We have put together a short guide of the typical shark species you are likely to encounter on any scuba dive in the Caribbean Sea.
Learn to identify them, as you should learn to do with shark species of the world if you are a scuba diver who likes to travel to dive spots of the world, so you can have the confidence to know what you are looking at once you are submerged beneath the surface.
Sharks in the Caribbean: The Facts
Shark attacks in the Caribbean are rare. The chances of being attacked in North America and South Africa are much higher. Florida shark attacks average from 20-30 per year, and the Bahamas has had the most attacks out of all the islands in the Caribbean. Still, though, the number is extremely small, with 35 attacks since 1896. The rest of the Caribbean islands average less than one attack per year, so it is clear that divers should feel very safe in these waters.
Caribbean Reef Shark:
This is the most commonly seen shark in the Caribbean. It is usually 6.5-8 feet, or 2-2.5 meters, long. Look for dusky-colored fins that do not have any prominent markings, as well as a coloration that is dark grey or grey-brown on the top of the body and white or white-yellow underneath.
There is also an inconspicuous white band on its flanks. This shark has a short, broad, rounded snout, large eyes, and the third gill is above the point where the pectoral fin begins. There are a total of 5 gill slits. These sharks are normally quite shy and do not bother divers.
Blacktip Reef Shark:
These are the second most commonly spotted shark in the Caribbean even though they are quite timid compared to other species of shark. They are easily recognisable by the black tip or edge on their pelvic, dorsal, pectoral or caudul fins. Usually they will swim around in groups, comprised of both juveniles and adults.
The Blacktip can be found in more shallow waters where they patrol around reef ledges and sandy bottoms. Although the shark is timid and is hard to approach it often is spotted by divers and snorkelers. As with any shark, humans are not on the menu and therefore one does not have to be afraid of being attacked.
Another large shark, capable of growing to a length of over 16 feet, or 5 meters, the Tiger Shark can be found in the Caribbean and other warm waters around the world.
They can have a blue to light green colour, combined with a white or light yellow belly. Young sharks will have dark spots and stripes that fade with age. Look for a wedge-shaped head, small pits on the snout, long fins, and a high back. The dorsal fins are also close to the tail.
The tiger shark is know for the fact that she eats everything that she possibly can. It is known that the tiger shark feeds on turtles, other sharks and even whales.
Tiger shark are quite common in the Bahamas. If you would like to meet one of these apex predators on a dive you might want to check out the team of Blue Iguana charters who can take you on a 7 day live aboard trip where you definitely will encounter this amazing creature on your dives.
Nurse sharks are bottom dwelling sharks that are often spotted in sub tropical and tropical waters, including the Caribbean. They grow to lengths of 14 foot or 4.3 metres and can weigh a whopping 330kg when fully grown. The nurse shark feeds mostly on crustaceans which they suck in via there mouth.
Since the nurse shark is a night hunter, they will be resting during the day. To spot a nurse shark while scuba diving or even when snorkeling you would have to look under ledges and crevices on the reef.
The bull shark also referred to as the Zambezi shark, is infamous for its attacks on humans. The bull shark likes to hang out in coastal areas and even in (fresh water) rivers. The shark can grow up to 12ft and can weigh 500 lbs. The shark got its name from it flat snout and its unpredictable behavior. Did you know a series of assumed bull shark attacks in the early 1900's was the inspirational source for JAWS?
If you would like to encounter a bull shark you might want to travel to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico where female bulls have there breeding ground. If you would do so please be responsible and do not interfere with these creatures. This means no chumming and no feeding.
By taking the proper precautions, and knowing how to identify shark species while on a dive, you can enjoyably and safely share the waters with these majestic creatures. Remember that sharks do deserve our respect and as scuba divers we are in the unique position to encounter and witness these magnificent creatures in there natural habitat.
It is up to us to educate those who do not have the knowledge about sharks like we do. Sharks are our friends and if we humans do not stop the overfishing of these creatures there will be none left to see for future generations.
Which sharks have you seen while scuba diving? Let us know in the comments below
Would you like to go dive with Sharks? Feel free to contact us. We have multiple partners that offer dive packages and scuba lessons.
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Blog written by: Rutger Thole who used to be a scuba scuba instructor but he got stuck in a suit a couple of years ago. Now he is on his way back, as a the founder of bookyourdive he travels and dives as much as he can.