Ocean News

A load of bull (sharks)

11th March 2009

The hammerheads were being temperamental today. They gave us lots of their time yesterday, so perhaps they just they didn’t want the novelty to wear off for us. Maybe I’m reading too much into it (maybe I’ve spent too much time at sea looking for sharks). Whatever the reason is, I decided today to turn my focus onto the bull sharks that also hang out at this dive site; as well as being a magic spot for hammerheads, this place is a haven for bulls.

Bull sharks have an unfortunate reputation; they’re one of the species of shark that very occasionally, and mistakenly, attack people. But what are the reasons for this?

Found the world over, bull sharks are known by many different names, including (get ready for it!), cub shark, ground shark, requiem shark, ganges shark, river shark, Nicaragua shark, Zambezi shark, shovelnose shark, slipway gray shark, square-nose shark, Van Rooyen’s shark, Sundarbans shark, Fitzroy Creek whaler, Swan River whaler, and freshwater whaler. This is a shark with a serious case of multiple personality disorder!

Despite the somewhat, how can I put this kindly? plain? unadorned? average?, appearance of the bull shark, they’re actually quite fascinating. I know that’s not a very kind thing to say, but admit it, they don’t look as cool as great hammerhead a whale sharks, do they?

Bull sharks enter very shallow water, and also fresh water. They’ve been recorded as much 2000 miles up river from the mouth of the Amazon, and have also been documented in numerous other rivers the world over, from the USA to India, and Iraq to Malaysia.

The characteristics of entering shallow and fresh water can be said to predispose bull sharks to greater chances of coming into contact with humans, and therefore there being increased chances of them mistaking a person for potential prey. Attacks from bull sharks generally happen in murky, turbid water, often close to dawn, where correctly identifying prey my be difficult for the sharks.

Today we were diving with maybe a twenty or so bull sharks, all hanging out at around 25 meters. As expected, the sharks showed very little interest in us, and meandered around the sea floor trying to sniff out pieces of bait that we’d hidden under sand and in cracks in the reef. It’s a shame this is such a misunderstood shark, they only really have a reputation as a killer, rather than being known as the unique and amazing creatures we were able to view them as today.

SOSF is funding research into bull sharks in Fiji. Take a look at researcher Juerg Brunnschweiler’s blog to find out more.