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Bull Shark

Carcharhinus leucas

Distinguishing Characteristics

Illustration of a bull shark showing important characteristics
  • Back is pale to dark gray, fading to a white belly
  • Snout bluntly rounded, much shorter than width of mouth
  • First dorsal fin has wide base, almost as wide as height; begins over or just behind pectoral fin insertion
  • 2nd dorsal fin is much shorter than the 1st dorsal fin.
  • No interdorsal ridge
  • Deep body that is stockier than many other shark species

Similar Species: Lemon shark, N. brevirostris (first and second dorsal fins nearly equal in size); Caribbean reef shark, C. perezii (has interdorsal ridge); and sandbar shark, C. plumbeus (first dorsal fin starts before pectoral fin insertion)


Maximum size is about 10-11 feet. Matures at approximately 14-18 years of age (about 7 feet) and is estimated to live longer than 30 years.


Inhabits estuarine, nearshore and offshore waters of both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida. Bull sharks have a wide range of salinity tolerances and commonly enter freshwater systems as well as hypersaline lagoons.  They are the only shark species that can tolerate long periods of freshwater exposure, sometimes venturing hundreds of miles inland via coastal river systems. 


Versatile and opportunistic feeder. Stomach contents have included a variety of bony fishes and invertebrate species, sharks, rays, dolphins, sea turtles, and sea birds.


Mating occurs during the summer and after 10-11 months of gestation, females give birth to live young in river mouths, shallow estuaries, and coastal lagoons. Broods contain 1-13 pups. Size at birth about 2.4 feet.

Additional Information

Bull sharks are more aggressive than most shark species and responsible for many unprovoked attacks on humans worldwide.  Some experts consider them to be more dangerous than white or tiger sharks, accounting for the third highest number of attacks on humans.  Constitutes only a small portion of the commercial shark fishery and harvested for their fins, marketable flesh, and hide.  This hardy species also does well in captivity.

Recreational Regulations


Image Credit: © Diane Rome Peebles