Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)

A large member of the requiem shark family, the bull shark is also called the freshwater whaler and the river whaler because it is most common inshore around river mouths and can adapt to life in freshwater.

This is the species that is landlocked in Lake Nicaragua in Nicaragua and has gained fame as a man-eater because it has been repeatedly implicated in attacks on humans. Also known as the Zambezi shark in southern African waters, the bull shark is one of the three most dangerous sharks in that area, along with great white and tiger sharks, due to its relative abundance in inshore habitats where people are more likely to be attacked.

The bull shark gets its name from its bull-like head and is known for its heavy body and short snout, the latter of which appears very broad and rounded from below. Gray to dull brown above and growing pale below, the bull shark has a large first dorsal fin that begins above the midpectoral fin, and the upper lobe of the tail is much larger than the lower.

The bull shark can be sluggish and unwilling to strike a fly or crankbait, but it will hit natural bait readily; unlike other sharks that rise to the surface, the bull shark often stays deep and fights hard. Like the hammerhead, it will frequently attack hooked tarpon.

Usually growing to a length of 6 to 9 feet, the bull shark can reach 12 feet and more than 500 pounds. The all-tackle world record was formerly a 490-pounder taken off Alabama in 1986, but it was superseded by a 697-pounder caught off Kenya in 2001.

Bull sharks are widespread; they inhabit the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to southern Brazil, and the eastern Pacific from southern Baja California, Mexico, to Ecuador and possibly Peru.

Other Names

freshwater whaler, river whaler.