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Sharks On The Great Barrier Reef

Updated Tue 10 Jan 2023

Planning on taking a trip up north to spend some time in the Great Barrier Reef but haven’t quite put your fear of sharks to bed? Fear not! We’re here to get you up to date on all the need-to-know info and even bust a few misconceptions about our finned friends. Whether you're planning on snorkeling or scuba diving, we want you to understand that your fear of sharks should not hold you back from experiencing one of the most beautiful locations that nature has to offer.

shark on the Great Barrier Reef

Misconceptions About Shark Attacks in Australia

We felt the need to tackle the misconceptions about shark attacks in Australia. Shark attacks do happen in the country. The hard facts say that shark attacks occur 3 to 4 times a year. However, these don’t generally happen on the Great Barrier Reef. Based on the statistics, they mostly happen in Western Australia and New South Wales. 

For a broader perspective of the numbers, more than two million tourists travel to experience the Great Barrier Reef each year, and the numbers keep growing. This statistic alone supports the fact that so many visitors look past the scare of shark attacks and enjoy what the reef has to offer.

According to statistics, your chances of dying from a dog attack are higher than from a shark attack. To put it in perspective, you have a 1 in 3,748,067 chance of getting killed by a shark. The exaggeration of the media and the fear put into swimmers by shark movies have contributed to misconceptions about these incredible ocean dwellers.

close up of a shark underwater

Great Barrier Reef Sharks

There are 180 species of shark living on the reef. However, these reef sharks are typically harmless to people unless provoked. These gentle reef dwellers, such as wobbegongs, white tips and black tips, are actually wonderful sights to see and will swim alongside you serenely. As with any creature of the reef, keep your distance and watch in awe as they make their way around the flourishing underwater wonderland below. Let’s check out some of the different types of sharks that you can see on the Great Barrier Reef.

people scuba diving

White Tip Reef Shark

The white tip reef shark is one of the most common dwellers of shark species on the Great Barrier Reef. They usually measure 1.8 meters long and are not as intimidating as the infamous great white shark, which reaches up to 6 meters long! White tips are usually seen near overhangs or caves, and are mostly active during the night. Their name gives away their most distinct feature, which is the white tip on their fins.

Tasselled Wobbegong Shark

The tasselled wobbegong shark is another smaller shark species found on the Great Barrier Reef. They grow from 1.2 to 3.5 metres long. These sharks have a unique camouflage pattern and feature an unusual fringe seen on their flat head’s front portion. They usually stick to the ocean floor, hunting crusty crabs and lobsters. Tasselled wobbegong sharks are considered nocturnal hunters.

Lemon Shark

Another bottom-dwelling species of shark is the lemon shark. Their name is derived from their skin which is a yellow-brown color that looks similar to that of a lemon. This physical feature aids the lemon shark in blending well with the sandy sea floor where they can stealthily patrol for bony fish, stingrays and eagle rays, and crunchy crustaceans.

Whale Shark

Whale sharks are magnificent sea creatures, and visitors love witnessing them at home on the Great Barrier Reef. These sharks usually reach up to 15 metres long, and their name is a tribute to their whale-like size and dietary habits. You’ll usually find these fellas on the ocean’s surface where they feed on plankton, shrimp, and fish. 

Tiger Shark

Tiger sharks get their name from the tiger-esque stripes that decorate the sides of their bodies. Whilst this species is known as one of the more aggressive of its finned brethren, they’re rarely encountered on the reef and prefer to feed on seagrass, turtles, and dugongs anyway. That being said, do your best to avoid these five metre long bad boys.

small reef shark

Enjoying Reef Tours in Cairns

The Great Barrier Reef has an underwater world of treasures waiting to be seen and experienced, so don’t let your fear of sharks deter you from discovering them! Cairns Tours can help you see the best of the reef’s natural wonders in the safest way possible with the best and most experienced guides in the region. Embark on the adventure of a lifetime and swim alongside harmless reef sharks, whales, turtles, and tropical fish in their natural habitat!

girls snorkeling

Explore the reef on a day trip or take an extended liveaboard tour, and chat with our amazing travel experts to make the most of your Cairns adventure!

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