Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are aggressive. They live in coastal waters of the United States, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, and other countries. Remarkably, they can swim in saltwater or freshwater, and this makes them a menace far from the coast. They have resided 2,500 miles up the Amazon River, up the Mississippi River all the way to Illinois, and in the Potomac River near Point Lookout State Park, about 80 miles southeast of Washington, D.C.
In some countries, including the United States, they are a game fish and sought after with rod and reel from shore, piers, or boats. They are one of the most dangerous shark species to humans. This is due to their proximity to shore and tendency to swim in shallow waters. Bull sharks can be aggressive towards humans. They may have been responsible for the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, which inspired the novel Jaws, by Peter Benchley, and the subsequent blockbuster horror film. Scary stuff.
Read on to discover the astounding weight of the biggest bull shark ever caught and learn more about the environmental role of this predator and its future as a species.
Description of the Bull Shark
Bull sharks are usually gray or grayish brown on top and white on their underbellies. They are born live and are about 2 feet long at birth. As adults, they can reach 7-11.5 feet long and can weigh 200-500 pounds. This is big enough to eat some large prey, whether fish, mammals, reptiles, birds, or anything else they can catch in coastal or river environments. Their teeth are sharp enough to pierce thick shells of crustaceans, turtles, and mollusks. They will even cannibalize members of their own species. Bull sharks can often be observed in large indoor aquariums. They do better in captivity than some other species because of their tolerance to different levels of salinity.
Largest Bull Shark
The largest bull shark ever caught in the state of Florida far exceeded this weight, at an estimated 1,000 pounds and about 10 feet long. It was captured in 2012 in the Florida Keys by University of Miami researcher Neil Hammerschlag and a colleague. In this species, females tend to be larger than males, so as expected, this record-smashing specimen was a lady. The researchers tagged her and returned her to the wild, where they can continue to track her movements, and her growth. Internationally, the largest bull shark caught on rod and reel weighed 771 lb. 9 oz. It was caught near Cairns, Australia.
Where Is the Florida Keys Located on a Map?
The Florida Keys are an archipelago off the southern tip of Florida that forms the southernmost point of the continental U.S. The Keys start around 15 miles south of Miami at the southeastern coast of the Florida peninsula and cover a total land area of 137.3 square miles. The southern part of Key West, the westernmost of the islands that are inhabited, is situated about 90 miles from Cuba. Over 95% of the land is in Monroe County and the remainder is in Miami-Dade County.
Environmental Role of the Bull Shark
Though bull sharks may seem frightening, they serve an important role in the environment. They are apex predators. They feed on other creatures without also being prey, except to humans. As such, they help keep the populations of fish and other marine species in check. This is especially useful in areas with threats from invasive species. The black carp has invaded the Mississippi River and threatens its ecological balance. Bull sharks are also scavengers, consuming the remains of dead animals in the river. This is a useful cleanup function. Particularly after floods when a higher number of terrestrial animals being swept into river systems.
Threats to Bull Sharks
Some countries allow fishing for bull sharks. This species is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN. They are hunted for their fins (for shark fin soup), skin, and liver oil. Sometimes they are caught up in fishing nets or hurt by boat propellers by accident.
Since they live near coasts and in river systems, they are at greater danger of pollution and loss of habitat than other shark species. Coastal development sometimes involves destruction of mangroves, estuaries, and marshes, which removes breeding and feeding areas. Water pollution, such as the discharge of chemical and industrial waste, can also have a negative impact on bull shark populations. It reduces the quality of their habitat and making it more difficult for them to find food. Climate change is another environmental issue that affects bull sharks. Warmer waters and changes in salinity levels can have an impact on their reproduction and distribution.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How big was the largest bull shark in Florida?
The largest bull shark ever caught in the state of Florida far exceeded this weight, at an estimated 1,000 pounds and about 10 feet long. It was captured in 2012 in the Florida Keys by University of Miami researcher Neil Hammerschlag and a colleague.
What are bull fish hunted for?
Although some countries allow fishing for bull sharks, this species is considered “near threatened.” They are hunted for their fins (for shark fin soup), skin, and liver oil. Sometimes they get caught up in fishing nets or damaged by boat propellers by accident.
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- Wikipedia.org, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bull_shark
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Available here: https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/sharks-rays/shark-species/bull/#:~:text=Common%20apex%20predator%20that%20inhabits,inland%20via%20coastal%20river%20systems.
- Florida Museum, Available here: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20International%20Game,was%20caught%20near%20Cairns%2C%20Australia.
- VIP Fishing Charters, Available here: http://www.vipfishingcharters.com/Fishing-Info/florida-saltwater-fishing-records.html
- National Wildlife Federation, Available here: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Fish/Bull-Shark