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Bull or Zambezi Shark

Bull or Zambezi Shark

The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as Zambezi shark or unofficially known as Zambi in Africa and Nicaragua shark in Nicaragua, is a shark common worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers. The bull shark is well known for its unpredictable, often aggressive behavior.   Unlike most sharks, bull sharks tolerate fresh water and can travel far up rivers. They have even been known to travel as far up as Indiana in the Ohio River and Illinois in the Mississippi River, although there have been few recorded attacks. As a result, they are probably responsible for the majority of near-shore shark attacks, including many attacks attributed to other species.However, bull sharks are not true freshwater sharks (unlike the river sharks of the genus Glyphis).  


The name, "bull shark", comes from the shark's stocky shape, broad, flat snout and aggressive unpredictable behavior.In India, the bull shark may be confused with the "Sundarbans" or "Ganges shark". In Africa it is also commonly called the "Zambezi River shark" or just "Zambi". Its wide range and diverse habitats result in many other local names, including "Ganges River Shark", "Fitzroy Creek Whaler", "van Rooyen’s Shark", "Lake Nicaragua Shark","river shark", "freshwater whaler", "estuary whaler", "Swan River Whaler","cub shark", and "shovelnose shark".  

Distribution and habitat

The bull shark lives all over the world in many different areas and travels long distances. It is common in coastal areas of warm oceans, in rivers and lakes, and occasionally salt and freshwater streams if they are deep enough. It is found to a depth of 150 metres (490 ft) but does not usually swim deeper than 30 metres (98 ft).In the Atlantic it is found from Massachusetts to southern Brazil, and from Morocco to Angola. In the Indian Ocean it is found from South Africa to Kenya, India, and Vietnam to Australia. There are more than 500 bull sharks in the Brisbane River; one was reportedly seen swimming the flooded streets of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia during the Queensland floods of late 2010/early 2011.Several were sighted in one of the main streets of Goodna, Queensland, Australia shortly after the peak of the January 2011 floods.There are greater numbers still in the canals of the Gold Coast, also in Queensland, Australia. A large bull shark was caught in the canals of Scarborough, 2 hours north of the Gold Coast.In the Pacific Ocean, it can be found from Baja California to Ecuador. The shark has traveled 4,000 kilometres (2,500 mi) up the Amazon River to Iquitos in Peru. It also lives in fresh water Lake Nicaragua, and in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers of West Bengal and Assam in eastern India and adjoining Bangladesh. It can live in water with a high salt content as in St. Lucia Estuary in South Africa. After Hurricane Katrina, many bull sharks were sighted in Lake Ponchartrain. Bull sharks have occasionally gone up the Mississippi River as far upstream as Alton, Illinois.They have also been found in the Potomac River in Maryland.   Freshwater tolerance   The bull shark is the best known of 43 species of elasmobranch in ten genera and four families to have been reported in fresh water. Other species that enter rivers include the stingrays (Dasyatidae, Potamotrygonidae and others) and sawfish (Pristidae). Some skates (Rajidae), smooth dogfishes (Triakidae), and sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) regularly enter estuaries. Elasmobranchs' ability to enter fresh water is limited because their blood is normally at least as salty (in terms of osmotic strength) as seawater, through the accumulation of urea and trimethylamine oxide, but bull sharks living in fresh water reduce the concentration of these solutes by up to 50%. As a result, bull sharks living in fresh water need to produce twenty times as much urine as those in salt water. Initially, scientists thought the sharks in Lake Nicaragua belonged to an endemic species, the Lake Nicaragua shark (Carcharhinus nicaraguensis). In 1961, following specimens comparisons, taxonomists synonymized them. They can jump along the rapids of the San Juan River (which connects Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea), almost like salmon. Bull sharks tagged inside the lake have later been caught in the open ocean (and vice versa), with some taking as little as 7–11 days to complete the journey.  

Anatomy and appearance  

 A sketch of a bull shark Bull sharks are large and stout, with females being larger than males. The bull shark can be up to 81 centimetres (2.66 ft) in length at birth, and grow up to 3.5 metres (11 ft) (though a 13-footer was caught in a South African river) and weigh 318 kilograms (700 lb).[18] Bull sharks are wider than other requiem sharks of comparable length, and are grey on top and white below. The second dorsal fin is smaller than the first. Per the National Geographic program Animal Face-Off, bull sharks with their sharp serrated teeth have a bite force of up to 567 kilograms (1,250 lb).  The shape of the bull shark's caudal fin is longer and lower than that of the average shark. It has a small snout. There is a lackBehavior of a interdosal ridge.  


Most of a bull shark's diet consists of bony fish and sharks, including other bull sharks, but can also include turtles, birds, dolphins, terrestrial mammals, crustaceans and echinoderms. Bull sharks have been known to use the "bump-and-bite" technique to attack their prey.  

Bull shark (Bahamas) Bull sharks are typically solitary hunters, but occasionally hunt in pairs.[citation needed] They often cruise through shallow waters. They can accelerate rapidly and can be highly aggressive, even possibly attacking a racehorse in the Brisbane River in the Australian state of Queensland. They are extremely territorial and attack animals that enter their territory. Since bull sharks often dwell in very shallow waters, they may be more dangerous to humans than any other species of shark, and, along with the tiger shark and great white shark, are among the three shark species most likely to attack humans. One or several bull sharks may have been responsible for the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, which was the inspiration for Peter Benchley's novel Jaws. The speculation of bull sharks possibly being responsible is based on some attacks occurring in brackish and freshwater as well as there being certain similarities in bite marks between bull and great white sharks. The bull shark is responsible for attacks around the Sydney Harbour inlets. Most of these attacks were previously attributed to great whites. In India bull sharks swim up the Ganges River and have attacked people. Many of these attacks have been attributed to the Ganges shark, Glyphis gangeticus, a critically endangered river shark species that is probably the only other shark in India that can live comfortably in freshwater, although the grey nurse shark was also blamed during the sixties and seventies.  


Bull sharks mate during late summer and early autumn, often in the brackish water of river mouths. After gestating for 12 months, a bull shark may give birth to 4–10 live young. They are viviparous; they are born live and free-swimming. The young are about 70 cm (27.6 in) at birth and take 10 years to reach maturity. Coastal lagoons, river mouths, and other low-salinity estuaries are common nursery habitats.  


Bull sharks are apex predators, and rarely have to fear being attacked by other animals. Humans are their biggest threat. Larger sharks, such as the tiger shark and great white shark, may attack them.There have been stories documented in the media of saltwater crocodiles preying on young bull sharks in the rivers and estuaries of Northern Australia.

See Zambezi Sharks on our South African Shark Diving Adventure!

See the other sharks:

  • Great White Shark
  • Hammerhead Shark
  • Mako Shark
  • Tiger Shark
  • Ragged Tooth Shark
  • Zambezi Shark
  • Whale Shark

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