From snow-swaddled Andean peaks to ethereal desert wastes, Peru offers an incredible spectrum of scenery in west-central South America.
And part of that scenery is the 1,500-plus-mile-long Pacific coastline along its western edge.
Some mighty fine beachfronts help compose that generous seashore, from Punta Sal and Tuquillo to the multiple, popular urban beaches of the capital city Lima.
Swimmers, surfers, and other beachgoers might have one big question, though, before dipping a toe into these beautiful waters:
Are there sharks in Peru? Is it safe to swim, surf, and snorkel off the coast of Peru?
One recent comprehensive review suggests Peru likely harbors at least 66 species of sharks. The most common types of sharks in Peru include the:
- Blue shark
- Shortfin mako
- Smooth hammerhead
- Common thresher
- Smoothhound shark
- Angel shark
However, sharks have never actually been officially implicated in an attack on humans in Peru.
Indeed, sharks have much more to fear from people here (as anywhere in the world): Peru catches more sharks than any other country in the Southeast Pacific, and in addition to commercial shark fisheries large numbers of these essential predators are captured unintentionally as bycatch.
In this article, we’ll run through some (not all!) of those 66 native shark species in Peru, and also briefly discuss your relative risk of shark attack along the country’s beaches. Spoiler alert: It’s vanishingly low.
Types of Shark Species Off the Peruvian Coast
Here are some of the most common sharks in Peru, some fun facts, and important info on how much of a threat they are to humans — including how likely you are to see one!
The big-eyed, exceptionally slender, mesmerizingly hued blue shark is the most commonly caught shark off Peru’s shores—and, indeed, the most intensively fished of all shark species worldwide.
One study found a hotspot of blue-shark abundance off southwestern Peru, but well offshore, as this is a pelagic hunter rarely sighted close to coastlines (except off islands or in some areas with skinny continental shelves).
You’re highly unlikely, therefore, to see a blue shark off a Peruvian beach, though it does happen.
(A review of shark fisheries in Peru confirmed the central and southern seas of Peru as producing the majority of landed blue sharks.)
Usually in the vicinity of six to 10 feet long, large blues may exceed 12 feet in length. Employing their serrated teeth (curved on top, pointier on the bottom) to good effect, blue sharks—a member of the widespread and diverse Family Carcharhinidae, often referred to as the requiem sharks—feed mainly on small bony fish and squid.
They very rarely attack people, but can be rather bold in approaching spearfishermen and other divers.
The biggest of the requiem sharks—and regarded as among the most potentially dangerous sharks due to their size, power, and nearshore/inshore cruising—tiger sharks may reach lengths of 18 to 20 feet long.
These impressive predators have broad jaws and robust, serrated teeth: excellent weaponry for dispatching hard-bodied prey, from spiny lobsters and crabs to sea turtles.
But tiger sharks famously scarf just about anything, including floating garbage.
Tiger sharks are most abundant in coastal waters of tropical, subtropical, and temperate seas. While known in Peruvian waters, they aren’t considered particularly abundant.
This stocky requiem shark ranks, with the great white and the tiger, among the three shark species generally regarded as most dangerous to human beings.
In the case of the bull shark, that reputation is partly due to its abundance in coastal and inshore waters heavily used by humans, and even freshwater reaches of rivers.
Indeed, a Peruvian bull shark recorded in the Ucalayi River near its confluence with the Maranon in the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin—more than 3,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean—ranks as the longest-distance documented freshwater penetration by the species (or any shark, for that matter).
On Peru’s Pacific coast, meanwhile, the warmwater-loving bull shark is suspected to be limited by the cold, north-flowing Humboldt Current.
Northern Peru is generally regarded as about the southernmost limit of the bull shark in coastal waters of the eastern Pacific, with specimens verified as far south as Paita.
Bull sharks reach lengths of up to 13 feet at least, and are impressively heavily built compared to most requiem sharks of comparable nose-to-tail span.
Like the tiger shark, these top predators enjoy a highly varied diet, ranging from crustaceans and bony fish to seabirds, dolphins, and—in the case of estuary- and river-going bull sharks—the odd terrestrial mammal or two.
Other Requiem Sharks
A number of other requiem sharks can potentially be encountered off the Peruvian coast.
Oceanic whitetip sharks, which may reach 12 or 13 feet long and are instantly recognizable on account of their long, rounded, and white-splotched pectoral fins, are another customarily pelagic species that, while once enormously abundant, is now of major conservation concern.
Copper sharks, commonly called bronze whalers in the Indo-Pacific, are also found off Peru (a prehistoric nursery for this good-sized species has been identified in the Peruvian fossil record).
Other requiem species native to Peru include the Galapagos shark, the blacktip shark, and the bignose shark.
Common Thresher & Relatives
All three described species of thresher shark—defined by magnificently extended upper tail fins that may account for nearly half the total body length—are known to inhabit Peru’s oceans.
The common thresher—the biggest of the three, capable of reaching 20 or more feet long—ranks among the most commonly caught sharks in the country.
The smaller bigeye thresher and the smaller-yet pelagic thresher are the other two members of the clan.
All of these are mainly pelagic species not likely to be seen along Peruvian beaches, except perhaps as washed-ashore carcasses.
That said, threshers are known for making high leaps—certainly when hooked, which is one reason why they’re prized gamefish, but also when going about their everyday business—and it’s possible beachgoers or nearshore boaters might luck out with the sight of a distant breach.
The shortfin mako, widely regarded as the swiftest of all sharks, speeds along as fast as 45 miles per hour (in shorts bursts, anyhow), pursuing such similarly fleet prey as tuna, swordfish, marlin, and dolphins.
This snaggle-toothed relative of the great white is the other most frequently caught species in Peruvian waters after the blue shark, and like the latter seems to be most abundant off the country’s central and southern coast.
Also like the blue shark, the shortfin mako is predominantly a pelagic, bluewater creature, uncommonly encountered in nearshore waters.
Great White Shark
Biggest of all macro-predatory sharks (i.e., sharks preying on creatures larger than plankton and small fish, as the bigger-yet whale and basking sharks do), the great white is also surely what most people first think of when they hear the word “shark.”
This superb apex predator may reach lengths of 20 feet or more and weigh better than two tons, and adults favor big prey such as marine mammals—from seals to small toothed whales—as well as billfishes, tuna, and large squid such as the Humboldt or jumbo squid, abundant off the Peruvian coast.
White sharks are only infrequently found in Peruvian waters.
But it’s worth noting that Peru’s fossil record includes notable white-shark traces, including some of the oldest great-white fossils known (middle Miocene to Pliocene vintage) and important specimens of the extinct white shark Carcharodon hubbelli.
This stubby-but-sleek, highly active relative of the white shark and shortfin mako, which reaches about 10 feet long and 1,000-ish pounds, has an interesting, broken-up global range centered on cooler temperate waters:
The porbeagle is found in the North Atlantic, and then extensively in the higher latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere—including, at least to some extent, southern Peru.
In the North Pacific, meanwhile, the porbeagle is “replaced” by its close cousin, the salmon shark.
Mainly a pelagic species, and likely with a fairly limited range in local waters, the porbeagle is unlikely to be encountered close to shore in Peru, short of a dead individual washed up on some southerly beach.
Smooth Hammerhead & Relatives
The smooth hammerhead is another of the most commonly landed sharks along the Peruvian coast.
This is the second-largest of the hammerheads, growing as long as 16 feet. Its even-larger relative the great hammerhead (which may reach 21 feet) is also sometimes found off Peru, as is the smaller scalloped hammerhead.
Hammerheads prey on a variety of fish, but show a special taste for stingrays as well as smaller sharks.
The biggest of all sharks—indeed, the biggest of all fish, and the largest vertebrate after the great whales—the whale shark is mainly a filter-feeder targeting plankton as well as squid and small fish.
Capable of reaching lengths of up to 60 feet, this beautiful, spotted beast has been periodically recorded in Peruvian waters, but little is known about its abundance or seasonal patterns off the country’s coast.
This second-largest of all sharks, capable of growing to 40 feet or more, is another gentle filter-feeder.
It shows up occasionally in Peruvian waters, and at least historically has apparently been hunted by harpoon here.
This hulking, little-known filter-feeder—not scientifically described until in the 1970s—has lately been shown to utilize Peruvian waters.
Seven megamouths—the largest measuring 16.4 feet long—were hauled in as bycatch off northern Peru between October 2018 and October 2019 by gillnet operations out of the ports of Mancora and Salaverry.
This suggests the possibility that northern Peru, and perhaps the Peruvian-Chilean Upwelling System specifically, might be an important foraging zone for the megamouth—and, given the overlap with commercial fisheries and thus the potential for net entanglement, a hazardous place for the species.
A number of members of the cow-shark family (Hexanchidae) can be found in Peruvian waters.
One of these, the huge bluntnose sixgill shark—which may reach 18 feet or more in length—is mainly a deepwater fish, though juveniles may be found in shallower systems and adults sometimes rise to surface waters at night.
Two species of sevengill shark, the broadnose and the sharpnose, are found off Peru, and while mainly bottom-hunters, they commonly forage in coastal waters.
The broadnose sevengill is the larger of the two, capable of reaching 10 feet in length; with its massive jaws and heavy teeth, it can tackle quite hefty prey, including large cephalopods and pinnipeds.
Though sevengills will hunt coastal waters, their bottom-dwelling habits limit the likelihood of any sort of encounter with swimmers along Peruvian beaches, though divers could conceivably run into them.
Like the bluntnose sixgill, the sleeper shark is another rather enormous deepwater shark that has been confirmed in Peru’s shrouded depths.
One source suggests this is the Pacific sleeper shark, otherwise mainly known from high-latitude Northern Hemisphere waters; there is also the southern sleeper shark that may or may not be the same species.
(A third sleeper shark, the Greenland shark of the North Atlantic, may also be one and the same critter, though the jury’s still out.)
Evidence suggests sleeper sharks are capable of growing longer than 20 feet, and despite their generally sluggish-looking locomotion they appear to be able to catch such swift, large prey as giant squid and seals.
Pacific angel sharks are another of the most commonly hauled-in sharks along the Peruvian coast, especially in northern waters.
Their relative the southern Pacific or Chilean angel shark also ranges into Peru’s territory.
These flat-bodied bottom-dwellers ambush small prey.
A slew of other smaller sharks can be found off Peru, from the toothy (but tiny) crocodile shark and the intriguing cookie-cutter shark (which corkscrews out hunks of flesh from much larger creatures such as big fish, dolphins, and whales) to numerous species of dogfish, catsharks, and smoothhounds.
History & Statistics of Shark Attacks in Peru
Ready for this? Drumroll please…
Peru has never logged an official shark attack.
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a Florida-based research institution that tallies shark bites (and worse) from around the world, shows no record of any Peruvian incidents.
From 1931 to the present, the ISAF lists Brazil as registering 110 shark attacks, Ecuador (immediately north of Peru) a dozen, Venezuela and Argentina four each, and Uruguay and Colombia one each.
This is not to say a shark’s never bitten a person in Peru, of course: Attacks may go unreported or misidentified, and naturally the country’s expansive human history and long coastline would make the odd sharkbite or two more likely than not.
But, suffice it to say, the odds of being attacked by a shark along Peruvian beaches are extremely, extremely low.
(Granted, your odds of being attacked by a shark along any beach anywhere in the world are low, but considered globally Peru seems to be pretty darn far from being any sort of sharkbite hotspot.)
The above list certainly includes potentially dangerous sharks—in particular the rare great white and its fellow mackerel sharks, plus the requiem sharks and the hammerheads.
But the three sharks to which most attacks on humans are attributed—the great white, the tiger, and the bull—as well as the oceanic whitetip, historically considered in the “second tier” or so of most dangerous species, don’t seem to be particularly common in local waters.
And, furthermore, sharks in general aren’t disposed to seek out people as prey, despite being fully capable (in the case of even medium-sized species) of doing major damage to us.
Statistics underscore how incredibly unlikely it is you’ll run afoul of a shark while enjoying Peru’s beaches.
Common sense and basic respect for animal life will make the odds lower yet: Don’t swim at night, avoid swimming around fishing operations or baitfish schools, don’t approach or corner any shark you might encounter diving or snorkeling, and always enjoy the ocean while following the buddy system.
Sharks are immeasurably important to the marine ecosystem as high-level or all-out apex predators.
Some indications of over-harvest via Peru’s pronounced shark-fishing industry (and bycatch processes) highlight that the main thing we should worry about when considering the country’s sharks is their long-term survival and vitality, not the low-level threat they might pose to human beings.
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Hope this helps!