharks in Jamaica?
Unfortunately, there aren’t guaranteed opportunities for wild swimming with sharks in Jamaica.
As we’ve said, they’re pretty rare in the areas where you’re likely to swim, mainly due to the barrier reef keeping them away.
If you do want to see sharks in the wild, then shark diving in Jamaica can offer some excellent opportunities to see these fantastic animals.
Scuba divers who are interested to see sharks should visit the following dive sites which are best known for sightings:
- The Throne Room in Negril
- Frenchman Hole in Negril
- SS Kathryn Wreck off the coast of Ocho Rios
- The Arches and the Caves, Montego Bay
- Devil’s Reef off Ocho Rios
If you’d prefer not to head underwater, then the Shark Encounter at Dolphin Cove in Ocho Rios allows you to meet and interact with nurse sharks, albeit in a pool.
Have There Been Shark Attacks in Jamaica?
Thankfully shark attacks in Jamaica are extremely rare, and fatal attacks are rarer still. In fact, the international shark file records just three unprovoked shark attacks in Jamaica since their records began in 1749.
Almost all recent incidents have occurred during spearfishing activities in the open ocean where the sharks have been attracted or provoked by underwater smells and noises.
Other shark attacks have occurred at surfing areas, including New Smyrna Beach. Fortunately, these are almost always non-fatal. If you are surfing in these areas, make sure that you follow local information and warnings before entering the water.
If you should encounter an aggressive-looking shark while scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, or surfing, remember that you want to get out of the water quickly but calmly. Don’t flap about or splash the water with your arms or legs, as this may attract the shark more.
Stay vertical and watch the shark at all times. If you’re scuba diving, get next to the reef or the bottom while watching the shark and prepare to get out of the water.
Remember that usually, sharks are just trying to work out what you are. Once they’ve seen you’re not food, they’re likely to go away quite quickly. Generally, we can avoid any problems by following common-sense rules:
- Stay close to shore, and avoid deeper water.
- Never swim, snorkel, or scuba dive alone, and do not swim or snorkel at night or in cloudy water.
- Avoid blood. Sharks can smell blood, so don’t get in the water if you have any open wounds.
- Don’t spearfish, and stay away from fishermen.
- Don’t enter the water if there are warning signs or flags. Always pay attention to lifeguards and local information.
Yes, there are sharks in Jamaica, although you might not see them often.
The most commonly seen are nurse and Caribbean reef sharks, and these are not regarded as aggressive or dangerous.
While there are some of the most dangerous sharks in the deeper waters around Jamaica, shark sightings are rare and usually kept well away from swimming beaches thanks to the barrier reef surrounding the island.
Divers visit Jamaica’s warm waters to see the sharks and enjoy their treasured encounters.
However, if you are concerned, you don’t need to be, as Jamaica has one of the lowest rates of shark attacks in the whole area.
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British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.