Thankfully, despite what the media might try and tell you, shark attacks are incredibly uncommon.
Even in the so-called “shark attack capital of the world,” shark bites happen very rarely when considering the massive number of people who swim and surf there each year.
However, if you are unlucky enough to be approached by one of the world’s most fearsome predators while taking a dip, wouldn’t it be great if they made a noise to warn you?
In this respect, unfortunately, we’re going to see that sharks are silent hunters. So, the answer to “what sounds do sharks make?” is, typically, none!
We’ll discover that sharks don’t have organs dedicated to making sounds.
However, whether deliberately or as a side-effect to other activities, we will find out that, in the right circumstances, there are a few unique sharks that can manage to make a surprising noise.
Do Sharks Make Noise?
Sharks are the ocean’s apex ambush predators and, as such, have evolved an incredible array of senses to give them every advantage when it comes time to hunt their food.
For example, sharks have an excellent sense of hearing that allows them to detect the sounds of wounded prey across vast underwater distances.
But do sharks themselves make noise? No, unlike many other sea creatures, sharks are essentially silent.
Sharks want to approach their lunch as quietly as possible so as not to scare it off.
In addition, they typically live their adult lives without much in the way of any predators they might want to distract with a loud sound.
They’re also often solitary animals, so sharks either have no one to communicate with noisily or, if they are one of the communal species, will use other methods.
So really, sharks do not need to be able to make a noise. In addition, to stalk their prey effectively, they don’t want to!
It is strictly accurate to say that sharks make detectible low-frequency vibrations in the water from the movement of their skin and muscles.
However, these are not what would be considered noise as such and instead would be detected discretely by, for example, the lateral line organ on other sharks.
Do Sharks Have Vocal Cords?
We’ve already said that sharks don’t make noises. But do sharks have vocal cords?
Could they make noises if they wanted to? No, sharks don’t have vocal cords or any other organ explicitly designed to produce sound.
On land, many different types of animals make vocal sounds for communication, including threats and warnings, to show dominance, to get attention, or to attract a mate.
Some humans can even manage advanced and sparkling conversations.
Land vertebrates make their vocal noises using their respiratory system. Simply described, the air exhaled from the lungs is forced through the vocal cords (flexible skin flaps in your throat), which vibrate to produce sounds when needed.
The muscles in the larynx (the voice box) stretch and contract the cords to change the sounds being produced.
The sound is then modified in the upper portion of the throat to make a roar, a bark, a call, or even speech.
While sharks have many incredible abilities, talking isn’t one of them.
They’re just not anatomically able to, as they don’t have vocal cords, larynxes, or anything similar, and they don’t breathe the atmospheric air that would be needed to use them.
How Do Ocean Animals Make Sound?
However, in reality, the ocean is anything but silent and is filled with noises produced by a multitude of different underwater animals (just not any made by sharks).
Sound travels nearly five times faster in the ocean than in the air, which can help get a message across quickly.
The most famous sounds from marine animals are those made by marine mammals like whales or dolphins. They make noises to communicate, feed, and for navigation.
Like those living on land, marine mammals produce sound using air they’ve breathed in combination with specialized organs.
They can also make physical noises. For example, whales and dolphins will slap their flippers, fluke, or even their whole body against the surface to produce sound to warn others of danger or to intimidate or startle would-be predators.
Toothed whales will slam their jaws shut to create an aggressive warning noise.
Bony fish have an air-filled swim bladder which is absent in sharks. Some fish can use it to generate noises to attract a mate or warn off predators.
They vibrate their swim bladders with a specialized sonic muscle in a process known as “drumming.”
Other fish make noises using their jaws to rub or loudly click their teeth together.
Some shrimps get in on the noisy ocean spectacle by snapping their claws together. Snapping shrimps use the loud crack created to stun passing fish so they can catch them easily.
What Sounds Do Sharks Make?
So, what sound does a shark make if it doesn’t have the organs needed to make noise?
Typically shark noises are limited to the crash made when a great white shark leaps from the water to grab a seal and then splashes back through the surface.
As we’ve already mentioned, sharks have evolved to be silent predators.
Even their skin, covered in smooth dermal denticles, is there so the shark can move through the water efficiently and quietly.
However, there are a few shark species that appear to be able to make noises in some interesting ways.
Whale Shark Sounds
A camera attached to the back of the giant shark had recorded a “low, gravelly whisper” that appeared to be coming from the shark itself.
However, it proved impossible to identify how the largest fish in the ocean could make the noise without any appropriate organs or the air required to make the sound.
To date, it remains unknown how this low, rapid vibration is produced or even if the whale shark definitely makes it.
Draughtsboard Shark “Bark”
The draughtsboard shark, which is endemic to New Zealand, is a catshark that’s locally said to be able to “bark” like a large dog.
The shark has evolved the ability to rapidly pump water into its stomach and make its body up to three times the normal diameter when it feels threatened (similar to a pufferfish).
Underwater can cause a predator to think twice about attacking.
However, if the fish is removed from the water, for example, by an angler, the draughtsboard sharks gulp air and can inflate in a natural defensive move.
When the air is eventually released in a rush on the boat, the fish can be heard making a barking sound.
Other catsharks, including the Pacific Ocean swell shark and Indian Ocean balloon shark, make similar sounds when they fill themselves with air.
Do Great White Sharks Make Sound?
We’d love to be able to tell you that great white sharks make a da-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum sound. However, it’s not true.
Do Shark Species Make Noise To Communicate?
No, sharks do not make noise to communicate. Indeed, while they have excellent hearing, they don’t have any organs dedicated to producing sound.
How Do Sharks Communicate?
While they cannot produce sound, sharks communicate through body language and smell.
Sharks will arch their bodies, open and close their jaws, adjust their fin positions and shake or nod their heads in a complicated system that other sharks can interpret as showing a relaxed or aggressive mood.
For example, the pectoral fins will remain spread wide when they’re relaxed but will be lowered when the shark is feeling stressed and is looking for an escape.
Similarly, a hunched back and raised head means the shark feels uncomfortable.
Sharks also use their keen sense of smell for olfactory communication during mating.
Female sharks release chemicals into the water when they’re ready to reproduce, and the males detect this communication and use it to find their partner.
Before reproduction, many species, including hammerheads, undergo a complicated courtship communication ritual.
The male shark will make a set of maneuvers to convince the female that he is the one for her.
Do Sharks Actually Growl?
No, sharks don’t growl. Some species of catshark, which defensively gulp in the air to expand their bodies when taken out of the water, can produce a noise that sounds a bit like a deep growl or a dog barking though. But sharks are not vocal creatures.
What sounds do sharks make? Practically none!
Sharks lack the organs required to generate any vocal noises and are effectively silent as they swim through the deep sea.
The only noise could be from the shark gliding through the water itself or from its muscles contracting.
However, these would be so incredibly quiet as to be effectively undetectable.
Only sharks that break the water’s surface while hunting prey make any kind of sound of note, and the splash as they head back underwater will quickly be forgotten amongst nature’s other natural sounds.
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.