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bull shark

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Bull Shark
(Carcharhinus leucas)

Bull Shark - Carcharhinus leucas

© Ian K Fergusson

Other Names

Zambezi, Ground Shark, Cub Shark

In Australia this species is also known as Freshwater Whalers, Swan River Whaler and River Whaler. In Africa it is called the Zambezi Shark. In Central America it often goes by the name of Lake Nicaragua Shark. It has also been known as River Shark, Cub Shark, Van Rooyen's Shark, Slipway Grey Shark, Square Nose Shark and more.


The Bull Shark is recognised by a combination of characters including a stout body, short blunt snout, triangular serrated teeth in the upper jaw and no fin markings as an adult. This species has a second dorsal fin about one third the height of the first, a small eye, and no skin ridge between the two dorsal fins. It is grey to light brown above and pale below, sometimes with a pale stripe on the flank. Similar to the Sandbar Shark but has a shorter, wider snout. The large first dorsal fin starts above the middle of the pectoral fin, whereas in the Sandbar it starts above the front portion of the pectoral. Female bull sharks are usually larger than the males and can grow up to 11 feet.


Grow from 7 to 11 feet weighing 200 to 500 pounds.


Fish, (including other sharks and rays), turtles, birds, mollusks and dolphins. It will eat almost anything.


It is found close to to shore and can live for a while in fresh water, frequenting estuaries, river and lakes. They have been found up to 1,750 miles up the Mississippi River in the USA and 2,500 miles up the Amazon River in Peru.


They are viviparous. Litters of up to 13 pups are common after a gestation period of about 1 year. Pups are about 28 inches long at birth. Very young Bull sharks are frequently found in protected bays near the mouths of rivers in briny waters.


Considered to be the most dangerous shark in the world, even surpassing the Great White Shark, a heavy bodied with a short nose and a medium sized second dorsal fin. It has broad, serrated triangular upper teeth and very powerful jaws. It has a broad diet and will eat almost anything. It does seem to have a preference for eating baby Sandbar Sharks. Studies believe it lives for about 14 years and prefers to breed in the mouth of rivers.

It has been found 4000 km from the sea in the Amazon River. It has penetrated right down the Mississippi River in the USA. It can live in almost any water including water with a high salt content as in St. Lucia Lake in South Africa. It seems to prefer rivers and inlets with shallow water and is not often reported far out at sea.

It is also quite happy being in murky or muddy water. In Australia it is often confused with other species especially the Bronze Whaler. It has been found in most of our water systems including Brisbane River, Herbert River, Swan River, Clarence River, Daly River, and even Lake Macquarie.

Many experts think Bull Shark is responsible for most of the deaths around the Sydney Harbour inlets in the past. Most of these attacks were previously thought to be Great Whites. The Grey Nurse was also blamed in the sixties and seventies.

Until very recently, researchers thought the sharks in Lake Nicaragua were a separate species because there was no way for the sharks to move in or out. It was discovered that they were jumping along the rapids just like Salmon. Bull Sharks tagged inside the lake were later caught in the open ocean.

In India the Bull Shark cruises up the Ganges River where it has killed and attacked a large number of people. It also eats the corpses that the Indians float on the river. Many of these attacks have been wrongly blamed on the Ganges Shark, (Glyphis Gangeticus) a fairly rare species that is probably the only other shark that can live comfortably in saltwater or freshwater.

In Africa where it is often called the Zambesi shark it is known to have caused a lot of deaths among swimmers in shallow water.

Bull Shark Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Chondrichthyes
Subclass Elasmobranchii
Order Carcharhiniformes
Family Carcharhinidae
Genus Carcharhinus
Species Leucas

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