“The Big Three” Sharks: Are They Really As Deadly As We Think?

You hear about them all the time on tv, on the news, and online. Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Great White Sharks, otherwise known as “The Big Three,” are the deadliest sharks on the planet. Even though there are over 440 species of sharks on the planet, The Big Three account for over half of all known shark attacks against humans. So why do these three sharks attack more than any other species? Is it because they are particularly ferocious? Is it because they see humans as a food source? Actually, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Bull Sharks

Bull Sharks are responsible for over 100 of all unprovoked attacks on record. Of these attacks, 73 caused serious injury and 27 lead to fatalities. Including provoked attacks, they are the most likely shark species to bite a human being. Bull Sharks are known for being aggressive, swift, and powerful hunters. Their massive size of 11 ft (3.5 m) in length, weighing 694 lb (315 kg) makes them a sizable opponent for any animal. Plus with their incredibly strong bite force of 1,330 lbf (5,914 newtons), they can inflict serious damage onto anything that crosses their path. They are also the least tolerant of provocation of all shark species and will attack when challenged rather than flee like other species.

The Real Reasons Behind Bull Shark Attacks

However, though these particular behavioral characteristics make Bull Sharks seem like a massive threat to humans, the reality is much more complex. Bull Sharks are aggressive hunters, but the biggest reason why they are responsible for so many attacks, is because of their constant interaction with humans. Bull Sharks like warm shallow waters of 100 ft (30.5 m) along coastal regions. They are also highly migratory and can tolerate brackish waters and even freshwater for a short time period. So they basically live in the same areas humans frequent. Bull Sharks are found along the most populated beaches in the world, so human interaction is unavoidable.

Tiger Sharks

Tiger Sharks are responsible for 111 of all unprovoked attacks on record. They are responsible for 31 fatal attacks and 80 nonfatal attacks. Tiger Sharks grow to 10.8 ft -13.11 ft (3.25 m-4.25 m) in length and can weigh up to 1,400 lb (635 kg). Tiger Sharks have a voracious appetite and are nicknamed the “garbage can of the sea” because they will eat nearly anything. They are agile hunters, with specialized teeth that can break through almost anything. They have excellent eyesight, being able to distinguish prey in the darkest waters and an impressive sense of smell. These formidable creatures are a true example of an apex predator.

The Real Reasons Behind Tiger Shark Attacks

Beyond their ferocity, Tiger Shark attacks can actually be attributed to two things. The first, like Bull Sharks they hunt the warm, shallow waters human most frequent. So there is an increased risk because of exposure. The second reason, is that because of their diverse appetite, they often bite humans simply out of curiosity. When humans are present in the hunting grounds of Tiger Sharks, as they most often are, Tiger Sharks will approach them and take a bite to see if they are a viable food source. Most of the time, after this bite they realize that humans are not a great snack and will move on. So Tiger Sharks do not necessarily attack humans because they are particularly aggressive.

A Case Of Mistaken Identity

Furthermore, both Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks are are part of the Requiem Shark family that contains around 60 species of sharks that share incredibly similar features. Tiger Sharks and Bull Sharks look just like Blacktip Sharks, Blue Sharks, and Lemon Sharks. So it is very possible that some of these attacks were actually different species of shark that were attributed to Tiger and Bull Sharks because of their reputation. So the large number and frequency of these attacks may actually be a product of mistaken identity.

Great White Sharks

Great White Sharks are responsible for the most unprovoked attacks against humans. They are responsible for 234 nonfatal attacks and 30 fatal attacks. In total, Great White Sharks have attacked 314 total people on record unprovoked. Great White Sharks are the most dangerous predator in the ocean. Their massive size of averages around 16 ft (4.88 m) and 1,700 lb (771 kg), though there have been reports of big Great White Sharks reaching lengths of 21 ft (6.4 m). They also have massive jaws, lined with sharp teeth, and the strongest bite force of any predator on the planet. Great White Sharks are also impressive hunters that have highly evolved senses and can practice amazing hunting feats like breaching. They are truly the most dangerous shark in the water.

The Real Reason Great White Sharks Attack

Though responsible for the most attacks on humans of any species of sharks, Great White Sharks do not specifically hunt humans. In fact scientists believe that Great White Sharks do not like the taste of humans and even have trouble digesting them. So Great White Sharks will not consume people once they have been bitten. Most of the time, when a Great White Shark attacks a human it is a “test bite” out of curiosity. Great White Sharks bite anything they do not recognize from buoys to boats to random garbage floating in the water. These test bites cause so much damage because of how big Great White Sharks are compared to humans. So most attacks on humans, even fatal ones, are actually Great White Sharks just exploring their environment and not a result of their ferocious nature.

Though The Big Three sharks are responsible for most of the attacks on humans, it is not as simple as they are a threat to us. In fact, most of these bites are the product of location and curiosity, not because they are particularly dangerous species of sharks. Some of them may even simply be a case of mistaken identity. So there’s more to the story than these sharks are the most dangerous sharks in the water.

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