Photo: A bull shark

Among the most likely sharks to attack humans, bull sharks favor shallow coastal waters—the same places humans prefer to swim.

Photograph by Brian J. Skerry

Map

Map: Bull shark range

Bull Shark Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Fish
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
16 years
Size:
7 to 11.5 ft (2.1 to 3.4 m)
Weight:
200 to 500 lbs (90 to 230 kg)
Group name:
School or shoal
Did you know?
Bull sharks have been found thousands of miles up the Amazon River, and in Nicaragua have been seen leaping up river rapids, salmon-like, to reach inland Lake Nicaragua.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Bull shark compared with adult man

Bull sharks are aggressive, common, and usually live near high-population areas like tropical shorelines. They are not bothered by brackish and freshwater, and even venture far inland via rivers and tributaries.

Because of these characteristics, many experts consider bull sharks to be the most dangerous sharks in the world. Historically, they are joined by their more famous cousins, great whites and tiger sharks, as the three species most likely to attack humans.

Bull sharks get their name from their short, blunt snout, as well as their pugnacious disposition and a tendency to head-butt their prey before attacking. They are medium-size sharks, with thick, stout bodies and long pectoral fins. They are gray on top and white below, and the fins have dark tips, particularly on young bull sharks.

They are found cruising the shallow, warm waters of all the world’s oceans. Fast, agile predators, they will eat almost anything they see, including fish, dolphins, and even other sharks. Humans are not, per se, on their menus. However, they frequent the turbid waters of estuaries and bays, and often attack people inadvertently or out of curiosity.

Bull sharks currently are not threatened or endangered. However, they are fished widely for their meat, hides, and oils, and their numbers are likely shrinking. One study has found that their average lengths have declined significantly over the past few decades.

Shark Features

  • Photo: Whale shark with small fish

    Sharks

    Learn all you wanted to know about sharks with videos, quizzes, puzzles, and more.

  • Photo: Nurse shark

    Courting Sharks

    Learn more about what National Geographic/Waitt grantee Nick Whitney is doing to identify mating behavior in adult nurse sharks during their mating season in the Florida Keys.

  • 20247.jpg

    See What's Inside

    Find out what makes the great white shark the largest predatory fish on Earth with this interactive feature from NGC's Great White Odyssey.

  • Photo: Shark swimming in water

    An Uneasy Eden

    Discover a pristine reef where sharks reign supreme in this National Geographic magazine feature.

  • 2575.jpg

    Shark Attack

    Would you survive a shark attack? Watch the survival guide video to learn more.

Animals

The Innovators Project

See more innovators »

From the Magazine

  1. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.

  2. Photo: Silent Ural owl

    Estonia's Ural Owls

    Photographer Sven Začek provides an intimate view of this large raptor.