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What is a Bull Shark?

By Steve R.
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The bull shark is a common carnivorous sea creature that is found across the globe in shallow waters along coasts. The shark received its name from its stocky appearance and aggressive behavior. In the wild, the sea creature lives about 16 years and grows to approximately 7 to 11.5 feet (about 2 to 3 m) long, and can weigh anywhere from 200 to 500 lbs (about 90 to 230 kg).

Known by the scientific name Carcharhinus leucas, the bull shark prefers to reside in water less than 100 feet deep (about 30 m), but can live in waters up to 450 feet deep (about 150 m). The sea creatures frequent lagoons, bays, harbors, and river mouths. During the summer, the shark migrates along coastal areas, but when the coastal waters cool down during the winter, the creatures make their way back to warmer, tropical water. Often found along the Atlantic Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific Coast, the bull shark is the only species of shark that frequent freshwater. The sea creatures have even been found in the Mississippi River.

Distinctive traits of the bull shark include its short, round nose and tiny eyes. The sharks are noted for possessing a large, triangular dorsal fin. Adult sharks are gray on their backs and have white underbellies. Young sharks have black fins, which turn lighter as they age.

At the age of 10, the bull sharks are sexually mature and proceed to mate during the summer months. Males use claspers, extensions of their pelvic fins, to release their sperm into females. The females gestate their young for up to a year, delivering as many as 13 pups. At birth, the young are 30 inches (about 74 cm) long and are self-sufficient, as they can swim on their own and are born with a mouth full of teeth.

The diet of the shark includes a variety of ocean creatures, such as bony fish, mollusks, sea birds, dolphins, and sea turtles. Near the top of the food chain, the bull shark has few natural predators, although bull shark pups can be hunted by tiger sharks, as well as sandbar sharks. Cannibalistic by nature, bull sharks can often prey on each other.

Along with tiger sharks and great white sharks, the bull shark is included in three sharks species most likely to attack people. Since bull sharks prefer shallow coastal waters along highly populated areas, they can often encounter swimmers. While the sharks do not necessarily seek out humans, they may strike at humans due to curiosity.

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Discussion Comments
By Markus — On Aug 30, 2011

@Sierra02 - The Lake Pepin bull shark information wasn't released to the general public because I'm sure the authorities didn't want to alarm anyone.

If I can remember it correctly they found a five foot long female under the ice. She was still alive so they tagged her and put her back in the lake.

A month or so after that two mini bull sharks were found in Minnehaha Creek in Minneapolis. I don't know whatever happened to the large bull shark but the babies were rescued and slowly acclimatized back to salt water.

I haven't heard of any bull shark sightings lately but after Hurricane Katrina, anything could be swimming around in these waters.

By Sierra02 — On Aug 29, 2011

Apparently a few years back there was a bull shark sighting in Lake Pepin where the Mississippi River meets Minnesota. Does anyone know about this? I've lived near Lake Pepin all my life and I've never heard anything about it. My kids and I go swimming in those waters all the time during the Summer. Now where are we supposed to swim? What's a shark doing all the way up here anyway?

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