The Bull Shark is a big, strong dangerous-looking Shark that is often found over the deep wrecks and sometimes in the shallows around Key West.
Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
(Florida Record 517lbs.) The Bull Shark gets its name from its heavy, thick body, broad, flat snout, and unpredictable aggressive behavior. They have grey coloration on their backs and white on their undersides. The dorsal and pectoral fins are large and triangular, and the fins of younger Sharks have black tips, which fade to a dusky color as they grow.
Bull Sharks have relatively small eyes compared to other large Sharks of similar species, which suggests that vision is not an important hunting tool in the muddy waters where these Sharks are often found. Bull Shark females grow larger than males, and average nearly 8 feet in length and 285 pounds in weight. This is due to a longer lifespan, as females live about 16 years as compared to 12 years.
Bull Shark Habitat and Behavior
Bull Sharks are found in tropical to subtropical waters worldwide, particularly in shallow water along coasts, in estuaries, and in rivers. The Bull Shark prefers waters less than 100 feet deep, but can also range from 300-450 feet deep. The Bull Shark is unique because it is the only Shark species that readily enters fresh water, and often seems to prefer brackish or fresh water. Bull Sharks can travel far up inland river systems, and they have been reported as far as 2220 miles up the Amazon River in Peru, and over 1800 miles up the Mississippi River in Illinois. In the western Atlantic Bull Sharks migrate north along the coast of the US during summer, moving as far north as Massachusetts, and then returning to tropical climates when the coastal waters cool.
Although Bull Sharks are opportunistic feeders, bony fishes and small sharks make up most of their diet. Bull Sharks of the western Atlantic commonly feed on many types of schooling fish including mullet, tarpon, catfishes, menhaden, gar, snook, jacks, mackerel, and snappers. They also prey on stingrays and juvenile sharks, including the young of their own species in their inshore nursery habitats. Other food items occasionally reported in bull sharks include sea turtles, dolphins, crabs, shrimp, sea birds, squid, and dogs.
Bull Sharks may appear sluggish with their thick bodies and slow movement along the bottom, but they are actually quite quick and effective at capturing smaller, agile prey. Bull Sharks are considered to be one of the most dangerous species of Shark to humans because they often inhabit shallow waters near heavily-populated estuarine areas.
Fishing for Bull Sharks
The Bull Shark is a popular game fish in the southeastern US and is often targeted by fishing from shore, piers, and bridges. Around Key West, they can be found everywhere, with the deeper Atlantic wrecks and the Gulf wrecks in more than 120 feet of water being especially good Bull Shark fishing grounds. There are some Bull Sharks running 10-12 feet in length on the wrecks, followed around by large schools of Cobia that look for the scraps of the Bull Shark’s meals. On the Flats, they can be found around the deeper channels. Any type of large baitfish will work well, but big fresh Bonita and Barracuda are the best.
Expect a long, hard fight when you hook a Bull Shark as these are very strong Sharks. They have the highest bite strength of any Shark, and they can get big and heavy. The International Game Fish Association world record for the largest Bull Shark caught on rod and reel stands at 771 lbs. 9 oz., caught near Cairns, Australia. Expect Bull Sharks of 200 lbs. and more in Key West waters.