Costa Rica is a stunningly beautiful island located in Central America with coastlines on both the Pacific and Caribbean. It is an island nation that is known the world over for its beaches, volcanoes and incredible coffee.
If you are thinking of paying this island nation a visit in the near future, then it makes the world of sense to have a quick gander at what the island has to offer – especially with such gorgeous beaches and crystal clear water. In fact the waters around the island are quite warm, leading to a rich and diverse marine population. That also means you will find a healthy number of sharks in Costa Rica!
Rest assured though, Costa Rica has seen very few shark attacks. And according to official records, only one recent attack resulted in a death (by bleeding out). That was an attack that started from a bull shark attack in Guanacaste. However, there are many species of sharks and many of them are quite harmless if left alone.
If you are looking for as much info as possible on sharks in Costa Rica and how to deal with them, look no further! We will discuss everything you need to know right here.
First we look at shark attacks in Costa Rica, then common and dangerous species of sharks in this country and what areas they can be found, before then explaining shark safety.
Are Shark Attacks in Costa Rica a Common Occurrence?
It’s not uncommon to think that an area with a lot of potentially dangerous wildlife will also have a large number of incidents. But that is not the case with shark attacks in Costa Rica, or any type of sharks anywhere actually.
In the last 400 years, Costa Rica has only seen 12 shark attacks of which just six were fatal. The most recent attack was in 2011 in the Guanacaste region.
Sharks attacking people in Costa Rica is an extremely rare occurrence. Especially if you consider how many sharks are present in the region and the great variety that can be found in the country’s waters. According to regional sources in Costa Rica, sharks are quite harmless and will generally leave people alone if left unprovoked. And that’s what we would hope everyone does when visiting Costa Rica – just observe these incredible animals and give them space.
Great White Sharks, the most feared in the ocean due to their highly aggressive nature, have rarely been seen in Costa Rica too. Mainly due to these huge animals preferring cooler deep ocean waters, rather than the tropical waters around Costa Rica.
However it’s always advised that if you go to the beaches to swim that you should keep a cautious eye out for any sharks as there are a large number of them around the island. The likelihood of having one attack you is very rare, but not impossible as some species can be aggressive – as we show you next.
Below we will discuss some of the most common types of shark species that can be found around the island. Then we explain where they have been spotted, and the two species that are a real danger to humans.
Common Species of Shark in Costa Rica
The waters along the Costa Rican coast are home to an eclectic variety of marine life. That includes an amazing variety of sharks that call this tropical underwater paradise home.
For anyone wanting to see sharks – or avoid them – there is normally a peak in the number of sharks that can be found in the warm waters of Costa Rica between June and October.
Below we look at the six most common varieties of sharks that can be found in Costa Rica, explain whether they are aggressive or not, where they have been sighted, and describe some interesting details that you may not be aware of yet.
1. The Silky Shark
This may be a strange name, but they’ve earned it from their graceful appearance as they glide through the water. The often-curious silky shark tends to feed on baitballs from mackerel and other similar pelagic species that thrive in the open ocean around Cocos Island in Costa Rica.
They are similar in nature and size to the silky sharks found in the Galapagos Islands. This shark, which grows to around 11 feet in length and has a curious nature, often approaches divers before migrating away. They are not considered dangerous and do not pose a threat to people.
2. The White-Tip Reef Shark
The most common shark in Costa Rica is the white-tip reef shark. This shark can often be seen in large groups on the ocean floor or lying under rocks for protection. This small species of shark only grows to a maximum of 7 feet, and has a white tip on its dorsal fin.
They can be found on either side of the Costa Rican Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. Generally, divers have good opportunities to swim with these sharks year-round. They are pretty safe creatures to be around, especially if they aren’t provoked. If left alone, they aren’t known to attack humans.
3. The Hammerhead Shark
The hammerhead shark is one of the most famous species of sharks in Costa Rica. They are very common in Costa Rica and can often be found in large schools of over 300 around nutrient-rich sea mountains where they feed.
The unique ecosystem of the Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica provides a critical habitat for bow-forehead hammerheads. This is important as this species of shark is fished in large numbers around the world, officially making it a critically endangered species. A very sad state of affairs.
Hammerhead sharks are not known to attack humans and will generally try to stay away from humans if possible. They are amazing creatures and a privilege to see in the wild if given the opportunity.
4. The (Infamous) Bull Shark
This is a shark you don’t want to meet up close. Spring through to June is the best time to catch a glimpse of these notoriously vicious predators – notorious for their attacks and being one of the most dangerous animals in Costa Rica.
They generally forage for food just off the coast of the Santa Rosa National Park. This gives some brave divers the chance to interact with them at a safe distance and also find buried shark teeth on the ocean floor. A great souvenir to take back home that won’t damage the environment. Why can you find shark teeth in Costa Rica here? Well bull sharks are huge, they aren’t picky eaters, and they even eat other sharks!
Bull sharks are known to be aggressive at times even if they aren’t provoked. They are one of two species of shark that can be found in Costa Rica that are known to attack people. They are quick and strong predators and should generally be left alone if seen.
5. The Tiger Shark
The waters of Isla del Coco are home to the very large tiger shark. With a potential size of up to 26 feet, they’re less likely to be seen near the mainland. But diving with them is sometimes considered safe if they are not provoked.
Tiger sharks are nocturnal hunters who wait for the sun to set before hunting sea turtles and other marine life that they thrive on. Diving with tiger sharks can be an unforgettable experience and should definitely be considered for brave and experienced divers.
Shark attacks in Costa Rica are extremely rare, especially if they are not provoked. However, tiger sharks are one of the two species of sharks that have attacked people in Costa Rica. That’s even happened when snorkeling. The best suggestion when encountering these powerful animals is to watch them from afar and let them be. In other words, don’t disturb them if possible.
6. The Whale Shark
We have left the best shark for last. As the largest fish in the ocean, it’s no surprise that the whale shark is a must-see for a Costa Rican tourist. It is well worth traveling to this tropical paradise just to get a glimpse of them. Although not all that common, there have been many sightings in recent years.
These gentle giants can be quite intimidating as they reach up to 38 feet in length and weigh up to 20 tons. However there’s never been a whale shark attack on any human in recorded history. In fact they feed on plankton and are not in the slightest bit aggressive!
They are considered a shark that should be seen in the ocean at least once in a lifetime. It’s an unforgettable experience.
That rounds up our section on the most common types of sharks that can be found in Costa Rican waters. As we have discussed, very few are dangerous to people, and most are quite harmless. The most important thing to remember is that you should always be alert when in the water and be sure to leave any sharks alone when encountering them. Only observe them if you can in a safe manner to prevent any incidents.
Shark Safety in Costa Rica: Three Things You Need to Know
The first thing you should know about shark safety in Costa Rica is that local knowledge is key. The local guides in the area have a thorough understanding of what the waters are like and what sharks you may meet.
Be sure that if you talk to local guides you are talking to people who have the right experience and have the necessary equipment to take you out safely. Don’t assume that every local that you meet will have an in-depth understanding of the area. Only use registered companies.
1. The Right Equipment
It is well worth the trip to Costa Rica just to go and swim in this beach paradise. It is even more worth it to go and snorkel in the ocean. But if you decide that is something for you, make sure you have the proper equipment.
If you want to go snorkeling, it’s advised that you get a proper set of goggles and fins. Not only will that make your experience more pleasurable, but it will also keep you safe. It will allow you to see what is happening around you and give you the ability to easily stay out of the way of sharks.
If you want to scuba dive, be sure to get a professional local company that has the correct equipment to do so. These companies are used to handling groups of people and they know safe spots to dive.
2. Dressing and Interacting Amongst Sharks
It may not seem obvious, but the color of your swimming attire can affect if a shark shows interest in you or not. Sharks have mono-chromatic sight which means they see in varying shades of white, black and grey. If your equipment is bright and contrasts against the ocean backdrop, sharks may be more inquisitive about your presence. Try and stick to darker colors if possible.
Another important thing to remember about sharks, and not just the ones around Costa Rica, is that your behavior can affect any outcome when encountering them. Be sure to not make any sudden movements and always stay calm.
3. Prey or Equal?
While in the ocean with just some simple swimming equipment, there is no contest as to who is superior between human and shark. But that doesn’t mean you have to turn tail and get away as fast as possible. In fact that may actually put you in danger.
Stay as calm as possible and make eye contact with the apex ocean predator. This will show the shark that you are not prey. And by making eye contact with the animal and slowly moving away, you can keep an eye out on the surroundings as well as the shark’s movements.
There should be no real need to worry though. Shark attacks are so few and far between, that you are in more danger by flying in a commercial aircraft than being attacked by a shark. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings and always be calm – even if you don’t feel it!
Our Final Thoughts on Sharks in Costa Rica
There are many wonderful opportunities in Costa Rica to experience the rich marine wild-life, especially with regards to sharks. They are powerful creatures that command their domain well. They can be dangerous, but almost always, if left alone, will pose no threat to humans.
The best thing you can do on a visit to Costa Rica is prepare yourself as much as possible. Using the information above to inform yourself will allow you to have a fantastic trip that should create memories that last a lifetime. Enjoy!