The small, rugged, and ravishingly beautiful Windward Isle of Saint Lucia is a hugely popular getaway in the Lesser Antilles.
Smack dab on the liquid border between the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, it’s host to some of the most gorgeous scenery in the West Indies, not least the famous coastal spires of the Pitons.
Its waters—especially along the calmer Caribbean side of the island—are certainly inviting. But, hey—what about those toothy, slicing-fin beasts offshore?
Does St. Lucia have sharks, and if so, what types of sharks might you find in and around Saint Lucia?
Sharks aren’t a common sight in St. Lucia, especially for those swimming off the beaches. Snorkelers and divers exploring the coral reefs (especially extensive off the western, Caribbean coast) or seagrass beds (more prolific off the eastern, Atlantic side) might glimpse a shark, and, if so, will likely cherish the experience.
A few types of sharks that may inhabit the waters of St. Lucia are:
- Caribbean reef sharks
- Blacktip sharks
- Spinner sharks
- Lemon sharks
- Dusky sharks
- Silky sharks
- Sandbar sharks
- Bull sharks
- Tiger sharks
- Oceanic whitetip sharks
- Bignose sharks
- Night sharks
- Nurse Sharks
- And hammer head sharks
Again, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see or run into one of these sharks during your time in St. Lucia — and the chances of a shark attack are astronomically low. In fact, there has never been a confirmed, unprovoked attack in St. Lucia.
In this guide, we’ll run through some of the notable Saint Lucia sharks native here and elsewhere in the Lesser Antilles, and talk a little about the (vanishingly low) risk of shark attack here.
Types of Sharks in St. Lucia
The following list definitely favors larger—and potentially dangerous—Saint Lucian sharks, on account those are the species most vacationers here are likely interested in.
Let’s point out, though, that the smaller Lesser Antillean sharks—a brief inventory of which we’ll provide at the end—are just as critical to the local marine environment (and to local fisheries).
The species we’re spotlighting here are all certainly native to the broader Caribbean, but your chances of seeing many of them, even while diving a productive offshore reef, are very slim.
A number of these sharks don’t commonly hang around coastal waters, and furthermore levels of abundance vary significantly.
Caribbean Reef Shark
This stocky, medium-sized shark is, like most of the Saint Lucian sharks we’re profiling, a member of a taxonomic family known as the requiem sharks (Family Carcharhinidae), which accounts for some of the most numerous and diverse large predatory sharks.
The Caribbean reef shark embodies the classic look of a requiem species, with a sharp snout, streamlined body, and a tail characterized by a long upper lobe and a much shorter lower one.
It reaches between about six and 10 feet at maturity.
Caribbean reef sharks are, overall, the most abundant requiem sharks on coral reefs in the West Indies.
Given a diet anchored by smaller bony fish, they don’t pose much of a danger to human beings, although a reef shark cornered by a diver might resort to a threat display or even a bite out of defense.
Blacktip sharks are another common coastal requiem shark species.
An eight-footer would be considered large.
Blacktips feed heavily on schooling baitfish, the pursuit of which may draw them close to shore.
This is the species thought responsible for the vast majority of sharkbites in Florida, though these “attacks” are usually nothing more than nips and surely result from the shark mistaking a swimmer or surfer’s hand or foot for, say, a mullet or mackerel.
Spinner sharks are similar in size and ecology to blacktips.
They’re so-named for their tendency to spiral their way out of the water while chasing baitfish.
Like the blacktip, they pose only minimal danger to humans, biting out of mistaken identity when hunting off well-thronged beaches and capable of delivering only minor injuries.
The lemon shark is a requiem species like the first three we’ve covered, but more readily recognized than those lookalikes sharing a more “conventional” carcharhinid body plan.
Lemon sharks—among the most abundant top predators of Caribbean reefs, seagrass pastures, and mangrove waterways—have somewhat flattened bodies with two about equal-sized dorsal fins.
They’re aptly named on account of their yellowish hide.
Preying heavily on rays, crabs, reef fish, and the odd seabird, lemon sharks are good-sized animals, attaining about 11 feet in maximum length.
Despite their dimensions and coastal habits, lemon sharks aren’t aggressive toward people and have been implicated in only a handful of unprovoked (and non-fatal) attacks on humans in the Caribbean and Florida.
Dusky sharks are among the bigger requiem species, occasionally exceeding 12 feet in length.
These top predators cruise the continental slope and shelf in tropical and temperate latitudes, and occasionally include coastal shallows in their foraging for bony fish, rays, smaller sharks, squid, and (rarely) sea turtles.
Duskies have been pegged with few confirmed attacks on people, but they’re large enough to be treated with caution.
Named for its smooth-looking hide, the silky shark grows to between eight and 10 feet long and is most distinctive for its proportionately small first dorsal fin and its long pectorals.
Mainly hunting tuna and other schooling fish, silky sharks are primarily an offshore pelagic species and, despite their hefty size, aren’t considered much of a threat to people—not least because we rarely cross paths in the water with this bluewater creature.
While the silky shark is known for its small first dorsal, its requiem relative the sandbar shark sports a notably large and tall sail-shaped one.
Usually growing to six to eight feet long, sandbars are the most common large coastal sharks in the western Atlantic Ocean and also well distributed in the Caribbean.
They feed on octopus, bony fish, skates, rays, smaller sharks, crabs, and a variety of other prey.
It’s not considered dangerous to humans, though—as with a large critter of any kind—it should be given plenty of space.
The bull shark is rarely seen in Saint Lucia’s nearshore waters, but the island certainly falls within its vast geographic range of warm-temperate to tropical waters.
This is one of the beefiest and most formidable of the requiem sharks, growing to between 10 and 13 feet long but notably thick and robust—much more so than, for instance, a dusky shark of the same length.
Its blunt head includes big jaws with impressive serrated teeth: a “business end” that the bull shark puts to good use preying on large bony fish, other sharks, rays, crabs, sea turtles, and dolphins.
While, like all sharks, the bull shark usually doesn’t seem to perceive people as part of that prey spectrum, this is definitely a potentially dangerous shark that’s been implicated in a number of fatal and otherwise serious attacks around the world.
But, again, your odds of seeing a bull shark, let alone being bitten by one, on a Saint Lucia getaway are exceedingly low.
There’s no bigger requiem shark than the tiger shark, which is also one of the family’s most easily recognizable.
Distinguished by a very broad and blunt head, wide jaws, and a brownish dorsal side marked by dark stripes that fade with age, the tiger shark may reach 18 or 20 feet in length.
Its powerful jaws and large, heavily serrated teeth make it one of the subtropical and tropical ocean’s premier apex predators.
Tiger sharks—which often cruise coastal waters—feed on a famously expansive menu ranging from crabs, rays, and bony fish to sea turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds, not to mention carrion and oceanborne garbage.
Uncommon as all big predators are, tiger sharks pose a potential threat to humans due to their size and dietary preferences; they’re generally ranked with the bull shark and the great white shark as the three most dangerous shark species.
Tiger shark attacks, though, are very rare in the Caribbean, and this awe-inspiring predator often displays little aggression or even interest in divers and snorkelers.
Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Oceanic whitetips are another instantly recognizable requiem shark, sporting oversized pectoral fins with rounded, white-splotched tips.
These burly pelagic sharks were, not long ago, reckoned among the most abundant large sharks in the world, but—thanks to overfishing and other human-caused troubles—their numbers have plunged frighteningly.
(The population in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, is thought to have declined by nearly 90 percent.)
Majorly important open-water hunters that prey on bony fish, squid, marine mammals, and seabirds while also enthusiastically scavenging, oceanic whitetips are considered potentially dangerous to people, though your average swimmer isn’t utilizing its remote offshore habitat.
Shipwreck or plane-wreck victims out to sea have, historically speaking, been thought to be most vulnerable to oceanic whitetips, which are inquisitive, bold, and extremely opportunistic predators.
Not all that far away, the Bahamas—and in particular Cat Island—are a high-profile oceanic-whitetip hotspot much sought after by divers and underwater photographers, but the species would be a rare sighting indeed along Saint Lucia’s seacoast.
Like the oceanic whitetip, the bignose shark is a requiem species mainly found far offshore in pelagic waters rarely visited by people.
Conspicuous nostril flaps give this large but slim subtropical/tropical shark, which may reach 10 feet or so, its name.
Bignose sharks mainly feed on bony fish and squid.
Similar in appearance to the bignose shark, the night shark is also native to the Lesser Antilles but hardly ever seen by anybody outside commercial fishing crews.
Its large eyes are a giveaway of its nocturnal and deepwater habits: Night sharks get their name because they’re most often to be caught on the line after-hours, when they rise from daytime haunts down 1,000 feet or deeper into upper-level waters to hunt squid and small schooling fish.
Nurse sharks are common inhabitants of Caribbean coral reefs, seagrass beds, sandy bottoms, and mangrove estuaries.
They’re unmistakable with their small, barbeled mouths, set-back first dorsal fin, and very long upper caudal (tail) lobe, plus their sandy-colored hide.
Sluggish during the day, nurse sharks “come alive” at night to hunt small reef fish, stingrays, crabs, and other seafloor prey.
Although capable of reaching lengths past 10 feet, nurse sharks are inoffensive toward people unless they’re harassed or boxed in by disrespectful (and foolhardy) divers.
A number of hammerhead species inhabit the Lesser Antilles.
They range from the small bonnethead (which tops out at four or five feet long) to the huge great hammerhead, which may reach 20 feet and 1,000 pounds.
The medium-sized scalloped hammerhead is another regional denizen.
While bonnetheads scarf crabs and other small prey (as well as seagrass, unusually for a shark), great hammerheads are well known for their fondness for stingrays.
On account of their impressive size and coastal habits, great hammerheads are considered potentially dangerous to humans, though very few attacks have been documented.
Smaller Saint Lucia Sharks
Besides those little bonnetheads, a slew of other small sharks can be found around Saint Lucia. Common species include smalleye and dusky smoothhounds and Brazilian and Caribbean sharpnose sharks as well as blacknose, finetooth, and smalltail sharks.
Shark Attack History in Saint Lucia
The Florida-based International Shark Attack File (ISAF) doesn’t register any confirmed unprovoked shark attacks from Saint Lucia.
Indeed, shark attacks in the Caribbean are very rare in general, despite the popularity of the region as a vacation destination.
The ISAF lists fewer than 80 officially documented unprovoked shark attacks in the Antilles and the Bahamas since 1749; the Bahamas account for by far the largest share of the West Indies total, with 32 confirmed over this timeframe.
Only a few attacks have been recorded in the Lesser Antilles, with four logged by the ISAF in the U.S. Virgin Islands and two in Antigua and Barbuda.
The ISAF lists only four unprovoked shark attacks since 1931 in Venezuela—as the tern flies, not terribly far from Saint Lucia.
With sharkbites in general highly unusual in the Caribbean, fatal attacks are almost unheard of.
That said, a French tourist was killed by a shark in Saint Martin’s Orient Bay in December 2020.
Avoiding Shark Attacks in Saint Lucia (Tips & Things to Know)
As Saint Lucia’s nonexistent history of confirmed shark attacks goes to show, you’re not at all likely to get bitten by a shark while swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the island’s nearshore waters.
But it’s always important to be aware of the presence of sharks and treat their fiefdom—where you, after all, are only a visitor—with respect.
Take the following general precautions to minimize the already low risk of a shark attack off Saint Lucia:
- Avoid swimming in the early morning, evening, or nighttime hours when sharks are generally more active in coastal waters.
- Don’t wear jewelry while swimming: Its glinting may cause a shark to confuse it for a small fish (aka, prey).
- Don’t go swimming or snorkeling with an open wound. (Why would you, anyway?)
- Don’t swim or snorkel around areas where commercial fishing boats are operating or where shorebound anglers are using bait.
- Use caution if you see seabirds or dolphins congregating: This may indicate a school of baitfish that’s also attracted sharks to the vicinity. (The commonly bandied-about assertion that the presence of dolphins means no sharks are around is not only a myth, but in fact the opposite is more likely to be true. Large sharks and dolphins target many of the same prey, and dolphins, furthermore, may draw the predatory attention of bull and tiger sharks.)
- Don’t swim alone!
Count yourself lucky (really!) if you see a shark while visiting Saint Lucia.
Spotting one of these amazing undersea predators is a thrill, and one many vacationers here never get to enjoy.
While the ocean is always a potentially risky and unpredictable environment, common sense and good judgment—coupled with the fact that sharks generally want absolutely nothing to do with people—should keep your odds of a sharkbite here close to zero.
For more guides, check out:
- Sharks in Sanibel Island, FL
- Sharks in Panama City Beach, FL
- Sharks in Tybee Island, GA
- States with the most and least shark attacks
Hope this helps!