Even today, well over a hundred years later, the RMS Titanic is the most famous ship ever to have sunk.
Whether you know it for being the largest and most luxurious vessel afloat at the time, being believed to be unsinkable, or sadly for the massive amount of life lost, the Titanic disaster is more than just the cruise liner in the James Cameron movie of the same name.
We will investigate the Titanic sinking and find out what happened to the passengers and crew on board.
Were sharks responsible for the deaths of some of the unfortunate passengers left in the water when the ship sank?
No, there aren’t any reports of people from the Titanic shipwreck being attacked by sharks.
However, with only 333 bodies recovered out of the more than 1,500 victims, it’s impossible to say what happened to all of them.
Accordingly, we’ll look at the sharks found in the ocean where the Titanic sank in one of history’s deadliest marine disasters and see if they could have been responsible for any deaths or if they may have scavenged the wreck afterward.
What Happened When the Titanic Sank?
You may know already that the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after it hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean.
RMS Titanic (the RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship as she was to carry the post as well as passengers) was launched on the 31st of May 1911.
Titanic was designed to be the most luxurious cruise ship ever, and she was the largest ship afloat when she entered service.
She was also branded as “unsinkable” by her owners and had the reputation as being the safest liner ever, thanks to the vessel’s watertight compartments with remotely activated doors.
Titanic’s maiden voyage was to take her from Southampton on the south coast of England to New York City via Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown, Ireland.
When she left Queenstown on the 11th of April, 1912, to begin the tragic Atlantic crossing, an estimated 2,224 passengers and crew were aboard Titanic.
The crossing was initially uneventful, although the Titanic’s captain, Captain Edward Smith, did receive several warnings of icebergs in the area ahead of them.
Captain Smith noted the warnings, but the ship carried on full steam ahead to avoid arriving late in New York.
On the night of the 14th of April, at approximately 11:40 pm local time, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg directly ahead of the Titanic.
The bridge ordered the ship to take evasive action. However, it was too late, and the Titanic struck an iceberg with its starboard side.
Unlike many people believed at the time, the iceberg didn’t directly puncture the ship’s hull.
Instead, the collision dented and buckled the ship’s metal hull, causing the seams to separate, allowing water to flood directly into five watertight compartments rapidly.
Unfortunately for Titanic, her much-vaunted “unsinkable” design relied on only four of the compartments being filled, so she was doomed to sink to the ocean floor at her location about 600 km (375 miles) south of Newfoundland.
What Happens When a Ship Sinks?
A ship floats by having a hull design with an overall density that’s lower than the water surrounding it. This is the famous Archimedes principle at work.
When a hole is made in the hull, like when the Titanic hit an iceberg, water floods in, pushing the air that was lowering the overall density out. The ship sinks when it becomes too dense to float.
Ship’s hulls are divided into separate compartments by bulkheads.
These allow a compartment to flood while keeping the rest of the hull filled with air. However, they must be tall enough to prevent water from spilling over.
Once water filled the Titanic’s front four compartments, she started to sink, bow first.
As the forward angle increased and the sink sank lower, water was able to spill over the top of the bulkheads into the remaining compartments one by one, and the sink sank.
Did the Titanic Have Sharks? (Is There a Titanic Shark?)
When the Titanic sank, many hundreds of people were left in the freezing water waiting to be rescued.
Famously there were only enough lifeboats on the cruise liner to carry about half of the passengers on board.
In addition, many lifeboats left the ship without being filled to capacity.
Did Sharks Eat Titanic Victims or Eat Their Dead Bodies?
So, were there shark attacks when the Titanic sank?
There are no reports of any recovered bodies showing signs of a shark attack.
Similarly, there weren’t any eyewitness accounts of anyone seen or being heard being attacked by a shark.
While we cannot discount shark attacks on people in the water with absolute certainty, it seems most likely that all of the more than 1,500 people who died when the Titanic sank did so for one of three reasons.
- Many drowned while still trapped inside the ship (or in the sea itself).
- Even more died from hypothermia within minutes due to the very low water temperatures.
- Some victims also died from physical injuries from the accident or a combination of all three.
Several of the lifeboats were ordered to stay well away from the wreck site for fear of being overloaded by desperate passengers trying to save themselves. Rescue ships also took a long time to appear at the scene.
Accordingly, hundreds of victims were left in the water, unattended for many hours. So it’s impossible to be entirely sure there weren’t any shark attacks that weren’t seen.
However, as we will see, the location, the water temperatures, and the lack of evidence make it so unlikely to be reasonably discounted.
Dead bodies wearing life jackets drifted considerable distances in the North Atlantic. For example, the ship RMS Oceanic discovered three bodies more than 320 km (200 miles) from the sinking site.
It’s impossible to say what happened to all the bodies left in the ocean. It is certainly possible that a shark may have eventually eaten one or more of the bodies as they drifted.
Why Didn’t Sharks Attack the Victims of the Titanic?
Did Titanic survivors got eaten by sharks? No, and the reason for this can be attributed to several circumstances.
The place where the Titanic hit the iceberg is far from land in the open ocean. This would mean that there would be unlikely to be any sharks, let alone several, in the immediate vicinity.
While bodies might have later drawn sharks to the area, other circumstances make this less probable.
Water Temperature – How Cold Was the Water When the Titanic Sank?
It’s been noted that the weather and sea temperatures were much colder than usual when the Titanic sank.
In fact, the water was about −2 °C (28 °F). This is far lower than the 7 °C (45 °F) expected at that time of year.
Many sharks don’t tolerate this extremely low temperature, let alone those typically associated with aggressively attacking the victims of shipwrecks.
Noise and Activity
Although the rescue of the Titanic’s victims was delayed, the noise and activity of the recovery when many vessels finally attended and the ship sinking itself may have caused any sharks in the area to be driven away and not eat Titanic passengers.
How Many Bodies Are Still in the Ocean From the Titanic?
Out of more than 1,500 people who died on the Titanic, only 333 bodies were recovered, leaving more than 1,167 in the ocean.
125 bodies of third-class passengers and crew recovered by the first vessel to reach the site, the CS Mackay-Bennett, were buried at sea as the ship didn’t carry enough embalming fluid to preserve them as was required by health regulations.
No bodies that sank with or near the wreck have been discovered by the operations that have visited since the Titanic was discovered on the seabed in 1985.
Signs of victims’ have been seen where pairs of leather boats or clothing have been found together on the seabed. However, the body itself has long since disappeared.
Worms, fish, and other sea life will have devoured the flesh and bones of all the bodies in the open sea bed.
Sharks were unlikely to be involved due to the extreme depth and low temperatures at the bottom of the North Atlantic.
The debate as to whether there are still any bodies inside the wreck itself is undecided by the experts.
The man who originally discovered the Titanic wreck, Dr. Robert D. Ballard, says, “I would not be surprised if highly preserved bodies were found in the engine room.
That was deep inside the ship. There may be dozens.”
However, the director James Cameron, who has extensively surveyed the ship’s interior, says, “I’ve seen zero human remains.
We’ve seen clothing… We’ve seen pairs of shoes, which would strongly suggest a body was there at one point. But we’ve never seen any human remains.”
It is suggested that an absence of oxygenated water inside the deep interior of the wreck might have allowed crew or third-class passengers bodies stuck inside to escape decomposition by scavengers.
James Cameron disagrees that this is possible on the Titanic and remarked that ocean currents “blow through the ship like a drafty house with all the windows open.”
We’ll never know what precisely happened to all of the bodies of people who died on the Titanic.
However, the chance of finding organic human remains left in the Titanic wreckage gets ever smaller with more than one hundred years passed.
What Sharks Live in the North Atlantic Ocean Where the Titanic Sank?
Researchers have identified many shark species found in the area of the North Atlantic Ocean where the Titanic sank.
These include pelagic sharks with reputations for being man-eaters, including the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), and shortfin (Isurus oxyrinchus) and longfin mako sharks (Isurus paucus).
However, none of these sharks have a tolerance for the water temperature found when the Titanic sank.
They would have been hundreds or even thousands of miles away at the time of the wreck.
For example, the great white shark enjoys water temperatures between 12 and 24 °C (54 and 75 °F), far from the −2 °C (28 °F) when the Titanic sank.
The other shark species similarly prefer much warmer waters.
The blue shark (Prionace glauca) has the closest temperature range. However, this is not known as a shark that attacks humans and still likes water above 7 °C (44.6 °F).
The only shark that may have possibly been in the area at the time the Titanic sank is the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) which is known to inhabit the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean.
Greenland sharks are famous for being the longest-living vertebrate on earth.
They can live to between 250 and 500 years, making it entirely possible that there’s still a Greenland shark swimming in the ocean that was around when the Titanic sank.
Experts say that the Greenland shark is found at a temperature range “between -2 and 7 degrees Celsius,” just inside the window from the 14th of April 1912.
There are no verified attacks on humans by Greenland sharks.
However, they are known to be scavengers attracted by the smell of rotting meat.
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It is not impossible to think that this particular shark species may have eaten someone who died on the Titanic left floating in the open sea.
Usually, the Greenland shark is found in water depths between 180 and 730 meters (600 to 2,400 feet).
However, they come closer to the surface when it’s colder and to feed.
The deepest-ever observed Greenland shark was seen at 2,200 meters (7,200 ft) by a submersible off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
However, it seems highly unlikely that a Greenland shark would have been able to eat bodies that were on or around the Titanic wreck itself due to the extreme depth of 3,800 meters (12,500 feet).
The Titanic disaster remains one of the greatest maritime tragedies.
All the available evidence says that Titanic survivors didn’t suffer any attacks from sharks when the ship sank.
It’s doubtful that there were sharks in the area at the time, mainly due to the extremely low water temperatures.
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The one possible shark, which could be the Titanic shark, is the Greenland shark, as it can tolerate extreme cold.
It could be that this rare shark may have eaten the bodies that it came across.
However, we can be sure that this would only have taken place long after the victim had drowned or died from exposure to the extreme cold.
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.