Bull Shark, Carcharhinus leucas (Müller & Henle 1839)

Other Names: Estuary Shark, Estuary Whaler Shark, Freshwater Whaler, Hervey Bay Whaler Shark, River Whaler, River Whaler Shark, Swan River Whaler Shark

A Bull Shark, Carcharhinus leucas, in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. Source: Dave Harasti / http://www.daveharasti.com/. License: All rights reserved

A large robust shark that is responsible for many fatal attacks on humans. 

Identifying features:
Body large and stout, with a short, blunt rounded snout;
First dorsal fin large and triangular, second dorsal fin relatively high, more than one-third height of first dorsal fin, no ridge between the dorsal fins;
Pectoral fins large and broad with narrow pointed tips;
Light grey, greyish-brown to very dark steel-grey above, whitish below, with an indistinct pale stripe along the flanks, juveniles with upper and lower margins of fins white and rear edge of caudal fin blackish.

Video of Bull Sharks at the entrance to the Gold Coast Seaway, Queensland.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Gomon, M.F. 2020, Carcharhinus leucas in Fishes of Australia, accessed 16 Apr 2024, https://fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/2889

Bull Shark, Carcharhinus leucas (Müller & Henle 1839)

More Info


Bull Sharks are cosmopolitan in tropical and subtropical marine, estuarine and freshwaters on the continental shelf. Bull sharks may also occur in cooler waters during summer.

In Australia, they are known from Perth, Western Australia, around the tropical north to Sydney, New South Wales, in depths to 150 m, but are mostly found shallower than 30 m. They tolerate a wide range of salinities and turbid water, and often swimming far upstream into freshwater for extended periods. Large adults usually inhabit marine waters, while young adults and juveniles are mostly found in rivers and canals.


Body fusiform, large and stout; trunk and precaudal tail cylindrical, not depressed; head not expanded laterally; snout very broadly rounded and extremely short, length less than distance between nostrils; labial furrows very short; spiracles absent; nostrils with a low broadly triangular anterior nasal flap; 5 gill slits; nostrils well separated from mouth; barbels absent; eyes on side of head with a well-developed nictitating membranous lower eyelid. Covered by small tooth-like dermal denticles. 2 dorsal fins, 1st dorsal fin high and broad, height more than 3.1 times 2nd dorsal; 1st dorsal with a pointed or slightly rounded apex; origin of 1st dorsal slightly forward of insertion of pectoral fins; 2nd dorsal fin high with a short posterior lobe, margin usually concave; insertion of 2nd dorsal fin slightly in front of anal fin; pectoral fins broad with narrow pointed tips; angle of notch in anal fin posterior margin usually a right angle or more; caudal fin strongly asymmetrical with a well-marked subterminal notch and a short but well-defined lower lobe.

Teeth blade-like and broadly triangular; upper anterolateral teeth with very broad, triangular serrated cusps and straight to concave distal margins; lower anterolaterals serrated and narrower with strongly arched bases.


Maximum TL to 3.5m, commonly to 2.6m. Maximum weight 230 kg.


Back greyish, belly white; tips of fins dark, especially in young individuals.


Carnivores - preying on a range of bony fishes, other sharks, rays, invertebrates, birds, marine and freshwater turtles and marine and terrestrial mammals. The large, strong jaws and teeth allow bull sharks to dismember and feed on relatively large prey.


Bull sharks are viviparous, and females produce 1-13 embryos. They usually give birth in estuaries and river mouths after a gestation period of 10-11 months. The young then spend time in estuarine and coastal nursery areas.

Males mature at 2.1-2.25 m and females at 2.2-2.3 m.


Although not targeted, bull sharks are taken in both commercial and recreational fisheries throughout their range.
The Bull shark is the most dominant species seen in shark-based tourism at the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Fiji.


IUCN: Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Bull sharks are regularly caught is beach protection nets in parts of their range, including Australia.


This dangerous and aggressive shark with powerful jaws has been responsible for many attacks on humans, some of them fatal. Because it occurs upstream, often in or near towns and cities, it is particularly dangerous. In the summer of 1993, a bull shark was thought to be responsible for the last fatal shark attack in Sydney Harbour when a woman, was fatally attacked while wading in Middle Harbour.

Australian Shark Attack File

International Shark Attack File

Similar Species

The Pigeye Shark (Carcharhinus amboinensis) differs in having a smaller second dorsal fin. The Dusky Whaler (Carcharhinus obscurus) has a low ridge on the back between the dorsal fins.

Species Citation

Carcharias (Prionodon) leucas Müller & Henle 1839, Systematische Beschreibung der Plagiostomen: 42. Type locality: Antilles.


Bray, D.J. & Gomon, M.F. 2020


Australian Faunal Directory

Bull Shark, Carcharhinus leucas (Müller & Henle 1839)


Allen, G.R., Midgley, S.H. & Allen, M. 2002. Field Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 394 pp.

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Brunnschweiler, J.M. & Barnett, A. 2013. Opportunistic Visitors: Long-Term behavioural response of Bull Sharks to food provisioning in Fiji. PLoS ONE 8(3): e58522. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058522

Compagno, L.J.V. 1984. FAO Species Catalogue. Sharks of the World. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of shark species known to date. Carcharhiniformes. FAO Fisheries Synopsis No. 125. Rome : FAO Vol. 4(2) 251-655 pp.

Compagno, L.J.V. & Niem, V.H. 1998. Family Carcharhinidae. pp. 1312-1360 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, V.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 2 687-1396 pp. 

Hoese, D.F., J.E. Gates & D.J. Bray. 2006. Carcharinidae (pp. 96-108). In: Beesley, P.L. & Wells, A. (eds) 2006. Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 35 Australia : ABRS & CSIRO Publishing Parts 1-3 2178 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. 1996. Guide to sea fishes of Australia. A comprehensive reference for divers and fishermen. Sydney, NSW, Australia : New Holland Publishers xvii, 434 pp.

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3)

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 1994. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Canberra : CSIRO Australia 513 pp. 84 pls

Last, P.R. & Stevens, J.D. 2009. Sharks and Rays of Australia. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing Australia Ed. 2, 550 pp.

Müller, J. & Henle, F.G.J. 1839. Systematische Beschreibung der Plagiostomen. Berlin : Veit & Co pp. 29-102 pls. 

Macbeth, W.G., Vandenberg, M. & Graham, K.J. 2008. Identifying Sharks and Rays; A guide to Commercial Fishers. Sydney : New South Wales Department of Primary Industry pp. 71.

Ogilby, J.D. 1910. On new or insufficiently described fishes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 23(1): 1-55 (p. 3, as Carcharias spenceri)

Pepperell, J. 2010. Fishes of the Open Ocean a Natural History & Illustrated Guide. Sydney : University of New South Wales Press Ltd 266 pp.

Pillans, R.D., J.P. Good, W.G. Anderson, N. Hazon & C.E. Franklin. 2005. Freshwater to seawater acclimation of juvenile bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas): plasma osmolytes and Na +/K +-ATPase activity in gill, rectal gland, kidney and intestine. Journal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic & Environmental Physiology 175(1): 37-44.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp.

Simpfendorfer, C. & Burgess, G.H. 2009. Carcharhinus leucas. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 12 December 2012.

Smoothey, A.F., Lee, K.A. & Peddemors, V.M. 2019. Long-term patterns of abundance, residency and movements of bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) in Sydney Harbour, Australia. Sci Rep 9: 18864 doi:10.1038/s41598-019-54365-x

Werry JM, Lee SY, Otway N, Hu Y, Sumpton W (2011) A multi-faceted approach for quantifying the estuarine-nearshore transition in the lifecycle of the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucasMarine and Freshwater Research 62: 1421–1431. doi: 10.1071/mf11136 Abstract

Whitley, G.P. 1943. Ichthyological descriptions and notes. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 68(3, 4): 114-144 figs 1-12 (p. 123, fig. 5, as Galeolamna (Bogimba) bogimba).

Whitley, G.P. 1945. New sharks and fishes from Western Australia. Part 2. The Australian Zoologist 11(1): 1-42 figs 1-15 (p. 2, as Galeolamna greyi mckaili).

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37018021

Behaviour:0-150 m

Behaviour:3.5 m TL

Conservation:IUCN: Near Threatened

Danger:Known to attack humans

Habitat:Marine, estuarine, freshwater

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CAAB distribution map