Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: What are the Differences?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: May 14, 2022
Image Credit Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

You may be here if you’re passionate about how sharks look or hunt. Or maybe you’re just wondering what the difference between a bull shark and a reef shark is, having seen them on a TV show or documentary. You might also have seen one of these two sharks at an oceanarium, and you want to learn more about it. 

Whatever the reason, we will definitely help you out with this! We’ve compared the bull shark and the reef shark and highlighted the key differences between them.

Comparing Bull Sharks vs Reef Sharks

Bull sharks and reef sharks differ in appearance, size, habitat, predator, prey, reproduction, and lifespan.

A-Z-Animals.com

Bull SharkReef Shark
Size7 to 8.0 feet
200 – 500 pounds
5.2 to 11 feet
30-430 pounds
AppearanceLarge and stout; wide and heavy; grey on top, white below; the first dorsal fin is larger than the second; small snout; no interdorsal ridgeFusiform body, large, round, or oval eyes, Gray, white, gray-brown
Top speed25 miles per hour31 miles per hour
Lifespan12-16 years in the wild; up to 20-30  years in captivity13-25 years

The Key Differences Between Bull Sharks and Reef Sharks

The key differences between bull sharks and reef sharks are appearance, size, habitat, predator, prey, reproduction, and lifespan.

Let’s explore these differences in detail!

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Color

Bull Sharks Underwater
The top part of a bull shark’s body is dark gray and fades to a pale cream color, almost white, on the underside.

The bull shark, just like many other types of sharks, can easily blend into the environment. The top part of a bull shark’s body is dark gray and fades to a pale cream color, almost white, on the underside. Their fins’ color changes over time. Initially, they have a dark tip and change to a diffuse dusky color with maturity.

On the other hand, the reef shark is brown or brownish-gray, and the underside is white.

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Body Shape

A grey Reef shark in the open ocean.
The reef shark has a fusiform body with rounded snouts.

In regards to the body’s shape, the bull shark is large and stout. It is wide and heavy in comparison with other members of the Carcharhinidae family. The bull shark features a long caudal fin, a small snout, and a smaller second dorsal fin.

The reef shark has a fusiform body, with rounded snouts and blunt, large, oval, or round eyes, and pelvic fins. Its prominent dorsal fin may be tipped with white or black. The reef shark has five gill slits. 

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Size and Weight

The bull shark and the reef shark are approximately the same size but differ significantly in weight. 

The male bull shark can be up to 7 feet long at maturity and weighs around 209 pounds. The female bull shark, on the other hand, can grow longer, reaching up to 8 feet and weighing as much as 290 pounds. Females that go beyond 9.8 feet in length can weigh up to 450 pounds. The longest known bull shark is 13 feet, and the heaviest weighs 771 pounds. 

The reef shark usually measures around 5.2 to 6.6 feet long and weighs about 30 to 80 pounds. The Galapagos shark is the largest of them all and can grow up to 11 feet long and weigh 430 pounds. Compared to the bull shark, the reef shark is much smaller.

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Habitat

A Caribbean reef shark swims with school of jacks.
Reef sharks can be found around Baja California, the Caribbean, South America, and East Africa.

Maui Topical Images/Shutterstock.com

The bull shark can be found in waters worldwide, except for the Arctic and the Antarctic, and around the equator. They live in warm oceans, along the coast, in lakes, rivers, and even saltwater and freshwater streams.

The reef shark species are not as numerous compared to the bull shark. They can be found worldwide – around Baja California, the Virgin Islands and Bermuda, South Africa, Central America, Oceania, the Caribbean, South America, and East Africa. 

Even though there are more bull sharks in the water than reef sharks, both species are in decline. 

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Predators and Prey

Humans are the main predators for both bull and reef sharks. They use them for their meat and fins. The bull shark’s hide is turned into leather. Other predators are sandbar sharks, as well as bull sharks themselves. Crocodiles may also hunt them.

Predators of the reef shark include larger and more aggressive sharks – the great white shark or the tiger shark, for example. Killer whales also hunt for reef sharks. 

Both species of shark are subject to tapeworms, flatworms, and copepods. One exciting particularity of the Caribbean shark (a type of reef shark) is that it can turn its stomach inside out to clean it of parasites.

The bull shark eats small sharks and various species of bony fish, such as castor oil fish or snake mackerel. It can also eat stingrays. The reef shark feeds on cephalopods, crustaceans, and numerous types of bony fish. 

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Reproduction and Lifespan

Bull shark facts - bull shark with human
The bull shark reproduces during late summer and early autumn.

wildestanimal/Shutterstock.com

The bull shark reproduces during late summer and early autumn. During this period, they can be found in freshwater or brackish water near river mouths. After the eggs are fertilized, the female is pregnant for a year, and then gives birth to as many as 13 baby sharks at a time. The bull shark’s lifespan in the wild can go up to 16 years, but research shows that it can live up to 20-30 years in captivity.

The fertilization process for the reef shark is different, though it is believed that the bull shark may do the same. The male shark follows the female and bites it to hold it still. Fertilization is internal, and the female can be pregnant for as long as 14 months. The number of born baby sharks depends on how big the female is, but the approximate number is 16 babies. The reef shark’s lifespan is much longer, as it can live up to 24 years. 

Bull Shark vs Reef Shark: Do they attack humans?

Bull sharks are considered an aggressive species. However, they do not attack humans on purpose. This happens because they migrate up rivers and stumble across humans. Overall, bull shark attacks are extremely rare. They occur mostly in the same places where people swim – shallow coastal waters and rivers.

The reef shark is not generally dangerous and won’t attack a human being just for the sake of it. There have been reported cases of attacks, but mostly on humans holding something that the shark saw as prey. 

Share this post on:

More from A-Z Animals