Are There Sharks in Brazil? (Types, Photos & Attacks)

From epic Carnival celebrations to some of the world’s finest people-watching, swimming, and surfing beaches, the coast of Brazil attracts sun-starved tourists from all around the globe.

This biggest country in South America is also known for mega-biodiversity, and that extends offshore, where dozens of shark species call Brazil home.

Some of the fairly common ones, especially the bull shark and the tiger shark, have a dangerous reputation, not least along a stretch of urbanized seashore in northeastern Brazil widely known for shark attacks.

The danger sharks pose is vastly overblown, and as we’ll get into Brazil’s most notorious area for shark incidents likely has human development largely to blame. The vast majority of Brazilian sharks, from smoothhounds to makos, generally pose little if any risk to people, and are suffering big-time at the hands of humanity.

But before we go any further, let’s set the table: Are there sharks in Brazil? How common are shark attacks on the beaches of Brazil?

Photo by Aaron Epstein/Flickr

A few of the most commonly found sharks in Brazil are:

  • Bull sharks
  • Tiger sharks
  • Blacktip sharks
  • Sandbar sharks
  • Silky sharks
  • Blue sharks
  • Oceanic whitetip sharks
  • Great white sharks
  • Shortfin mako sharks
  • Hammerhead sharks
  • And more!

Don’t let that intimidating list scare you. While Brazil’s waters are home to many different types of sharks, and the country has a reputation for shark attacks, your chances of encountering a shark here are still extremely slim, with only 110 confirmed unprovoked attacks in the last 400+ years.

So let’s learn more about the wonderful creatures that patrol Brazilian waters.

Types of Sharks in Brazil

The following list certainly doesn’t cover every shark species native to Brazilian waters, but profiles some of the common or otherwise notable types—including those most likely to be sharing nearshore waters with swimmers and surfers.

Bull Shark

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The boxy and pugnacious bull shark ranks among the most notorious of Brazil’s sharks.

A member of the carcharhinid family—the requiem sharks—the bull shark reaches 10 to 13 feet and boasts a powerful set of jaws, allowing it to feast on sea turtles, dolphins, seabirds—and smaller sharks—as well as bony fish and squid.

Along with the potential danger it poses to humans, the bull shark is best-known for its tolerance of freshwater.

This species may range far upriver, including in the Amazon Basin, where one bull shark was caught more than 3,000 miles from the Atlantic in the Ucayali River, among the foothills of the Peruvian Andes.

So add the occasional bull shark to the intimidating roster of toothy critters inhabiting the Brazilian Amazon’s riverways, including piranhas, caimans, and anacondas.

Tiger Shark

By Albert kok – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Biggest of the requiem sharks, and among the most imposing of all sharks, the tiger is so-named for the stripes and splotches most pronounced on younger animals.

Full-grown tiger sharks may approach 20 feet long. Their huge, wide mouths and heavy, serrated teeth make them formidable apex predators, feasting on everything from crustaceans and bony fish to sea turtles, dolphins, and even whale calves.

Most known from tropical, subtropical, and warm-temperate waters, tiger sharks certainly prowl the Brazilian nearshore.

A good-sized specimen sloshing into shallow waters off a popular beachfront in Rio de Janeiro State in January 2022 frightened swimmers, though it managed to avoid beaching itself and swam off without incident.

Blacktip Shark

By Albert kok – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The blacktip is a smaller relative of the tiger and bull sharks, a requiem species generally maxing out around six to eight feet long.

Common in coastal waters—and often hunting in close proximity to bathers—blacktips may leap bodily from the water when chasing schooling fish.

Sandbar Shark

Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The sandbar shark is a sturdy, good-sized requiem shark that functions as an important coastal predator in the western Atlantic.

They’re quite easily identified by their dramatically tall first dorsal fin.

Silky Shark

By Alex Chernikh – Фото Алекса Черных, Гардинес де ла Рейна, Куба, CC BY 2.5

The sleek and handsome silky shark, which reaches about 10 feet in length, is mostly an offshore inhabitant of Brazil’s marine realm, pursuing tuna, mullet, and other bony fish as well as squid in the pelagic zone.

Blue Shark

By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0

Among the most unique-looking of the requiem sharks, the blue shark is a gorgeous, lanky shark with a long snout, big eyes, and a mesmerizing gray-blue hue.

Blue sharks are also mainly a pelagic species, snapping up small fish and squid and enthusiastically scavenging.

They tend to max out at about 12 or 13 feet long, though larger specimens are rumored. Blues feature significantly in Brazil’s commercial shark-fishing industry.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark

By Johanlantz at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Another large (10 to 13 feet long) and bluewater-going requiem species, the oceanic whitetip is unmistakable with its huge, rounded, and white-splashed fins.

A top-level hunter that once numbered among the most abundant of big sharks, the oceanic whitetip has declined dramatically in many parts of the World Ocean, including off Brazil.

Great White Shark

By – Own work, Public Domain

The most hulking of all predatory sharks, great whites aren’t commonly recorded in Brazilian waters.

That doesn’t mean this superlative fish—which may exceed 20 feet in length and several tons in weight, and which feeds on correspondingly large prey such as marine mammals and billfish—doesn’t cruise through on occasion.

In 1992, for example, a bruiser of a female white shark—measuring some 17 feet long and weighing 2.5 tons—was (unfortunately) tangled in a gillnet off Bom Abrigo Island in southern Brazil and towed ashore.

The stomach of this magnificent beast contained quite the array of prey, including the remains of two dolphins—one an entire, full-grown Atlantic spotted dolphin—and the severed heads of several kinds of sharks: blue shark, sandbar shark, and scalloped hammerhead.

Shortfin Mako Shark

By Mark Conlin, SWFSC Large Pelagics Program – Public Domain

The shortfin mako is a smaller relative of the white shark, but still a whopper of a fish: capable of growing to 13 feet or more and weighing better than a half-ton.

Boasting a wicked set of snarled teeth, the shortfin mako is also quite the aquatic racehorse: one of the fastest fish in the sea, in fact. It’s a trait that serves the mako well in hunting speedy tuna, billfish, and dolphins.

Heavily targeted by commercial fisheries in the South Atlantic, shortfin makos are mainly a pelagic, offshore animal, but they sometimes show up closer to the coastline: as in September 2022, when a large mako thrashed itself onto a beach in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina.


By Barry Peters – Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Brazilian waters harbor an impressive diversity of hammerhead sharks, though some are rare and many are likely threatened.

They include the biggest of all hammerheads, the aptly named great hammerhead, which may reach 20 or so feet in length and is well-known for its taste for stingrays as well as smaller sharks. Other medium- to large-sized hammerhead species include the smoothscalloped, and Carolina hammerheads.

More pintsized Brazilian hammerheads include the bonnetheadscoophead, and golden hammerhead.

Other Brazilian Sharks

Numerous other shark species—not least a whole slew of smaller ones—inhabit Brazilian waters.

Many—including the striped smoothhound and the diminutive requiem shark called the Brazilian sharpnose—are considered species of conservation concern due to heavy fishing pressure in the country. Larger species are also at risk of overfishing in Brazil, including the impressively toothy but basically inoffensive sand tiger shark.

The lemon shark is another notable requiem species native to Brazil’s coastal waters, which serve as hunting and pupping habitat. In 2019, a surfer received some scratches on the head when he literally fell onto a lemon shark off Cacimba do Padre Beach, the same beach where, later that year, a lemon shark was seen writhing around surfside rocks to snap up stranded sardines.

Among Brazil’s bottom-dwelling sharks are several species of dramatically flattened, ambush-hunting angelsharks, including the angular and the Brazilian angelsharks.

And the biggest shark (and biggest fish) of all—the whale shark, which may exceed 50 feet in length and feeds mainly on plankton and small fish—appears to use the coast of southeastern Brazil, namely off Rio de Janeiro state, as a seasonal feeding ground.

Whale sharks are especially visible in these waters from February to May, likely drawn by productive foraging in a coastal upwelling.

Shark Attack History & Statistics Along Brazil’s Beaches

There’s no question that Brazil has a bit of notoriety when it comes to shark attacks.

Specifically northeastern Brazil, and specifically the beachfronts of the Recife metropolitan area in the state of Pernambuco.

According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) based at the Florida Museum of Natural History, Brazil ranks fourth in the world for the number of confirmed unprovoked shark attacks.

For the period of 1580 to the present, the country has logged 110 of these incidents.

(For comparison: Ahead of Brazil are the United States with 1,563 confirmed unprovoked attacks, Australia with 682, and South Africa with 258. New Zealand falls fifth after Brazil with 56.)

Pernambuco claims by far the largest number of shark attacks within Brazil. From 1931 until the present, the ISAF records 61 attacks in that state, followed (distantly) by Sao Paulo with 11, Maranhao with 10, and Rio de Janeiro with seven.

The Recife area is internationally known for its shark attacks—and the comparatively high rate of fatalities. Between 1992 and 2011, metro Recife recorded 55 shark attacks, 36% of them fatal.

Most of Recife’s attacks are blamed on bull and tiger sharks, which—along with the great white shark—make up the three species generally considered most dangerous to people.

The two are certainly well represented in local waters. And the beaches here are thronged, given the large urban population plus boatloads of tourists.

But there seems to be more than just those factors to blame for Recife’s notorious status as a shark-attack hotspot.

Few if any shark problems were recorded before 1992. The early 1990s corresponded with the construction of the Suape Port, which destroyed a significant swath of estuarine and coastal habitat that may have displaced bull sharks and altered their movements.

Furthermore, shipping traffic and sewage discharges are thought to have attracted more sharks to the coastal waters here. In other words, human industry seems to be the root cause of the boosted shark danger in these waters.

Warning signs about sharks are abundant on Recife’s beaches and authorities banned surfing. Along some beaches, lifeguards use special electronic devices in an attempt to deter sharks.

Statistics aren’t readily available suggesting whether shark attacks (and the fatality rate) have decreased in the Recife area in recent years. Attacks certainly still occur with some frequency.

An 18-year-old girl off Boa Viagem beach—perhaps the single most notorious Recife strand—was killed by what was suspected to be a bull shark in 2013.

In July 2021, an intoxicated man wading into the surf off Jaboatão dos Guararapes to relieve himself was killed by a shark that bit off part of an arm and leg. According to a researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco, the culprit was probably a tiger shark on the order of 8.5 feet long.

Wrapping Up

Sharks aren’t out to get people, and are drastically more at risk from our own overfishing and habitat-loss impacts than we are from their teeth.

Most tourists in Brazil aren’t going to run afoul of a shark’s jaws, though you might legitimately think twice about swimming off Recife.

Avoiding such problem areas—and generally not swimming where active fishing, waste-dumping, or fish-schooling are going on—lessens your risk. So does staying out of the water at night and in the early morning and evening, and always swimming with others and at lifeguarded beaches.

In Brazil as everywhere else, sharks play critical roles as apex marine predators whose “top-down” management of the marine ecosystem is only partly understood. Rather than mindlessly fear them, we should value their presence in the World Ocean.

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Hope this helps!