Hammerhead shark
Hammerhead shark Image Credit: Wikicommons

The good news is that there are no Great White Sharks in the Arabian Gulf, and shark attacks in general are extremely rare. However, there are some species that maybe aren’t quite as friendly as you’d think, so it’s important to know who’s who down there. There are more than 30 different species of shark off the coast of the UAE, some are rare, some not so much. If you ever encounter a shark, then it is best to leave them alone. Here’s our guide to 10 familiar species that are known to exist in the Arabian Gulf, with sharks listed in order of sizes from the biggest to the smallest:

Whale Shark

Risk to humans:Low

Usually found in: Open waters offshore, rarely inshore

Approximate length: 9 metres

Whale sharks are harmless sea-creatures that filter-feed plankton and other small fish. They are typically found in warm, shallow waters, making the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman suitable habitats. They make for common encounters for divers off the Omani coast. Typically growing up to eight metres long, the biggest whale shark recorded measured 12.6 metres long and weighed a hefty 21 tonnes.

2. Tiger Shark

Risk to humans: Very high

Usually found in: Deeper waters offshore, rarely inshore

Approximate length: 5.5 metres

The tiger shark is a macro predator, capable of reaching a length of more than five metres. They can be found tropical and temperate waters, like the Arabian Gulf. It is called a tiger shark because of the dark stripes down its body, which resemble a tiger’s pattern but fade as the shark matures. The tiger shark is a solitary, mostly nocturnal hunter and is notable for having the widest food spectrum of all sharks, with a range of prey that includes fish, seals, birds, squid, turtles, sea snakes, dolphins, and even other smaller sharks. It also has a reputation as a ‘garbage eater’, because it consumes a variety of man-made objects that linger in its stomach. This is one shark you want to avoid if you spot while swimming.

3. Great hammerhead

Risk to humans: Very high

Usually found: Tropical open waters and inshore

Approximate length: 3.5 metres

The great hammerhead, found around the UAE waters is the largest species of hammerhead shark. Like the others, it is found in tropical and warm temperature waters, living mainly in coastal areas. The great hammerhead can be distinguished by the shape of its “hammer”. This shark is very solitary and a strong-swimming predator. They feed on a variety of prey ranging from bony fish, to smaller sharks and stingrays. Although dangerous, the great hammerhead attacks humans only when provoked.

4. Sicklefin lemon shark

Risk tohumans: High

Usually found in: Open and coastal waters

Approximate length: 3.5 metres

Sicklefin lemon sharks are often found in tropical waters. This large species grows up to 3.5 metres long and generally lives in water less than 92 metres deep. This one is a slow-moving predator feeding mainly on bony fishes and rarely travels long distances. They are known to respond aggressively to any provocation from humans.

5. Sand tiger shark

Risk to humans: Medium

Usually found: Coastal waters

Approximate length: 3 metres

The sand tiger shark usually inhabits sandy shorelines (hence the name sand tiger shark). It is a cousin of the great white shark, and although it looks quite scary, it is a relatively slow-moving shark with no confirmed human fatalities. The sand tiger’s length can reach 3.2 metres. It is grey with reddish-brown spots on its back. The diet consists of bony fish, crustaceans and squid. Unlike other sharks, the sand tiger can gulp air from the surface, allowing it to be suspended in the water with minimal effort.

6. Tawny nurse shark

Risk to humans: Low

Usually found in: Inshore and sandy flat seabed

Approximate length: 3 metres

The tawny nurse shark is a species of ‘carpet’ shark, because it swims very low in shallow water. It prefers reefs and sandy flats. The maximum recorded length of the tawny nurse shark is 3.2 metres. It tends to spend the day resting inside caves or under ledges. At night, it is an active-swimming predator that uses a powerful suction force to pull prey from inside holes and crevices.

7. Sandbar shark

Risk to humans: Low

Usually found: Off coastal areas

Approximate length: 2.4 metres

The sandbar shark is also called the thick skin shark or brown shark. It is one of the biggest coastal sharks in the world. Females can grow up to 2.5 metres. The sandbar shark, true to its nickname, is commonly found over muddy or sandy bottoms in shallow coastal water. The shark itself preys on fish, rays, and crabs. Despite its large size and similar appearance to other dangerous sharks such as bull sharks, there are very few, if any attacks attributed to sandbar sharks and so they are considered not to be dangerous to people. As a result, they are one of the safest sharks to swim with and are popular sharks for aquariums.

8. Bull shark

Risk to humans: High

Usually found: Coastal areas and near rivers

Approximate length: 2.25 metres

The bull shark is found worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers. The bull shark is known for its aggressive nature and can thrive in both salt and fresh water and can travel far up rivers. Larger-sized bull sharks are probably responsible for the majority of near-shore shark attacks.

9. Blacktip reef shark

Risk to humans: Medium

Usually found: Near coral reefs and around rocky headlands and islands

Approximate length: 2 metres

The blacktip reef shark is easily identified by the prominent black tips on its fins. They are some of the most abundant sharks in the Arabian Gulf and they prefer shallow, inshore waters. This species typically reaches a length of 1.6 metres. They are active predators of small bony fishes and have also been known to feed on sea snakes and seabirds. They are slightly shy and difficult to approach, so usually donot pose danger to humans unless roused by food. However, people wading through shallow water are at risk of having their legs mistakenly bitten.

10. Whitetip reef shark

Risk to humans: Medium

Usually found: Coastal waters

Approximate length: 1.25 metres

The whitetip reef shark is a small shark usually not exceeding 1 metre. This is one of the most common sharks found around the Arabian Gulf. During the day, whitetip reef sharks spend much of their time resting inside caves. The night-time is when these sharks come out to hunt bony fishes, crustaceans, and octopus in groups. Because of their long bodies they can force their way into holes to grab hidden prey. Whitetip reef sharks are usually rarely aggressive towards humans, though they may investigate swimmers closely.