I call BS on the bull shark!
Yes, exactly what you think that means.
Well, it’s not the shark I have a problem with. It is how the corporate wildlife media has covered it in recent years that irks me.
Numerous most dangerous shark lists and television programs have named the bull shark as the top aquatic terror.
Yes, bull sharks are high on the International Shark File (ISAF) attack list with 73 nonfatal and 27 fatal attacks. Yes, they have extremely high levels of testosterone. And yes, they can be found commonly on popular beaches and even far into river systems as they do just fine in fresh water.
It is the combination of those factors that put the bull shark high on the dangerous list but that is not what the public hears.
They hear “most dangerous shark” and assume that if a tiger shark, a great white and a bull shark swims by them, the bull shark would be the most likely to attack.
Well, for starters that is not even true in terms of just raw attack numbers.
The tiger shark’s nonfatal attacks are at 80 and they have 31 fatal attacks (total 111). The great white has 234 nonfatal attacks and 80 fatal attacks with a total 314. Just looking at these numbers alone you can see the bull shark is not the most dangerous shark.
Then you consider the logic of putting the bull shark at the top (its abundance in nearshore coastal waters, wide distribution, freshwater ability) actually paints a different picture when turned around.
Bull sharks are far more abundant than great whites and tiger sharks. Far more!
There is no comparison in their abundance especially in populated areas with great whites in particular having a limited range in warmer waters with more swimmers.
Looking at these numbers does anyone think that a shark (great white) that has 314 “verified” attacks and that has its largest abundance in relatively isolated areas in comparison to bulls would not do far more attacking if the population roles were reversed? Ditto for tigers.
I have no doubt there would be double the attacks for both species if they were as abundant as bulls on the Gulf, Atlantic and Caribbean Coasts.
I put “verified” in quotes because of something ISAF has said themselves.
This list must be used with caution because attacks involving easily identified species, such as white, tiger, sandtiger, hammerhead and nurse sharks, nearly always identify the attacking species, while cases involving difficult to identify species, such as requiem sharks of the genus Carcharhinus, seldom correctly identify the attacker.
The requiem sharks include the bull shark.
I have written recently that blacktip sharks could likely be the culprit for some bull sharks and current data shows them only behind great white, bull and tiger in total attacks.
ISAF has a category for requiem and lamniforems-attacks linked to those branches but not to exact species and those are both higher than the blacktip. But when it comes to identified sharks biting people blacktips rank fourth.
This is not to implicate the blacktip as a creature to be feared. It is however to question some of the shark attacks identified as bull. People have a very hard time identifying sharks.
I am constantly getting emails, social media tags and text messages asking me to identify sharks and most of the time they are a bull shark someone thinks is a blacktip or a blacktip someone thinks is a bull shark. I know this is only anecdotal evidence but in my opinion it speaks volumes.
The photo you see below is the one I use the top of this site. It is a large blacktip shark I caught and released near Venice, La. in 2012. Numerous people have commented on it being a bull shark.
I reiterate the public hears or sees “most dangerous shark” and assume that if a tiger shark, a great white and a bull shark swam by the bull shark would be the most likely to attack.
That is just not true. At best it is up to debate.
I am not trying to say the bull shark is a sweetheart. I was circled by one twice while wade fishing the Chandeleur Islands in 1997 and had to make my way to shore. I have also tagged and released a number of these amazing creatures up to six feet long. I have bull shark experience.
I also have great white, blacktip and spinner experience and while I have never dealt with tiger sharks all I really need is statistics to make this case anyway.
The reason for this article is not to make the great white or tiger shark look bad. I don’t want any shark to look bad!
It is to make us reexamine the bull shark.
For an intense podcast on this topic click the link below.
They are a very commonly caught shark in the sport fishery and while the fishing community does wonderful conservation work and there is a growing ethic toward catch and release of all sharks, not everyone has gotten the memo.
An uninformed angler who has just seen a program on the “most dangerous shark”and happens to catch an eight footer on a busy beach or in a bay commonly used by wade fishermen and snorkelers might think he or she is doing the public a favor by killing the shark.
Hopefully many anglers will see this article and then can make an informed decision on what to do.
In reality, killing more bull sharks does the ecosystem a disservice by taking out one of its apex predators.
There are no “bad” sharks. There are just sharks.
Sometimes they hurt people and we have to find creative ways to make shark attacks even less common. I love sharks but people come first. I get that.
It’s interesting that many believe the New Jersey attacks that inspired “Jaws” were actually committed by bull sharks. We will never know for sure but now roles have been reversed and the bull shark has been declared public enemy #1.
And it simply does not deserve that title.
Chester Moore, Jr.
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