There’s a time-honored way to know if sharks are swimming near you in the water. Step one: stick your finger in the water. Step two: taste it. If you taste salt, then there are sharks nearby.
So are there sharks in Costa Rica? Yes – the waters of Costa Rica, seeing as how it’s surrounded by deep ocean, contain sharks. But since not every shark is a danger to humans, it pays to get an idea of the kinds of sharks you may encounter swimming in Costa Rican waters.
Let’s look at the sharks swimming around this Central American country’s coastlines.
Sharks in the Ocean
As far as ocean predators go, few are more dangerous than some shark species. Everyone knows of the great white, though they aren’t often found in Costa Rican waters. However, since the country’s shorelines feature warm waters and diverse populations of ocean-dwelling creatures, many other kinds of sharks gravitate there.
Also, keep in mind that Costa Rica has coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and sharks live in both bodies of water. You may encounter the harmless whale shark, the peculiar hammerhead, or the potentially dangerous tiger and bull sharks.
You may be wondering, “are shark attacks in Costa Rica common?” Shark attacks are exceedingly rare, even in Costa Rica. Most sharks in the area will not interact with or attack humans unprovoked. However, almost any shark attack can be potentially dangerous, so if it perceives you as either food or a threat, you could encounter a problem.
Common Sharks in Costa Rica
We mentioned that we can’t find great white sharks in Costa Rica, but since there are more than 1,000 shark species on the planet, there are other shark species of Costa Rica to consider.
Are there bull sharks in Costa Rica? Yes. Bull sharks, like their namesake, can be aggressive in the water, and not just in ocean waters. Like a few other species, bull sharks can live for extended periods in freshwater, meaning you might encounter one inland.
Because they are aggressive by nature, bull sharks are among Costa Rica’s most dangerous creatures. Like any shark, if a bull shark thinks you might make a meal, he won’t be afraid to have a taste, so we should all take simple precautions against attacks, which we’ll address shortly.
If they don’t get provoked, bull sharks should leave you alone, but their size and aggressive nature make them dangerous. Always consider them as such.
They tend to congregate on the Pacific side of Costa Rica near the Gulf of Papagayo off the Santa Rosa National Park.
Hammerhead sharks may not be as universally feared as the great white, but they are certainly the most recognizable shark. Their name comes from the hammer-shaped head. Their endangered status, though, doesn’t mean you won’t encounter one.
Not an aggressive shark at all, hammerheads are known to have been involved in only 16 attacks on humans. That makes an attack exceedingly rare.
However, they tend to congregate near Gulfo Dulce at the south end of Costa Rica. Since this is also a popular spot for whale watching and glimpsing sea turtles in action, it isn’t unheard of to come face-to-face with one while snorkeling or diving. And where there’s one, there are more— they tend to school in groups by the hundred.
Sometimes called carpet sharks, nurse sharks like to hunt along the ocean floor for small fish and skates. They can be intimidating because they grow to about 10 feet long, but they are not usually aggressive.
They prefer sandy sea floors where they can root out crustaceans or other foods and populate the Atlantic side of Costa Rican waters. While they were thought to live in both oceans, oceanographers have begun classifying the so-called nurse sharks on the Pacific side as a different species.
These are relatively timid sharks that often flee when encountering humans. However, the number of attacks on humans does not sit at zero. When provoked, nurse sharks can and will attack. The anatomy of the nurse shark jaw allows it to lock down on a bite that can only be disengaged with surgical instruments.
The silky shark loves tuna— so much so that it’s often called a net-eater shark because it goes after nets full of the fish it loves to eat.
They live in Costa Rican waters (and many other seas worldwide), but attacks on humans are rare. This rarity isn’t due to the shark being friendly or nice, because they’re quite aggressive. However, they prefer to stay far offshore in deeper waters, meaning that encounters with humans remain rather rare.
That said, silky sharks are inquisitive creatures, so if one encounters a diver, it will be more likely to investigate than swim away. In turn, this investigation could lead the diver into a dangerous situation.
If you were questioning yourself, “does Costa Rica have tiger sharks?”, the answer is yes. At more than 20 feet long, the tiger shark is, if nothing else, intimidating when encountered underwater. They tend to congregate around Cocos Island, a national park about 200 miles off the western Costa Rican coast. It’s a popular spot for tiger sharks and divers, so encounters aren’t unusual.
Fully one-third of shark attacks on humans involve great whites, but tiger sharks come in second. They’re aggressive and enormous, a combination that can prove dangerous if not fatal. Their distinctive striped pattern (similar to a tiger’s, hence the name) makes them fascinating to look at, but they do attack people.
Shark attacks, again, are rare, but tiger sharks do a lot of that attacking. When unprovoked, they usually leave humans alone, but the risk exists when swimming or diving near them.
Whale sharks are big. In fact, they’re the biggest fish in the sea at 40 feet long and nearly 40,000 pounds. You’d be forgiven, then, for thinking this giant is anything but gentle.
That’s exactly what it is, though. Whale sharks only eat plankton and small fish and animals, and a human is much too big for them to consider eating. There are no known attacks on humans by whale sharks.
Many divers have enjoyed swimming near these behemoths, and swimmers unaware of a whale shark beneath them should have no concern about a sneak attack.
Whitetip Reef Sharks
These relatively small sharks rarely get much more than five feet long. As a result of their smaller size, a gaping, human-biting jaw isn’t a part of their construction. They live off both coasts of Costa Rica and mostly spend their days sleeping. Whitetips are one of the few sharks that don’t have to swim at all times to breathe.
They are curious creatures, and they do enjoy their food. The few attacks on humans have resulted in zero fatalities, and most involved what might be characterized as a misunderstanding about food. Spear fishers often encounter them, and if a whitetip thinks the speared fish you’re about to grab is food for him, you may be at risk for a bite.
Swimmers and divers can encounter whitetips often, as they are among the most populous sharks in Costa Rican waters.
Minimize Your Risk of Attack
The best way not to get attacked by a shark is to minimize the reasons they may have to come around you. Knowing their hunting habits is a big step toward keeping yourself safe.
- Avoid swimming at night. Most sharks are nocturnal hunters. If they don’t sleep during the day like the whitetip, they at least dial back their activity while the sun is up. However, dusk, nighttime, and dawn constitute prime hunting hours for sharks. By staying out of the water at night, you greatly reduce your risk of an attack.
- Don’t surf or swim alone. Sharks that attack surfers most likely mistake them for seals, a prime food source. Surfers in a group are less likely to become a target, and this goes for swimmers, too.
- If you’re bleeding, stay out of the water. Sharks have an astonishingly powerful sense of smell, and they’re drawn to blood. Don’t tempt them. That said, there is absolutely no scientific basis for the myth that menstruating swimmers are at risk of a shark attack.
- Leave your jewelry in the hotel room or on the boat. Shiny jewelry can look a lot like fish scales, thereby attracting unwanted attention.
- Sharp drop-offs of the ocean floor and sandbars alike attract sharks. They can wait on the other side of one of these for any unsuspecting fish to come along and provide them with dinner. Be aware of your surroundings and know where these sandbars lie.
- Stay out of the water if sharks have been spotted. Sure, they’re always in the water, but if you see them, they’re that much closer to you. If you’re diving for the express purpose of seeing sharks, do not provoke them.
Final Thoughts – Are There Sharks In Costa Rica?
Sharks are magnificent creatures, though most agree they’re best viewed from afar. They are predators, and sometimes humans get attacked.
Sharks in Costa Rica swim on both sides of the country. And some sharks that like the warmer seas can threaten people. But by taking precautions, paying attention to your surroundings, and not provoking them, you can drastically decrease the chance of a dangerous encounter.