10 Surprising Facts to Know about Bull Sharks

bull shark facts

Sharks are known as the oldest living inhabitant of the planet. Having been around for more than 450 million years, they still swim far and wide with more than a 1000 species spread across the globe. These creatures have managed not just to outlive the dinosaurs but successfully avoid whatever caused their extinction. However, sharks are extremely different in reality than how they are portrayed in movies. One example is the magnificent bull shark.

Known as the only shark species that has adapted to living in freshwater, bull sharks are found in warm shallow waters around the world. Their evolution into freshwater dwellers has allowed them to swim massive distances upriver. Bull sharks can grow between 7 to 11 feet in length with their weight ranging between 200 and 500 pounds. They are also famed for being extremely opportunistic eaters that will bite into almost anything.

Fascinating Facts about Bull Sharks

1. These animals have adapted to life in freshwater

Sharks, like many other fish, need to keep salt in their bodies to survive. As a result, they are only adapted to life in salt waters. However, bull sharks are extremely different. Over the course of time, they have developed special adaptations like the way their kidneys function or the special glands in their tails. As a result, bull sharks are the only species of sharks that are found in rivers and lakes around the world.  

2. They have the strongest bite of any shark

Scientists conducted an experiment in 2012 to compare the bite of 13 different species of sharks. It was found that an adult bull shark can apply almost 6,000 newtons of force through the back of its mouth while 2,000 newtons at the front. To put it into perspective, the maximum force humans can exert is between 900 to 1300 pounds. Why a bull shark had to develop such a powerful bite is one aspect that still remains unexplored, but it is probably due to their elaborate diet.

3. A bull shark was once caught 1000 miles up the Mississippi River

Bull sharks have become common freshwater dwellers and they are often caught as far as 2500 miles from the ocean. In 1937, two fishermen caught a 5-foot bull shark in the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois. Another one was found in the Amazon river swimming nearly 2,485 miles away from the habitat that most other shark species call home. Even Zambezi River, Africa and Ganges River, India are frequently visited by this species.

bull shark facts

4. Bull sharks can eat anything from turtles to baby hippos

The diet that bull sharks follow has no routine. They will eat anything that they find. Since they travel thousands of miles upriver, they often come across herds of hippos. Since these animals make a lot of excrement, smaller fishes are attracted towards them and this drives the sharks too. Occasionally, baby hippos and even adult ones get bitten when they are mistaken as fish or other pieces of meat. Adult hippos however are well equipped to fend off this predator.

5. In contrast to Great White Sharks, Bull sharks can survive in aquariums

It is a famed common fact that there are no Great White sharks in any aquarium around the world. Some have tried and despite the best efforts, these animals don’t survive. However, unlike the bigger and meaner cousin, bull sharks can live and grow in aquariums. Their ability to live in freshwater allows them to navigate these pools easily and where a Great White will only last 6 months in captivity, bull sharks can go as long as 25 years.  

6. An Australian Golf Course is infested with bull sharks

The Carbrook Golf Club near Brisbane, Australia has one of the most unlikely animals living in its pond. While crocodiles and alligators have been a common sight at golf course ponds, the presence of sharks is an anomaly. Still, the Australian Golf Course located next to the Logan River is considered to have 6 to 12 bull sharks with the largest being around 9 feet. The sharks are also said to be mating. The facility whole heartedly entertains the animals and naturally, ball retrieval from the pond is prohibited.

7. Biting the partner is a part of the mating ritual

Across the animal kingdom, there are interesting yet weird ways in which male members express love towards the female. These activities are part of the mating rituals and bull sharks have something similar. Female sharks have scars behind their skulls because male partners bite on to them so that they can hang on during coitus, a common part of the mating process. After this, the male inserts sperm into the female for the purpose of reproduction.

bull shark facts

8. It is the amongst the list of sharks that bite humans often

The three most common shark species arranged by decreasing frequency of attacks on humans are Great whites, tiger and bull sharks. Although being bitten by a shark is an extremely rare thing to happen to a human, there are cases reported each year. Bull sharks have so far been the culprit in 100 or more cases. The reason behind these attacks is simple; bull sharks are found in similar environments as humans, i.e., warm shallow waters and therefore mistakes occur.

9. They have a possible role in the 1916 New Jersey attacks

In the span of two weeks between 1st and 12th July 1916, 5 people were attacked along the shores of New Jersey. Of the five, four died. At first, an 8-foot great white shark was thought to be behind the attack as it was found and killed with its stomach full of human remains. However, one scientist has observed that the incidents occurred 11 miles from the ocean and great whites never swim this far upriver. This hints that the attacks were in fact the doing of a bull shark.

10. Female bull sharks outweigh male ones

Not only are female bull sharks heavier but they also outgrow their male counterparts in terms of length. While the males can grow to a maximum length of seven feet, female sharks can extend as much as 11 feet. Male bull sharks weigh between 200 to 300 pounds on average which is impressive but the females can weigh as much as 400 to 500 pounds.

11. They have more teeth than other average sharks

Besides their powerful bites, bull sharks have a lot more teeth than other average sharks. Most sharks have 5 to 15 rows of teeth but in the case of the bull shark, it has a staggering 50 rows. Each row has 7 teeth making up more than 350 teeth within the mouth of this magnificent creature. Since shark teeth fall out frequently, this number might seem excessive but it is extremely functional.

12. Since they are found in freshwaters, they are commonly hunted

There is no doubt about the fact that humans are indeed superior hunters. If a shark can attack humans, they will obviously hit back. Although hitting back might not be the right term to use here. Shark fin soup made from bull sharks is a common delicacy in some parts of the world especially Asia. As a result, thousands of these animals are hunted with other parts utilized as well or thrown away, highlighting a deplorable trade.

bull shark facts

13. Bull sharks even fall prey to crocodiles

Although bull sharks have been known to win against baby hippos, they are not so successful against crocodiles. In numerous documentaries and instances, crocodiles have been seen eating bull sharks that stray into their territory. Bull sharks can even eat turtles but larger crocodiles are better suited to fend off and even chow down on a bull shark if the two ever come face to face.  

14. They will eat anything that they find

This is one behavior that is not common in other sharks. Attacks on humans like the ones carried out by great whites are associated with their inquisitive behavior. On the other hand, bull sharks will eat anything that they can find ranging from oysters to turtles, larger fish and even other bull sharks. This is the reason why humans also often fall prey to these sharks although the instances are ultra rare around the world.

15. Bull sharks are greatly misunderstood creatures

The movies and stories that we are told about sharks build a completely different narrative in our minds as compared to what they naturally are. We believe that they are ruthless predators but that is not the case. Attacks on humans might occur but that in no way means that sharks purposefully prey on homo sapiens. Sharks are vulnerable due to excessive hunting and they deserve immense attention to preserve animals that have been around since the dinosaurs.

Bull Sharks | National Geographic

If you wonder how a bull shark acts and hunts in its natural habitat, here is a closer look at these animals doing what they do best in their home. Swimming in shallow waters and hugging the ground, they are precise and swift in their actions. Watch the video from National Geographic here:

Summary

Bull sharks may be known man-eaters, but they are not out to get humans. They are just natural predators who are living the life that they know. Bull sharks are magnificent creatures despite their habits and are a crucial part of the ecosystem that we live in.

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Body Image 1: “Bull shark” by Daniele Colombo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0