Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea: should you be concerned?

Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea: should you be concerned?

Sharks in Croatia, Greece, Italy, France and Spain — where they live and how likely they are to attack.

According to surveys, people are more likely to fall from the third floor of their building than encounter a shark.  In the United States, approximately 5,000 children and teenagers fall out of windows each year, while sharks are responsible for "just" 10 fatalities a year worldwide. Sharks have undeservedly acquired a negative image that doesn't reflect their behaviour towards humans. For this reason we have already written a comprehensive article that will teach you to overcome your fear of sharks. Among other things, you'll learn how sharks live and hunt and what to do if you happen to attract their attention.

Today, you'll discover the Mediterranean yachting destinations where sharks are frequently sighted, as well as the likelihood of encountering them during your travels.

Sharks in numbers

  • In 2022, 57* unprovoked attacks were reported worldwide. Around 10 people succumb to a shark attack each year, usually because of poor access to medical care rather than the extent of the injury.
  • The odds of being attacked by a shark are roughly 1 in 4,332,817. By comparison, you are more likely to be killed by a cork from a champagne bottle (24 deaths per year) or to have a television dropped on you (29 deaths per year).
  • The great white shark is considered the primary threat to humans, being responsible for 333 attacks, 52 of which were fatal. However, as the shark population decreases, these numbers are also declining.
  • In contrast, some of the most amicable sharks encountered by divers in specific regions are the lemon shark, broadnose sevengill shark, bearded shark, and sandbar shark, none of which have any recorded fatalities.

*It is worth noting that a significant portion of shark attacks predominantly occur in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, and the United States (particularly Florida). These locations are renowned for shark tourism.

Tiger shark

Tiger shark

Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea

Seeing a shark in the Mediterranean is quite a rarity. This is because sharks like deeper, colder waters where they usually hunt fish, seals, squid and other marine animals. That's also why out of some 400 species of sharks, only about 47 species can be found in the warmer Mediterranean Sea. In addition, shark populations are dwindling year on year due to the massive amount of fishing that deprives them of food. A shocking 100 million sharks also fall victim to humans every year. Partly because they are inadvertently caught in nets while fishing or that their fins are an essential ingredient in Asian shark soup.

Croatia and sharks

The Adriatic Sea is home to dozens of shark species, including the blue shark and the great white shark (the chances of which are decreasing every year). Yet, according to statistics, there have been only 25 shark attacks on humans since 1900, and only 14 people have succumbed to their injuries, with the most recent attack occurring in 2008. Most fatal attacks have taken place in Kvarner Bay and then in the waters between the islands of Solta, Vis and Hvar. However, context matters, and it must be acknowledged that in several cases, people have put themselves in a dangerous situation. For example, swimming near fishing nets where sharks often loiter to catch fish.

It is also a good indicator that there is not much data on sharks in Croatia, they are simply not that dangerous in this holiday destination. Ultimately, when visiting a Croatian beach, you should primarily be cautious of what lies beneath their feet, such as sea urchins, jellyfish, and other seemingly small yet potentially dangerous creatures.

swimming in the sea

Sharks in Greece

In Greece, the situation with sharks differs somewhat. They are frequently spotted in shallow waters along the coast, where they contribute to the vibrant underwater landscape of corals and fish that divers seek. However, most of these sharks are smaller species that are not considered dangerous to humans. Sharks are regularly sighted off the coast of the Attica peninsula, in the nearby Saronic Gulf and Euboean Gulf, as well as along the northern coast of Crete. Over the past 170 years, there have been 20 known shark attacks in Greek waters, with most occurring near the island of Corfu and only one resulting in a fatality. Conversely, tourist islands such as Santorini, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, and Rhodes are considered safe, with locals often claiming never to have seen a shark in their lives.

Spiny dogfish, angelsharks, and thresher sharks sometimes venture into the shallow waters off the Greek coast. The deep Aegean Sea is home to the basking shark, recognized for its enormous funnel-shaped mouth used for capturing plankton and small fish. None of these species have an interest in humans and typically avoid interactions with them.

Basking shark

Basking shark

YACHTING.COM TIP: Greece is another example that our fear of sharks is often unjustified and you'll probably never see them in the wild. Whilst swimming or diving, you are more likely of coming across a jellyfish, Portuguese bladderfish or other dangerous inhabitants of the Greek seas

Beware of sharks in Italy?

Italy leads all Mediterranean countries when it comes to sharks and their attacks on humans. Since 1900, 50 attacks have been recorded, 11 of which have resulted in death. Sharks live not only in the waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Naples, but even near major cities such as Genoa, Palermo and even Venice. Swimming in the canals and on the shores on the outskirts of the city is not recommended and in some places forbidden. But this is not because of sharks, but because of the traffic of small and large boats on the canals.

In the shallow waters around Italy, you might encounter blue sharks, angelsharks, tiger sharks, spiny dogfish, thresher sharks, or the diminutive catshark. In deeper waters, species such as the basking shark, shortfin mako, hammerhead shark, and great white shark are more likely to be found.

Despite the higher numbers, swimming, bathing and diving in Italy is very safe. As with most tourist countries, Italy takes the safety of residents and visitors very seriously. If a shark is suspected near a beach, the information is quickly spread and measures are put in place (such as closing the beach for a few days).

great white shark

Great white shark

YACHTING.COM TIP:  Contrary to what Hollywood blockbusters might suggest, a crowded beach bustling with people is the least likely place a shark would willingly visit. Sharks are more inclined to swim out and investigate or check out an individual rather than a group. They are more commonly found in tranquil bays, particularly in areas where the seafloor drops sharply after several dozen meters and is inhabited by fish and sea turtles — the sharks' typical prey. 

Spain

The number of shark species recorded in  Spain is slightly higher compared to the rest of the Mediterranean, as oceanic sharks are added to the mix. In addition to the tiger shark, the great white shark and the basking shark, for example, sharks such as the copper shark, nursehound or oceanic whitetip shark. Despite this, Spanish waters are among the safest in terms of shark-human contact. Since 1996, we know of only three attacks.

France

In addition to the usual Mediterranean sharks, French waters are also inhabited by some of the really big species such as the sand tiger shark, great white shark and basking shark. There are also interesting species such as the blacktip shark and the smalltooth sand tiger shark. Most reports of sharks are in the east and south-east coasts and in waters shared with Italy, which only confirms the Italian sightings. Even so, there are records of only 10 attacks, of which 3 were fatal, well below the Italian avarage.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Enjoy swimming and other water activities in safety. Find out everything you need to know in our guide — Essential tips for safe swimming in the sea.

What to know about sharks

  • Sharks don't like humans because they can't digest our big, hard bones. Attacks occur because the shark mistakes humans for other prey.
  • Scientific tests have shown that sharks can smell human blood, but they don't associate the smell with food and have no interest in it.
  • A shark attack is usually limited to one sample bite, during which the animal realizes it is a human. Repeated attacks directed against a seal or squid do not usually take place.
  • Sharks most often sample humans surfing (51% of cases) or swimming (39% of cases) because they resemble seals from below. Ironically, diving is quite safe (4% of cases) — good news for anyone planning to explore one of our top 50 diving and snorkelling spots this year.
  • Sharks can be attracted to your clothes, too. Bright and metallic colours can resemble the scales of a fish.
  • Sharks are said to be most active at dusk and dawn. However, most incidents occur during the day and at the weekend when people are at sea, which suggests that sharks are not the only culprits.

YACHTING.COM TIP: Can a shark sense fear? Find out and more in our complete guide to sharks — an article that will allay any fears you may have. 

surfing

Sharks attack in three ways

A shark's approach can typically be classified into one of three categories: The first type is the "hit-and-run" — the most common type of attack, in which the shark takes a single bite and then swims away. The second is the "bump-and-bite," where the shark initially nudges its prey before coming back for a bite. The third is the "sneak attack", in which the shark stealthily approaches without warning and continues to attack. The latter two strategies are quite rare in encounters with humans.

Read more sailing tips about the Mediterranean:

What to do if you get bitten by a shark

Many of those who have been attacked by a shark report initially feeling only a twitch, followed by the sight of blood in the water. The shark's teeth are so sharp that they slice through the tissue cleanly, and it takes some time for the nerves to register the pain. Although a shark is capable of biting off a substantial amount of muscle, the vast majority of bites are superficial and do not cause significant damage to deep blood vessels or nerves. This serves as further evidence that sharks simply are not interested in humans.

Shark bites can sometimes be mistakenly attributed to other animals, such as barracudas. Regardless, it is always advisable to seek medical attention to clean and stitch up the wound. In some cases, the bite can be severe enough to break a bone, while in others, a broken tooth may remain lodged in the wound as a souvenir. The coastguard can provide assistance, and in many countries, the international emergency line can be contacted, as we have previously mentioned in our article on poisonous fish.

How to avoid encountering a shark

Most people are unaware that official statistics only include the number of so-called unprovoked shark attacks. These refer to situations where a shark attacked by mistake, believing its prey to be common food. It's important to note that some attacks are also provoked or caused by risky human behavior. To avoid contact with a shark (don't) do the following:

  • Do not swim near fishing boats and fish tanks. Sharks look for food there.
  • Don't splash around unnecessarily when swimming. You may give the impression of wounded prey.
  • Heed warning signs and local authority regulations and don't take any risks.
  • Think twice about swimming where rivers flow into the sea. Some species of sharks can enter freshwater and hunt fish there. They can also see less well in clear water and may mistake you for food.
  • Do not try to attract sharks or other animals by feeding.
  • When snorkelling and diving, check your surroundings regularly.
  • Do not touch wildlife, including sharks, and always leave plenty of room for them to swim away.

FACE – GUIDE – PUSH – MOVE strategy

If, despite all precautions, you attract a shark's interest, try to keep calm and chase it away using the FACE - GUIDE - PUSH - MOVE method recommended by shark experts.

As you can see, sharks won't ruin your holiday. Now all you have to do is pick a destination and a boat. I can assist you with that!

FAQs: Sharks in the Mediterranean