The Top 10 Fastest Sharks Found in U.S. Waters (And Where You Might Encounter Them)

The backs of the Shortfin Mako Shark range from a metallic indigo blue to deep purple while their sides are generally silver.
© Alessandro De Maddalena/Shutterstock.com

Written by Justin Zipprich

Updated: August 29, 2023

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Seeing a shark while swimming in the ocean is a terrifying prospect. With those huge bodies, sharp teeth, and scary eyes, these animals are nightmare-inducing. If you think you can outswim a shark, you’re very wrong. Many sharks are incredibly fast. Let’s learn about the fastest sharks found in U.S. waters. We’ll cover their speed, where they spend their time, and other interesting facts.

The salmon shark clocks in at 50 miles per hour!

10. Tiger Shark – Speed: 20 mph

Tiger shark swimming on reef.

Tiger

sharks are sometimes found off of the coast of California.

©le bouil baptiste/Shutterstock.com

Found in the Caribbean Sea, the tiger shark is a formidable foe. Since reporting began, there have been 103 unprovoked tiger shark attacks, and 39 fatalities. They can swim up to 20 miles mph when chasing prey. Even as the slowest swimmer on this list, this shark is still 10 times faster than the average human swimmer. 

Tiger sharks are found in many places around the U.S., including Cape Cod, Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, and California. Be aware of the tiger shark if you swim in the Pacific, Atlantic, or Indian Oceans.

9. Hammerhead Shark – Speed: 20 mph

Hammerhead Shark

Despite the placement of their eyes, hammerhead sharks can see quite well and they’re fast!

©iStock.com/Howard Chen

Also clocking in at a max speed of 20 mph is the great and terrifying hammerhead shark. Though not as common as some other sharks, you can find this unique species in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Basically, they’re on the Eastern U.S. coast, from Florida all the way to New Jersey. 

Hammerhead sharks are quite large, with some reaching lengths of close to 20 feet. As with all other sharks, they don’t hunt humans, so you don’t have to worry. Instead, the hammerhead has a diet of crustaceans, fish, and sometimes, smaller sharks. Sadly, they are typically overfished, and this has left them on the endangered list. 

8. Bull Shark – Speed: 25 mph

bull sharks

A bull shark was once found in the Mississippi River!

©Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com

Next on the list is the bull shark, an apex predator. Though they are a bit smaller than some other sharks, they can still reach about 11 feet. These sharks use the “bump and bite” method of hunting. They bump into a creature in the water, and if it seems to be edible, they bite it. If the prey swims away, the bull shark can swim after it at close to 25 mph.

Bull sharks are found in coastal waters around the U.S. and other parts of the world. They have even been found in the Mississippi River. There have been sightings in the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico, and near Massachusetts. Basically, they could be lurking anywhere along the Pacific or Atlantic coasts.

7. Nurse Shark – Speed: 25 mph

Nurse shark swimming with fish
Nurse sharks are fast but they’re also quite harmless.

Also clocking it at a max speed of 25 mph is the unique nurse shark. This species spends most of its time at the bottom of the ocean. Though it is one of the fastest sharks found in U.S. waters, it is not a threat to humans. It’s famous for its flattened teeth that are mostly used to crush the crustaceans that make up its diet. After crushing the shell, they suction the meat out. The shark typically grows to around 10 feet long.

You could find nurse sharks in the Gulf and on the Atlantic coast, typically around Florida. There are also many nurse sharks found in the Eastern Pacific and Central American waters.

6. Thresher Shark – Speed: 30 mph

The long tail fin of a thresher shark silhouettes against the surface. The tail is used to stun and kill prey.

The longest thresher shark ever found was 32 feet long.

©HikeAndShoot/Shutterstock.com

Thresher sharks are found in many places around the world. They sometimes inhabit the west coast of the U.S., and some have been spotted off the coast of Florida. It’s not hard to distinguish a thresher shark. They’re famous for their long rear fins, and they can be massive, with some reaching lengths of over 20 feet. The longest thresher shark ever found was 32 feet! The good news is that adults prefer to stay in the open ocean, away from land. 

The diet of the thresher shark mostly consists of tuna, herring, mackerel, and other schooling fish. Though threshers may look scary, there are no reported attacks on humans.

5. Great White Shark – Speed: 35 mph

Great White Shark
The great white shark has 300 razor-sharp teeth.

We’ve all heard about the great white shark. In fact, it’s likely the first species of shark that comes to mind. Their long bodies, rows of sharp teeth, and dark eyes are what nightmares are made of. But what if we told you that this nightmare creature can swim at an amazing 34 mph! That’s faster than some motorized scooters and vehicles. It’s no wonder they are considered the ultimate apex predator of the seas. 

Numerous great white sharks are spotted in U.S. waters, including off the coastline of Oahu and North Carolina. In addition to their incredible speed, great white sharks also have 300 razor-sharp teeth. Even though there have been accidental attacks on humans, this shark’s diet consists of invertebrates, fish, and marine animals.

4. Blue Shark – Speed: 43 mph

Blue Shark - Prionace glauca, near Pico island, Azores.

The blue shark attacks its prey from underneath.

©Pommeyrol Vincent/Shutterstock.com

The next of the fastest sharks found in U.S. waters is the incredible blue shark. They can dart through the ocean at up to 43 mph. Although they favor tropical and deep temperate waters, blue sharks have been found off of each continent except Antarctica. The shark typically reaches about 12 feet in length, with a slender frame and threatening look. The blue shark attacks its prey from the bottom, launching at it with incredible speed. Luckily, their diet doesn’t include humans, mostly consisting of smaller sharks, squids, fish, and sea birds. 

The shark gets its name from its gorgeous shade of blue on top, which fades to white on the underside. It has a long snout. In fact, it’s longer than its mouth is wide! The blue shark is seldom seen, as it rarely ever approaches the shore.

3. Spinner Shark – Speed 44 mph

Spinner shark feeding on baitfish, Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia.

The

spinner shark

can leap out of the water at upwards of 43-44 mph.

©Lewis Burnett/Shutterstock.com

The spinner shark is a smaller variety that only grows to about 6 feet and weighs just over 120 pounds. You can identify the shark by its long, pointed snout and slender body. The top of the shark is bronze or gray, and the underside is white. 

This shark is very unique because it hunts by swimming with a school of fish. And while it swims, it also jumps and spins out of the water. It can leap out of the water at over 44 mph. Spinner sharks are found in the Atlantic Ocean. They spend time on the southeast coast of the U.S., in South America, and the Gulf of Mexico.

2. Shortfin Mako Shark – Speed 45 mph

Shortfin mako shark with pilot fish.

Shortfin mako sharks often feast on other smaller sharks.

©Xavier ELIAS Photography/Shutterstock.com

There’s debate about whether the shortfin mako shark is the fastest shark in our oceans. Some say that title goes to the salmon shark. However, the shortfin mako can swim at least 45 mph in bursts. This is one scary shark that grows up to 12 feet in length and can weigh a whopping 1,200 pounds. In addition to speed, this shark can also leap extremely high out of the water.

Its diet primarily consists of squids, sea turtles, bony fish, and smaller sharks. The mako has been spotted in several places around the country, from New England to Florida to Texas. This fearsome species has started to become extinct due to overfishing. Sadly, they’re often caught for their fins.

1. Salmon Shark – Speed 50 mph

The rare and elusive Salmon Shark, in the open ocean of Alaska.

The salmon shark can be found in the open ocean of Alaska.

©Warren Metcalf/Shutterstock.com

Often found off of the coast of Alaska, the incredibly brisk salmon shark is arguably the fastest shark in U.S. waters. As the name suggests, this shark’s diet mostly consists of salmon, but it also eats squid, sablefish, and herring. This shark is believed to be capable of swimming 50 mph in short spurts. 

The salmon shark can be identified by its dusty gray skin on top and paler color below. It also has unmistakable white markings. They typically grow to 10+ feet long, and they can weigh 600+ pounds. They also possess very sharp teeth that make attempted escape futile. This amazing shark can live up to 25 years.

Conclusion

The fastest sharks found in U.S. waters are all very impressive creatures. The good news is that the sharks on this list don’t intentionally hurt humans. However, you should steer clear of them anyway. Always be cautious of your surroundings when you go to the beach and follow the posted instructions. And remember, new sharks are discovered all the time, so who knows what other fast sharks we may find!

Summary of The Top 10 Fastest Sharks Found in U.S. Waters

RankSharkSpeed
1Salmon Shark50 mph
2Shortfin Mako Shark45 mph
3Spinner Shark44 mph
4Blue Shark43 mph
5Great White Shark35 mph
6Thresher Shark30 mph
7Nurse Shark25 mph
8Bull Shark25 mph
9Hammerhead Shark20 mph
10Tiger Shark20 mph


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About the Author

Justin Zipprich is a writer at A-Z Animals, where his primary focus is travel, state facts, pets, and mammals. Justin has been writing and editing animal content for over 7 years, though he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Western Illinois University, which he earned in 2005. As a resident of Texas, he loves discovering local animals and spending time with his wife and two kids.

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