Bursting with natural beauty, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a popular tourist destination throughout the year. In addition to its spectacular waterfalls, vibrant culture, and tropical rainforest, it boasts warm seas and over 270 km of golden beaches.
Puerto Rico’s underwater environment is just as varied as its terrestrial topography. It features submarine canyons, valleys, mountains, and troughs. It is also home to the deepest trench in the Atlantic Ocean.
This varied oceanic environment provides a home to hundreds of types of fish and an estimated 42 different shark species.
Although these include several dangerous sharks, shark attacks in Puerto Rico are rare. There have been a few close calls, but the last recorded attack occurred nearly a decade ago.
That means your chances of swimming with sharks in Puerto Rico are high, while the odds of getting bitten by one remain reassuringly low.
The Types of Sharks in Puerto Rico
What kind of sharks are found in Puerto Rico?
Experts estimate there are over 40 different species in the area! There are so many sharks that you’d have to write a book to give each species the coverage it deserves.
Instead of exploring each type of Puerto Rican shark in detail, we’ll concentrate on the most dangerous sharks found in the area.
We’ll also look at some of the most common sharks and a few of the more unusual species.
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The 5 Most Common Sharks in Puerto Rico
#1 Nurse Shark
It’s virtually impossible to spend any time snorkeling or diving in Puerto Rico without encountering a nurse shark.
These nocturnal sharks are regularly seen off Mona and Cayo Lobito islands. They also frequent the La Parguera coral reef.
#2 Caribbean Reef Sharks
One of the most common sharks in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean Reef shark can be difficult to distinguish from other requiem and reef shark species.
Measuring between 6 and 10 feet long, it looks similar to the Dusky, Blacktip, and Silky sharks that also frequent the Puerto Rican coast.
Although usually shy, the Caribbean Reef shark can be aggressive towards humans when feeding and is thought to be responsible for the most recent shark attack in the Puerto Rican area.
#3 Tiger Shark
Reaching up to 14-feet in length and weighing between 850 and 1,400 lbs, this dangerous shark species has attacked humans on more than 100 different occasions, including one in Puerto Rico.
The tiger shark is notorious for its willingness to eat almost anything, including garbage and wine bottles!
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#4 Hammerhead Sharks
Of the nine different species of hammerhead sharks, Puerto Rica is home to three: the smooth, scalloped, and great hammerheads.
All three prefer shallow waters and are often spotted off the coast of La Parguera. Researchers have also discovered several nursery grounds where juvenile Scalloped Hammerheads hunt in relative safety.
Critically endangered, these iconic species are generally harmless, and rarely attack humans unless provoked.
#5 Whale Shark
Another docile shark species, the plankton-eating whale shark often meanders along the west coast of Puerto Rico, and around the island of both Desecheo and Mona.
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With its distinctive white spots, the whale shark may be one of the slowest shark species, rarely moving faster than 4kph, but it covers vast distances, sometimes traveling over 4,000 km per year!
The Top Three Most Dangerous Puerto Rican Sharks
#1 Bull Shark
Although you’re unlikely to encounter a bull shark in the densely populated capital of Puerto Rica, if you head towards one of the island’s major river systems, you might catch a glimpse of this intimidating species.
With its reputation for being one of the world’s most dangerous sharks, however, you might want to avoid the bull shark, rather than seek it out.
#2 Great White Shark
Anxious surfers and snorkellers often ask, “Are there great whites in Puerto Rico?” before setting out on an oceanic adventure.
Understandably, people are cautious of this apex predator, especially after the fatal attack in Australia last year.
Fortunately, great whites are extremely rare in Puerto Rico, preferring the cooler waters of temperate oceans to the warm, tropical seas.
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#3 Oceanic Whitetip
The Oceanic whitetip prefers a deep ocean habitat and is, as a consequence, more commonly encountered by divers than snorkelers.
A highly migratory species, it travels thousands of kilometers over the course of a year. Researchers have tracked Tagged whitetips traveling to the Bahamas, North Carolina, and Bermuda, as well as Puerto Rica.
This potentially dangerous species is unpredictable around divers and has been known to attack humans, including a young boy whose arm was bitten off while snorkeling in Egypt’s Ras Mohammed National Park in 2020.
7 Unusual Sharks Found in Puerto Rica
#1 Megamouth Shark
There is little chance of encountering these deep-water sharks, but there is evidence that they exist in Puerto Rican waters.
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When a large shark was stranded on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico, Grisel Rodríguez of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources decided to investigate.
She soon identified the shark as a megamouth, a theory that subsequent DNA testing confirmed.
This rare species has been seen just 69 times since its discovery in 1976. Like its larger cousin, the whale shark, the megamouth is a filter-feeder that sucks in krill and other small prey. As such, it presents no danger to humans.
#3 Gulper Shark
More commonly found off the west coast of Africa, the gulper shark is a type of deep-water dogfish that rarely exceeds 5 feet in length.
Due to their deep ocean habitat, they are rarely seen by humans and present little threat.
#4 Cookiecutter Shark
This unusual and relatively rare shark species is named after the perfectly circular bites it takes out of its prey.
Unlike most sharks, the Cookiecutter is parasitic, as it feeds on other, larger creatures without killing them.
Although its size and habitat mean it’s relatively harmless, the Cookiecutter has been known to attack humans.
There were three recorded incidents in Hawaii in 2019, all involving long-distance swimmers training at night.
The Cookiecutter Shark uses its rubbery lips to attach to its prey before employing its circular jaw to extract a circle of flesh.
#5 Kitefin Shark
The tenacious kitefin shark measures approximately 5-foot-long but has no qualms about attacking creatures much larger than itself. Despite that, it poses no danger to humans due to its small size and deep-water habitat.
With its uniformly grey-brown coloration, the kite fin is far from eye-catching – until you see its bioluminescence, that is.
Using specialized skin cells, the kitefin shark emits a blue-green glow that researchers believe camouflages it against the bluish light that penetrates through the surface of the water.
#6 Silky Shark
One of the most abundant sharks of the ocean’s pelagic zone, the silky rarely comes into contact with humans, but when it does, it’s noted for its aggressive posturing and threat displays.
Despite that, the silky is thought to have attacked humans just twice in the past 400 years.
Growing to lengths of around 8-foot, the silky shark’s skin is smooth and lustrous, hence its name.
Unlike other sharks whose denticles give them a sandpaper-like finish, the silky shark’s densely packed scales give it a glossy finish.
#7 Thresher Shark
Puerto Rico is home to both the thresher and its cousin, the bigeye thresher. Easily identifiable by the elongated upper caudal fin, the thresher shark has an unusual approach to hunting its prey.
Using its long tail to stun schools of small fish, the thresher shark then circles back to gobble up its dazed prey.
Although both species of thresher sharks reach lengths of over 14 feet, they are not known for attacking humans.
15 Other Shark Species Found in Puerto Rico
- Basking shark
- Bignose shark
- Blacknose shark
- Blacktip shark
- Blue shark
- Caribbean sharpnose shark
- Dusky shark
- Finetooth shark
- Galapagos shark
- Lemon shark
- Sevengill shark
- Shortfin mako
- Smoothhound Sharks
- Spinner shark
Puerto Rico Shark Attacks
Despite the presence of so many sharks in Puerto Rico, shark attacks are surprisingly rare.
There is just one recorded shark attack in Puerto Rico, although another incident occurred off the neighboring island of St Martin just a couple of years ago.
In 2011, Lydia Strunk was part of a group exploring Mosquito Bay in Vieques. This tiny island, situated off Puerto Rico’s east coast, boasts the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.
Home to phytoplankton and other microorganisms that glow blue when agitated, Mosquito Bay is a popular tourist destination.
Like many others, Strunk was intrigued by the glowing waters and decided to dive off her kayak to take a closer look. The swimming was “amazing,” said Strunk, until she felt a “strong impact” against her leg.
A moment later, she felt herself being pulled deep into the water.
The law student from San Diego felt and saw the 6-foot tiger shark as it swam away from her, leaving a 10” wound that ran from the knee of her right leg to her ankle.
The group’s kayaking guide responded immediately and soon stemmed the bleeding with a tourniquet.
Strunk was rushed to a nearby hospital, where doctors set to work repairing the damage. Although they managed to fix her four injured tendons, the likelihood of Struck having long-term nerve damage and limited mobility remained.
Experts predicted that it would take up to five months for Strunk to recover from the attack.
Strunk knows just how lucky she was, saying that her odds of surviving a shark attack were, in her estimation, around “one in 11 million.”
Swimming with Sharks in Puerto Rico
With its warm, clear waters and diverse underwater habitats, Puerto Rico is one of the best destinations to swim with sharks.
The sheer diversity and number of species in the area virtually guarantee an encounter of some description.
Even if you don’t intend to swim with sharks in Puerto Rico, you might inadvertently find yourself doing it anyway.
The surfers in this video got a lot closer to swimming with sharks than they probably planned.
As Jorge Benitez films his friend Rolando Montes enjoying the waves at Puerto Rico’s Middles Beach, a shark suddenly appears over Montes’ left shoulder. Montes sees the shark almost immediately and hastily paddles towards the shore.
The footage, taken in December 2021, has been shared far and wide, with many media outlets sensationalizing it. According to some, the “menacing” shark was chasing Montes, and his fellow surfers, all of whom were lucky to escape a violent attack.
The truth is, the shark already has its prey in its grasp and has no intention of attacking humans. Watch closely, and you’ll see the stingray breach shortly after the shark’s dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water.
Some of the best destinations for swimming with sharks in Puerto Rico include Cayo Lobito and Mona Island, both of which are home to large populations of nurse sharks; and the coral reefs of Vieques which attract Caribbean reef and tiger sharks.
Puerto Rico’s popular Black Wall dive, situated off the coast of La Parguera, plunges to depths of over 1,500 feet and provides an ideal habitat for several of the iconic hammerhead species.
Puerto Rico is home to a wide diversity of different shark species, including dangerous sharks like the tiger and unusual deep-water types like the megamouth.
Tourists flock to the area to dive, snorkel and swim with harmless shark species like the sluggish nurse shark and various reef-associated species, including the Caribbean Reef.
Although you can find over 40 different shark species in Puerto Rico, the chances of being attacked by one are extremely slim.
There has been just one recorded shark attack in Puerto Rican waters in over 400 years making these clear tropical waters inviting rather than intimidating.