Set in suburban Sydney, the biggest city in Australia, Bondi Beach in New South Wales is one of the most iconic seaside getaways in the country—and you could probably say the world, in fact.
Enormously popular among locals and vacationers alike, Bondi Beach sees plenty of swimming, surfing, and fishing along its sunny and thronged sands.
That puts visitors here in close proximity—at least in theory—to sharks, which are abundant and varied in the coastal waters of New South Wales.
So let’s get into it: Does Bondi Beach, Australia have sharks? How common are shark attacks at Bondi Beach?
The New South Wales Government identifies three shark species as “target sharks” along the state’s seaboard, given they pose the largest potential risk to human beings and because they’re at the center of the government’s shark-tracking efforts.
With that in mind, the three main shark species visitors to Bondi Beach should be aware of are:
- Great White Sharks
- Tiger Sharks
- And bull Sharks
Indeed, these three sharks are widely considered the most dangerous in the world, although it’s important to note that that’s a relative statement. None of these three superbly powerful apex predators appears to regularly target people as prey.
While New South Wales leads the way in terms of shark attacks in Australia (still, the entire region only averages less than 1 per year), Bondi Beach itself sees very, very few shark attacks. There hasn’t been a recorded fatal shark attack at Bondi Beach since 1929.
As with most other sharks, bites from great whites, tigers, and bull sharks are likely often cases of mistaken identity, wherein the shark confuses a swimmer or surfer for more normal quarry. In any case, the great size, power, and formidable teeth of the “big three”—and the fact that all regularly utilize coastal waters—are what make them very much worthy of caution.
In this post, we’ll look at these and a number of other sharks that could possibly be encountered in Bondi Beach waters, and briefly talk about the area’s history in terms of shark bites.
Rather than cover all of the sharks that frequently or periodically pass through Bondi Beach-area waters, we’ll focus on some of the most commonly seen and some of the most noteworthy, kicking off with those “target sharks.”
There’s no more notorious shark off Bondi Beach—or in the world—than the great white, which easily ranks among the planet’s most magnificent predators.
Great whites—or “white pointers,” as they’re often called in Australia—are the heftiest of all predatory sharks, outsized only by the filter-feeding whale and basking sharks; the biggest may exceed 20 feet long and two tons.
The New South Wales Government notes that eastern Australian waters may support roughly 750 adult great whites.
White sharks commonly cruise coastal bays and reefs, though they do roam farther offshore as well. They’re migratory and wide-ranging, with tagged white sharks in New South Wales often tracked journeying extensively along the eastern and southern coasts of Australia.
While adult white sharks certainly inhabit the local waters around Bondi Beach, juvenile great whites are more numerous. Not far north, the vicinity of Stockton Beach and Hawks Nest appears to be a particular hangout for these young sharks.
White sharks—born at about four feet long or so, and capable of living for at least six decades—feed on progressively larger prey as they grow.
A study on the stomach contents of juvenile great whites off the eastern coast of Australia revealed they pursue a rich diet dominated by fish, especially eastern Australian salmon but also mullet, sole, eels, stingrays, eagle rays, and electric rays.
Once they reach about seven or eight feet, young great whites begin targeting bigger fare, including other sharks as well as marine mammals such as dolphins and fur seals. These become dietary mainstays of adult white sharks, which nonetheless continue to feed on bony fish and rays as well.
The tiger shark is the biggest member of the requiem-shark family (Carcharhinidae), which includes many of the world’s best-known and most widespread medium-sized to large sharks.
Commonly 10 to 14 feet long, tiger sharks can grow as large as 20 feet or so and weigh more than a ton.
The striped or mottled pattern that gives them their common name is most pronounced on younger sharks, but even more faded mature animals are pretty unmistakable, what with their huge, squared-off snouts, wide jaws, and large, white-rimmed black eyes.
Often prowling inshore reefs and bays, tiger sharks employ their massive jaws and heavily serrated teeth to eat just about anything they can catch, from spiny lobsters and crabs to sea turtles, dugongs, dolphins, sea snakes, and all manner of oceanborne garbage.
They’re also opportunistic scavengers, and in New South Wales waters have even been seen attending to dead whales in the company of great white sharks.
The heavyset bull shark lacks distinctive markings and is best differentiated from similar-looking requiem sharks such as duskies or bronze whalers by its stockier build.
This species, which may reach 11 to 13 feet long and weigh more than 700 pounds, has a broad and stubby snout with robust teeth.
It also has a diverse and unpicky diet, ranging from bony fish and smaller sharks to seabirds and dolphins.
Bull sharks in Australia are also called “river whalers,” a reflection of this species’ well-known tolerance for freshwater. Common in bays and estuaries, bull sharks will track far upriver for extended periods.
Some of these river sharks are quite good-sized: 10-foot bull sharks have been caught in the Hastings River around Port Macquarie, north from Bondi Beach up the New South Wales seacoast.
The bull shark is mainly a tropical and subtropical species, and the central coast of New South Wales is about the southern limit of their normal range off eastern Australia. Individuals have been sighted (and tagged) around Bondi Beach.
A close relative of the white shark, the shortfin mako is sometimes referred to as the “blue pointer.”
This beautiful, large-eyed, sickle-toothed mackerel shark is among the speediest fish in the sea, swift enough to catch such large and equally fleet prey as tuna, billfish, and dolphins.
Reaching lengths of at least 13 feet and weights of more than a half-ton, shortfin makos are found along the entire coast of New South Wales, though they’re typically offshore hunters.
The bronze whaler—also known as the copper shark—is a large, common requiem shark in local waters, found as far north on the New South Wales coast as Coffs Harbour.
It gets both of its common names from its rusty hide, which lacks strong markings.
Reaching about 11 feet long, bronze whalers are active hunters of eastern Australian salmon and other pelagic fish as well as squid.
The dusky shark—also called the dusky whaler in Australia—is similar-looking to the bronze whaler, though capable of growing larger: Big duskies may be 14 feet long.
While there are still plenty of gaps in knowledge to be filled as to its status in Australia, the dusky whaler is found in separate stocks on both the western and eastern coasts, and is certainly present in New South Wales waters.
Known as the sand tiger shark in North America, the grey nurse—reaching roughly 10 or 12 feet long—is a common species of coastal New South Wales, where it undergoes an annual migration into Queensland waters.
This mackerel shark is certainly among the most formidable-looking sea creatures in the region, what with its wickedly protruding, needle-sharp teeth.
Yet this is a generally calm and unassuming fish that poses little threat to people.
Instead, the grey nurse shark employs those snaggly teeth to catch crustaceans, bony fish, smaller sharks, rays, and squid on its nocturnal hunts. During the day, it tends to retire to caves and other seafloor recesses.
Three species of hammerheads are found in New South Wales waters, of which the smooth hammerhead is the most common. Second-largest of the hammerheads, capable of attaining 16 feet long, the smooth hammerhead appears to use inshore waters here as pupping grounds between January and March.
(Read more about how close sharks come to shore.)
That time of year, it’s not uncommon to see schools of smooth hammerheads close to shore.
Two other kinds of hammerhead reach the southern limits of their regional range in the vicinity of Sydney: the great and the scalloped.
Great hammerheads are the largest of their kind, growing to perhaps 21 feet long at maximum, while scalloped hammerheads are generally under 10 feet in length. More rarely seen in the area, they’re both considered of conservation concern: The New South Wales Government lists the great hammerhead as Vulnerable and the scalloped as Endangered.
While they have fairly diverse diets, hammerheads are particularly known for their fondness for stingrays.
A number of species of wobbegongs—colorful, flattened, reef-dwelling, ambush-hunting members of the carpetshark order—inhabit local reefs and sandy seafloors.
They include the ornate, banded, and spotted wobbegongs, which utilize camouflage to capture small prey that drifts overhead or nearby their stationary seabed posts.
Shark Attack History & Statistics at Bondi Beach
Despite the immense popularity of Bondi Beach, shark bites here are rare indeed, and fatal attacks exceedingly so.
The presence of white sharks, tiger sharks, and bull sharks—and, to a lesser extent, great hammerheads, bronze whalers, and dusky sharks—in local waters establish a base-level risk, of course, but it’s very low, given sharks generally aren’t interested in targeting human beings. Rip currents are a more significant hazard.
Certainly because of its large population and well-developed beaches, New South Wales leads Australia in terms of unprovoked shark attacks: 267 of them since 1700, according to the Florida-based International Shark Attack File.
The Australian Shark-Incident Database notes that New South Wales experienced eight unprovoked attacks, two of them fatal, in both 2021 and 2020.
Bondi Beach proper apparently last saw fatal shark attacks way back in 1929, when two occurred there; the year before, a lifeguard here lost a leg to a shark but survived.
In February 2022, Bondi Beach along with other area beaches were closed after a British expat was killed by a great white shark in Little Bay Beach to the south—the first fatal shark attack in Sydney since 1963.
Some estimates put the white pointer’s length at 15 feet. The following month, a shark bit a surfboard off Maroubra Beach, though the surfer was uninjured.
Sharks perform essential ecological services in the marine ecosystem of New South Wales, helping maintain food-web structure as apex predators.
Large and formidably armed as they are, predatory sharks could wreak havoc among swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, and divers at places as heavily used as Bondi Beach—yet they simply don’t.
Vastly more sharks die at the hands of human beings every year than the other way around.
Avoid swimming at dusk and dawn (or at night), don’t swim near active fishing operations or among schools of baitfish or hunting dolphins, and always recreate in the ocean with a buddy, and your chances of a nasty run-in with Bondi Beach sharks are greatly reduced.
For more guides, don’t miss:
- Sharks in Port Douglas, Australia
- Sharks in the Whitsunday Islands
- Sharks on the Gold Coast
- Sharks at Manly Beach
Hope this helps!