Bull shark

Carcharhinus leucas

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Shark name.
Bull shark

Also known as.
Zambezi shark
Zambi
Nicaragua shark

Average size.
3.50 m

Average age.
16 years

Diet.
  • dolphins
  • crustaceans
  • bony fish
  • birds
  • echinoderms
  • rays
  • sharks
  • terrestrial mammals

The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as Zambezi shark or unofficially known as Zambi in Africa and Nicaragua shark in Nicaragua, is a shark common worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers. The bull shark is well known for its unpredictable, often aggressive behavior.

The Bull shark can thrive in both saltwater and freshwater and can travel far up rivers. They have even been known to travel as far up as Indiana in the Ohio River and Illinois in the Mississippi River, although there have been few recorded attacks. They are probably responsible for the majority of near-shore shark attacks, including many attacks attributed to other species. However, bull sharks are not true freshwater sharks (unlike the river sharks of the genus Glyphis).

Distribution and habitat

The bull shark lives all over the world in many different areas and travels long distances. It is common in coastal areas of warm oceans, in rivers and lakes, and occasionally salt and freshwater streams if they are deep enough. It is found to a depth of 150 metres (490 ft) but does not usually swim deeper than 30 metres (98 ft). In the Atlantic it is found from Massachusetts to southern Brazil, and from Morocco to Angola. In the Indian Ocean it is found from South Africa to Kenya, India, and Vietnam to Australia.

There are more than 500 bull sharks in the Brisbane River. One was reportedly seen swimming the flooded streets of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, during the Queensland floods of late 2010/early 2011. Several were sighted in one of the main streets of Goodna, Queensland, Australia, shortly after the peak of the January, 2011, floods. There are greater numbers still in the canals of the Gold Coast, also in Queensland, Australia. A large bull shark was caught in the canals of Scarborough, 2 hours north of the Gold Coast. In the Pacific Ocean, it can be found from Baja California, to Ecuador. The shark has traveled 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) up the Amazon River to Iquitos in Peru. It also lives in fresh water Lake Nicaragua, in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers of West Bengal and Assam in eastern India and adjoining Bangladesh. It can live in water with a high salt content as in St. Lucia Estuary in South Africa.

After Hurricane Katrina, many bull sharks were sighted in Lake Ponchartrain. Bull sharks have occasionally gone up the Mississippi River as far upstream as Alton, Illinois. They have also been found in the Potomac River in Maryland.

Anatomy and appearance

Bull sharks are large and stout, with females being larger than males. The bull shark can be up to 81 centimetres (2.66 ft) in length at birth and grow up to 3.5 metres (11 ft) (though a 13-footer was caught in a South African river) and weigh 318 kilograms (700 lb). Bull sharks are wider than other requiem sharks of comparable length, and are grey on top and white below. The second dorsal fin is smaller than the first. Per the National Geographic program Animal Face-Off, bull sharks have a bite force of up to 567 kilograms (1,250 lb).

The bull shark's caudal fin is longer and lower than that of the average shark. It has a small snout. There is a lack of an interdorsal ridge.