Are There (Bull) Sharks In Lake Erie?

You might have heard rumors that freshwater sharks, particularly the predatory bull shark, live in Lake Erie. 

However, simply put, there aren’t any sharks living in Lake Erie

At first glance, it’s reasonable to believe stories that freshwater-tolerant sharks could live in the Great Lakes of North America.

After all, they’re vast bodies of water with plenty of space and lots of nice fish to eat. It sounds like Lake Erie could make a decent shark aquarium!

In reality, although the lakes are eventually connected to the ocean where bull sharks live, the route is unfeasibly long and filled with numerous barriers that would be impossible to pass.

In addition, the water in Lake Erie is so cold for most of the year that a bull shark would die almost immediately.

There aren’t any sharks in Lake Erie. But why are there rumors of sharks in Lake Erie? How are we sure it’s impossible for sharks to live there? Let’s explore.

Key Points in this article:

There are no sharks living in Lake Erie or any of the other Great Lakes.

The long and complicated route from the ocean to Lake Erie is filled with barriers that no shark could overcome.

The cold water in Lake Erie would quickly kill any freshwater-tolerant shark introduced artificially or accidentally.

Why There Are No Sharks in Lake Erie?

Are there sharks in Lake Erie? No, there isn’t any evidence of any sharks living in Lake Erie.

Sharks in a freshwater ecosystem would be a significant concern, so it’s essential to understand the reality.

Why There Are No Sharks in Lake Erie

If predatory sharks lived in Lake Erie, there would be safety concerns for the millions of people who use it yearly for watersports. But there’s never been a verified sighting in the Great Lakes, let alone a shark attack.

In addition, like the other Great Lakes, Lake Erie is home to a wide variety of fish life. If sharks lived there, not only would the vital Great Lakes Fishery have had its populations noticeably decimated, but more than one shark would have been caught.

In reality, no sharks have ever been caught in Lake Erie or any of the other Great Lakes.

We’ll review the reasons why sharks don’t live in Lake Erie shortly, but first, let’s take a quick look at the different sharks from around the world that can potentially survive in freshwater.

Which Sharks Can Live in Freshwater?

Almost all of the over 500 species of shark live in the ocean. However, a select few can live in freshwater.

Some of these, including the bull, are known as diadromous, which means they can swim between salt and freshwater, and euryhaline, meaning they can survive in either environment equally.

Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

Which Sharks Can Live 
in Freshwater?

The most famous and versatile freshwater visitor is the bull shark, a predator referred to as the second most dangerous in the world.

Bull sharks mainly live in tropical and warm coastal ocean waters but can also enter freshwater environments, including estuaries and rivers.

Ganges Shark (Glyphis gangeticus)

Ganges Shark (Glyphis gangeticus)
Credit to FAO via CC Attribution 3.0

The Ganges shark is a critically endangered species that live exclusively in freshwater rivers in eastern and northeastern India and Bangladesh. 

The Ganges has a similar appearance to bull sharks and is often mistaken for their more widespread relative. 

Northern River Shark (Glyphis garricki)

Northern River Shark (Glyphis garricki)
Credit to White et al. vi CC Attribution 4.0

Northern river sharks are only found in tidal rivers and nearby coastal waters of northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. 

The shark is among the rarest in the world, and scientists believe that at most 250 specimens are left alive.

Speartooth Shark (Glyphis glyphis)

Speartooths also live in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. 

Juveniles and subadults are found in mangrove-banked tropical rivers with strong currents. Adults appear to stick to coastal waters, most likely due to the availability of suitable food.

Pondicherry Sharks (Carcharhinus hemiodon)

The final freshwater-tolerant shark is this critically endangered species considered close to extinction.

Pondicherry Sharks (Carcharhinus hemiodon)
Credit to Zoological Survey of India via CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Very little is known about this shark from the Indo-Pacific, but it is thought to be able to tolerate freshwater. 

Do You Know: How to spot the difference between a shark and a dolphin?

The False Rumors of Sharks in the Great Lakes

If you’re asking if there are bull sharks in Lake Erie, it may be because you’ve heard some rumors of sightings.

The False Rumors of Sharks in the Great Lakes

Let’s look at a few and see how they’ve been disproved.

June 2022 Facebook Post – Fake News

A Facebook post claiming that bull sharks were swimming in Lake Erie caused a lot of concern at the time.

However, the Ohio Division of Wildlife clarified that “There are definitely no sharks in Lake Erie” after discovering that the posted photo “evidence” had been taken in Puerto Rico.

June 2021 Book – Fictional Work

A novel titled “Sharks in Lake Erie” was released in 2021 by the author H John Hildebrandt and got a lot of people thinking about sharks in the lake.

However, the book, which describes six bull sharks being introduced into the lake by an eco-terrorist organization, is entirely fictional.

December 2019 Podcast – Fake News

A so-called expert appearing on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast claimed that he had “documented bull sharks stuck in the Great Lakes.”

The story went viral when the podcast showcased the claim in an Instagram post.

Without evidence to back up the unbelievable allegation, managers from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and shark experts from the Florida International University confirmed that there have never been any sightings of sharks in the Great Lakes.

2014 – YouTube Video – Fake News

Before their shark week started, the Discovery Channel released a short video claiming to show a bull shark being caught in Lake Ontario.

This was later confirmed as being faked to gain attention for the programming.

Why Sharks Don’t Live in Lake Erie

Let’s get down to the facts of the matter. There are multiple reasons why sharks don’t live in Lake Erie.

Species Distribution and Huge Distances to the Lake

Straight away, we can forget four of the potential freshwater shark species as they only live far away from North America.

Only the bull shark is found even remotely close to the Great Lakes, so from now on, that’s the only species we will discuss.

How Could a Bull Shark Theoretically Reach Lake Erie?

The Great Lakes are collectively connected to the ocean in three ways, and any shark that wanted to reach Lake Erie would have to live in the coastal waters at the start of one of these paths. 

One route to Lake Erie would be from the North Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River and Seaway – approximately 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers).

The shark would have to go through Lake Ontario, either up the 52-meter-tall (170 feet) Niagara Falls to the Niagara River (IMPOSSIBLE!) or through the Welland Canal before finally reaching Lake Erie.

The problem with this route is that bull sharks do not live as far north in the Atlantic as the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The known summer range of the bull shark is quite a distance down the coast around Boston, Massachusetts.

A second route would be from the mouth of the Hudson River in New York, where a bull might rarely live in summer, along the length of the Hudson and then up the narrow and shallow Erie Canal, a trip of approximately 450 miles (724 kilometers).

However, to say that this route is unlikely is understating the facts.

An alternative but incredibly long route (approximately 2,500 miles / 4,023 kilometers) for a bull shark to reach Lake Erie is from the Gulf of Mexico

Do You Want To Know: Are There Bull Sharks in Ohio River?

To do this, the shark would need to swim up the Mississippi River, through the Illinois River, across the entire length of Lake Michigan, cross the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Huron, and travel the St. Clair River into Lake St. Clair, reach the Detroit River and use that to reach Lake Erie finally.

This can be ruled impossible, particularly when we remember that the furthest a bull shark has ever been found in the Mississippi was only about 700 miles / 1,100 kilometers up the River in Alton, Illinois, in 1937, a fraction of the required distance.

All of this adds up to a straightforward conclusion. Either bull sharks don’t live in the ocean from where they could access Lake Erie, and/or the route they would have to take is so long and complicated to navigate as to be far beyond possible.

Natural and Artificial Barriers – Impossible to Pass

If for a moment, we considered one of the routes viable, the shark would have to overcome impossible barriers to reach Lake Erie.

It’s probably obvious that no shark could leap up 170 feet vertically up Niagara Falls. But in addition, hundreds of locks and dams would prevent any shark from getting very far along any of the potential routes.

There is even a special electric barrier designed to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes.

Temperature – Lake Erie is Too Cold

Finally, the answer to “Can a shark survive in Lake Erie?” is no. It couldn’t for the majority of the year.

If any shark had managed somehow to make the incredibly long, barrier-filled journey, it would have been met with water far colder than it needed to live.

The water temperature in Lake Erie is too chilly for bull sharks, except for possibly during the very height of summer. So even if the shark managed to survive, it would quickly die from the cold by the end of September.

FAQ

Has a Bull Shark Ever Been Caught in Lake Erie?

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission maintains data on commercial fishing catches from 1867 to the present.

Has a Bull Shark Ever Been Caught in Lake Erie

There is no record of a bull shark ever being caught in the Great Lakes.

Could Sharks Be Introduced Artificially into Lake Erie?

It’s impossible for a bull shark to make its way to Lake Erie naturally.

So the only remaining option would be for one to be introduced artificially.

Transporting a live shark is incredibly tricky, and you can’t just pick one up at the local aquarium store.

The logistics of obtaining a bull shark and getting it to the lake alive make this another effectively impossible proposition.

Remember that the shark would quickly die from the cold even if somebody were rich and crazy enough to put it in the lake.

Have There Ever Been Sharks in Lake Erie?

No sharks have lived in Lake Erie in modern times.

Have There Ever Been Sharks in Lake Erie

However, two hundred and fifty million years ago, a giant sea covered the whole Midwest, and fossil shark teeth have been found in the Great Lakes region.

Conclusion

If you were worried about sharks in Lake Erie, hopefully, we’ve relieved your concerns.

Although there are occasional rumors, there is no evidence of the freshwater-tolerant bull shark living in Lake Erie or any of the other Great Lakes.

The lakes are too far from the ocean, the journey is impossible due to the many natural and artificial barriers along the way, and the water in the lake is so cold for most of the year that no freshwater-tolerant shark can survive there.

Even a bull shark artificially introduced in the summer would quickly die.

You won’t come across a shark when swimming in Lake Erie, but that doesn’t mean that the waters don’t pose any dangers.

Some of the primary safety concerns to swimmers include unpredictable and often severe weather, strong currents, poor water quality, underwater hazards, and the low water temperature.

Before swimming in Lake Erie, take care to consider what you’re getting into. Check the weather, dress appropriately for the temperature, and ideally only swim in approved areas known to be safe.

Have fun, and don’t give sharks in Lake Erie another thought.

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