- The Gulf of Mexico is home to 24 known species of sharks.
- 7 of these stand out amongst all the rest in their region as being the biggest and most intimidating.
- Despite their portrayal as vicious threats to human beings, shark attacks in the Gulf are extremely rare, with only 102 total having been reported since 1865.
The Gulf of Mexico is a large ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by North America. The warm waters of the large oceanic basin support a diverse ecosystem that includes different species of fish, shrimps, crabs, sea turtles, and larger aquatic animals such as whales and sharks. Over 50 shark species can be found in the oval-shaped basin. Discover seven of the biggest sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
How Big is the Gulf of Mexico?
The Gulf of Mexico ranks as the ninth largest water body on Earth. The large basin is considered one of the oldest water bodies in the world, created about 300 million years ago and transformed from its mountainous ranges to the ocean basin due to plate tectonics. It has a surface area of approximately 600,000 square miles (1.55 million square kilometers) and a volume of about 5.8 x 105 cubic miles (2.42 x 106 cubic kilometers). The amount of water in the Gulf of Mexico equals about 600 quadrillions!
The ocean basin is bordered by Cuba, six states in Mexico, and the states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida in the United States. The 930 miles (1496.69 kilometers) wide basin is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Florida Straits and the Caribbean Sea through the Yucatan Channel. About eight rivers flow into the basin, some notable rivers being the Mississippi River and the Rio Grande.
How Deep is the Gulf of Mexico?
The average depth of the Gulf of Mexico is about 5,200 feet (1584.96 meters). Though its depth is considered shallow compared to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea which feed it, depths of 14,383 feet (4,383.94 meters) have been recorded in the Sigsbee Deep in Texas.
Meet the 7 Biggest Sharks in the Gulf of Mexico
Sharks are considered crucial to the balance of the basin’s ecosystem. These carnivorous predators feed on weak and sickly fish in the ocean. Due to the abundance of prey, these animals can grow to amazing sizes and lengths. Below are seven of the biggest sharks in the Gulf of Mexico:
1. Whale Sharks
The whale shark is the largest fish worldwide (since whales are considered aquatic mammals). These sharks can grow beyond 40 feet (12.19 meters) long and their major sources of food are plankton and krill. In terms of feeding, whale sharks are more similar to whales than sharks. They do not bite or attack prey but filter their prey out of the water they consume as they swim. The largest whale shark recorded was believed to exceed 60 feet (18.29 meters) in length.
2. Basking Sharks
Basking sharks, also known as elephant sharks, are the second largest living species after the whale shark. These large bony fish swim along the Gulf of Mexico with their mouths open, filtering plankton, crustaceans, fish eggs, and larvae. Basking sharks often grow between 20 and 39 feet and weigh over 10,000 pounds (4,535.92 kilograms). The world’s largest basking shark was caught in 1851 and measured about 40.3 feet (12.28 meters) long.
3. Great White Sharks
Great white sharks are the most aggressive and can grow up to 26 feet (7.92 meters) long. This unique shark can weigh between 4,200 to 5,000 pounds (1905.09-2267.96 kilograms), with the largest recorded weighing over 5,000 pounds. Unlike some sharks that spend the entire year in the Gulf of Mexico, these large sharks migrate long distances each year. Great whites are equipped to hunt down prey such as seals, sea lions, dolphins, and small whales. They have about 300 serrated teeth, dark-gray skin that aids camouflage, and can reach speeds of up to 15 mph inside the ocean.
4. Tiger Sharks
The tiger shark earns its moniker as a ‘garbage fish’ because of its wide diet range. These large striped fish eat almost anything and are considered the second most aggressive sharks in the world. Tiger sharks average 10 to 14 feet long. However, the longest tiger shark ever recorded reached about 24.6 feet (7.50 meters) long and the largest one ever recorded weighed over 1,780 pounds. Some animals that make up the garbage fish’s diet are sea turtles, clams, rays, seabirds, squids, and other species roaming in the basin. Scientists have also found items such as empty cans and plastics in the stomach of a tiger shark.
5. Common Thresher Sharks
The common thresher shark is the largest among the three thresher shark species worldwide. These sharks are quite easily recognizable with their distinctive long thresher tails, whipping at fish as they hunt. Thresher sharks can grow up to 20 feet long and can weigh over 1,100 pounds. The largest thresher shark measured about 32 feet long and weighed 1,250 pounds (566.99 kilograms). However, according to the Telegraph, the giant shark did not live long.
6. Great Hammerhead Sharks
Great hammerhead sharks are shallow-water sharks often found no deeper than about 900 feet (274.32 meters). These sharks have hammer-shaped heads, allowing them a wider view of their surroundings than most other sharks. Hammerhead sharks can grow as long as 20 feet (6.10 meters) and weigh between 300 to 1,000 pounds (136.08-453.59 kilograms).
The largest hammerhead shark ever recorded measured 14 feet 7 inches (4.45 meters) and was caught in 2019 close to the coast of Florida. They eat fish, stingrays, squids, octopuses, etc. Despite the yearly occurrence of shark attacks off the North American coast, no human has been killed by a great hammerhead shark.
7. Bull Sharks
Bull sharks are unique fish species capable of surviving in seawater and freshwater habitats. They are ranked the third most aggressive sharks in the world and, due to their adaptive nature, can be found in many areas of the world. While bull sharks are not as distinctive as tiger sharks with their stripes, they have short blunt noses and appear round.
These unique shark species grow as long as 11 feet (3.35 meters) and can weigh more than 500 pounds (226.80 kilograms). The largest bull shark ever recorded measured over 10 feet long and 1000 pounds.
Is It Normal to Get Bitten by a Shark in the Gulf of Mexico?
Shark attacks are incredibly rare in the Gulf of Mexico, with fatalities being even less common, some studies estimate as few as 11 deaths from shark attacks recorded across the entire state of Florida since 1882. The rarity of shark attacks doesn’t stop local lifeguards from taking every precaution possible to prevent humans from coming into contact with these massive predators while swimming in the Gulf.
Honorable Mention: More Large Sharks
Goblin Shark—The goblin shark is an unusual deep-sea creature, measuring up to 12 feet in length and weighing up to 1,440 pounds. Its most distinctive feature is its long, flat snout. Its coloration is typically a light pink, with other shades of gray or blue.
Short-Finned Mako Shark—The short-finned mako shark is a powerful predator, reaching lengths of up to 12 feet and weighing up to 1,000 pounds. It is easily identified by its sleek, streamlined body and its sharp, pointed dorsal fin.
Mega-Mouth Shark—The mega-mouth shark is a relatively rare species, reaching lengths up to 18 feet and weighing up to 2,680 pounds. Its most distinctive feature is its huge, gaping mouth, which can be up to half the length of its body.
Lemon Shark—A lemon shark is a species of large shark that is found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They have a yellowish-brown color with darker spots and are usually around 11 feet long. They mainly eat fish and small invertebrates, and they can be found in shallow coastal waters. They are solitary animals and are not aggressive towards humans, though they can become aggressive when provoked.
Summary Of The 7 Biggest Sharks In The Gulf Of Mexico
|3||Great White Sharks|
|5||Common Thresher Sharks|
|6||Great Hammerhead Sharks|
Other Animals in the Gulf of Mexico
Aside from dozens of species of sharks, the Gulf of Mexico is home to hundreds of other dazzling displays of aquatic wildlife. Some of the more notable creatures include sea turtles, dolphins, whales, sting rays, jellyfish, sea urchins, and manatees. The Gulf is also an extremely popular destination for those who love fishing, with many highly sought-after fishes such as red snapper, grouper, albacore tuna, and amberjack all inhabiting the populous waters.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ramon Carretero/Shutterstock.com
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