If you are heading out to Gulfport Beach, Biloxi Beach or another of the great beaches along the coast, you might be curious if there are sharks off the coast of Mississippi. Many of the beautiful beaches along the coast of Mississippi and in the Mississippi Sound have a variety of marine life including redfish, black drum, speckled trout, Atlantic stingray, crabs, shrimp and…yes…sharks.
Some of the shark species can be found in shallower water, close to shore, and others are deepwater sharks. Sharks are most common from spring until fall with many species using the waters off the coast as nurseries for their baby sharks. Let’s look at the 10 sharks off the coast of Mississippi.
1) Atlantic sharpnose shark
The most common shark seen off the coast of Mississippi is the Atlantic sharpnose shark. They are also a pretty small shark when it comes to sharks. They get their name from their long snout that looks like a sharp nose. Their coloring is universal grey with faint white spots along their back. The average sharpnose shark is only 2 ½ feet long, with the max being around 3 ½ feet.
Another common shark seen off the coast of Mississippi is the blacktip shark. These sharks get their name from the faded black tips on their fins. They are quite a bit larger than the sharpnose sharks and can get to be 6ft 3in but most are around 4ft 8in. Since they feed by shore they are more commonly seen by beachgoers.
3) Bull shark
One of the only sharks that can handle freshwater, the bull shark can be found in the Sound and in some of the brackish waters along the coast. The younger smaller sharks may be found in the estuaries and rivers with the adults preferring the Gulf. Bull sharks are good-sized, with the adults getting to be 7ft 5in – 9ft 4in…longer than a human swimmer! Bear in mind that they are an aggressive shark and do have a history of attacks on humans.
If you are at the beach and see a shark you may holler “Shark!” but can you imagine having to yell “Sharks!” Finetooth sharks often swim in schools so you could see a large group of sharks swimming of the coast. Finetooths are a slender shark around 4-6 feet in length. They get their name from the skinny pointed teeth that lines their mouths. During the summer you may find them over mud flats looking for food. They hunt together in schools for menhaden, mackerel, and squid.
“What was that?!” If you saw a shark leap out of the water and literally spin around you would be amazed. That is exactly what spinner sharks do. Are they just showing off or is there a purpose to this behavior? The spinner shark uses the spinning technique as a way to catch fish in its mouth. It starts below the surface with its mouth open swimming through a large school of fish then leaps out of the water, spinning up to three times around (that’s a triple in figure skating) then landing back in the water to enjoy their catch. Spinners are heavily fished for their flesh, hide, fins, and liver, so much so that they are listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN.
6) Tiger Shark
Leaving the shoreline, the next group of sharks are all deepwater sharks that can be found further off the coast of Mississippi. Tiger sharks really do have tiger-like markings on their back. Tiger sharks are also big, with the largest getting to be around 15ft long! There have only been three recorded shark attacks in Mississippi, according to the Shark Attack Data, and one of those was by a Tiger Shark. There is a record that dates back to January 1, 1879, reported in the Indiana County Gazette, when Gus Ericson was attacked by a Tiger Shark which ended in his death. He was floating on a life buoy in the Mississippi Delta after being capsized. A passing boat tried to save Ericson but they watched in horror as a large tiger shark grabbed the man and pulled him under, a tragic but extremely rare occurrence.
The Blacknose sharks have a black nose and copper-colored body. Their eyes are not as big as the Mako shark but their eyes do seem larger than usual. Blacknoses are a smaller shark that sometimes is mixed-up with lemon sharks because of their coloring. They average around 3-4 feet long on average.
8) Shortfin Mako
The shortfin mako could be called the big-eyed shark because of its large cartoon-sized eyes. They have a bluer color and a large tail fin. The range in size of the shortfin mako is 6 ½ -13 feet, so a good-sized shark. Shortfin makos are known to be the fastest shark in the ocean with records set at 40 mph! Now that is a fast shark!
9) Hammerhead (Bonnethead, Scalloped, Great)
Occasionally there are sightings of hammerhead sharks out deeper off Mississippi’s coast. Three types of hammerheads that have been seen include the bonnethead, scalloped and great hammerhead. As their name implies they have a uniquely shaped head that looks like a hammer. Not only are their head shaped like hammers but their eyes are located on the ends of each hammer head! The Bonnetheads are around 2-5 feet long, the scalloped 6-11 feet, but the great hammerheads can get to be 16 feet long, with the largest specimens even pushing 20 feet!
10) Sharpnose sevengill
Another deepwater shark off the coast of Mississippi is the sharpnose sevengill. Most sharks have five gills on either side of their bodies but sevengills have seven. They look almost like a sturgeon with a long, skinny, torpedo-like body. They are also missing the typical dorsal fin that jets above the surface of the water as warning. Their dorsal fin is set back near their tail and is quite small.
They like to swim deep into the ocean to find small fish and squid so they are less likely to be seen. Sharpnose sevengills are around 3-3 ½ feet long, so they’re not a huge shark like the Tiger Shark.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/AlAlessandro De Maddalena
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