Three shark species share the responsibility for most attacks on humans: the great white, the tiger shark and the bull shark. Of the three, the bull shark is potentially the most dangerous. It likes to lurk in subtropical coastal waters less than 100 feet deep, as well as in murky bays and freshwater rivers -- all places where people like to swim and dive. It's an aggressive predator and not afraid of a big meal, ripping into everything from dolphins to sea turtles, and in one report, even a horse. But in spite of its scariness, or perhaps because of it, the bull shark is a popular sport fish.
A Pugnacious Predator
The bull shark, whose scientific moniker is Carcharhinus leucas, is to the aquatic world what "Rampage Jackson" is to ultimate fighting -- a thick-necked, brawny brawler that isn't afraid to mix it up with heavyweight prey. The typical male is around 200 pounds and 7 feet, 4 inches in length, and the average female is slightly bigger, at 285 pounds and 7 feet, 9 inches.
The bull shark is pale to dark gray and has a blunt, rounded snout and a jaw filled with triangular, serrated upper teeth. Its eyes are small for a shark, which may be one reason why it likes to hunt in murky waters, where good vision doesn't matter as much. It lives from 12 to 16 years in the wild. Most of its diet is bony fish and other sharks, but it's an opportunistic predator that'll eat just about anything that swims near.
A bull shark cruises the bottom with deceptive sluggishness, but it's capable of swimming in quick bursts of up to 11 miles per hour, and it's dauntingly agile when it catches up with a victim.
Fishermen, Be Sure to Pack Your Lunch
Considering the bull shark's rep as a man-eater, it's ironic that its only serious predator is Homo sapiens. Commercial fishing fleets don't go after the fish that much, in part because bull sharks don't taste all that great compared to other sharks and fish. But sport fishermen, particularly along the U.S. Gulf Coast, relish the challenge of hooking one of these nasty fighting machines.
It's possible to catch a bull shark with a rod and reel from shore, from a bridge or pier, or from a fishing boat. Use traditional heavy tackle rather than the light stuff. The best time to fish for bull sharks is in the morning because they tend to fight the line for hours, and you don't want to spend all night struggling with one.
Why You Should Throw It Back
The bull shark isn't yet endangered, but the species is under pressure, particularly in Asia, where its fins are a sought-after ingredient for shark fin soup. Off the U.S. coast, its nursery grounds are increasingly affected by human activity. Therefore, you might consider giving the big guy a chance to fight another day.