The bull shark is one of the most infamous yet fascinating sharks in the world. They are known as ruthless hunters and feared all over the world. With their stocky bodies and terrifyingly sharp teeth, bull sharks certainly make for an impressive sight in the water. Although they are not as large as the great white, bull sharks still manage to reach an impressive size. Since they prefer warm coastal waters, it’s no surprise then that Florida is home to many of these unique sharks. But just how big are Florida bull sharks? Join us as we discover the largest bull shark ever caught off Florida!
Bull Sharks: formidable hunters with a ferocious appetite
bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are large, stocky requiem sharks. They live worldwide in warm, shallow water and even in some rivers. The average size of a bull shark is about 8 feet with females being larger than males. Lengths up to 11 feet aren’t that uncommon, though, and most weigh up to 500 pounds. Bull sharks have broad heads with rounded snouts. They also have an incredibly muscular body that is light gray above and lighter below.
Bull sharks have a particularly aggressive nature and a reputation almost as notorious as that of the great white shark. While great white sharks are generally believed to be the most dangerous, bull sharks are close to them. They are known for being responsible for a large number of unprovoked attacks on humans. They are credited as the inspiration for the jaws novel, following their part in the deadly 1916 Jersey Shore shark attack on which it is based.
Bull sharks are solitary and opportunistic hunters that use the “bump and bite” method. This is where they nose their prey to see if it is edible before biting it. After the first bite, they tend to bite their prey continuously until they are dead. They are apex predators that prey on a wide variety of foods. Their diet usually includes bony fish, smaller sharks, turtles, birds, stingrays, crustaceans and dolphins. Adults have very few natural enemies. However, juveniles are preyed upon by tiger sharks, sandbar sharks and other bull sharks.
When we talk about breeding female bull sharks which are generally the largest, it’s really no wonder as it takes about 10 years for them to reach full maturity. Full maturity for females is reached once they are 6 to 7.5 feet tall. Incredibly, they can’t breed until they reach this size. Maturity is slightly shorter for males 5 to 7.4 feet tall.
Bull sharks are viviparous. They give birth to live young that are born after a gestation period of 10 to 11 months. Litter size varies between 1 and 13 puppies. They are fully formed and about 30 centimeters long at birth. The female does not raise her young and the puppies are left to fend for themselves immediately after birth.
Largest bull shark ever caught in Florida
The largest bull shark ever caught in Florida was a huge 1,000-pound monster caught in 2012. The 10-foot female was captured by marine scientist Neil Hammerschlag off the Florida Keys as part of a tagging procedure. Each shark he and his team catch is ID tagged and then blood samples are taken before it is released back into the water. Although he has caught more than 1,000 sharks in his life, he certainly did not expect to catch such a giant.
Hammerschlag describes the moment of pulling in the fishing line as “not knowing whether they were pulling up a sunken boat, a monster shark, or a school bus”. Luckily it wasn’t a boat or bus. Instead, it was one of the largest bull sharks ever seen. The shark’s sheer size soon became apparent when they pulled it onto the special drum next to the boat so it could stay in the water while they worked. Although bull sharks don’t often reach such a colossal size, they are usually the oldest and largest breeding females.
Biggest captive for sports
Outside of the Hammerschlag shark, the largest bull shark caught in Florida for sport and weighted well was a 551-pound shark caught near Palm Beach in 2008. Incredibly, this shark was caught by a 12-year-old boy and broke the previous record, which stood for 27 years! Aidan Murray Medley had been fishing for half a day before landing the huge shark. The bull shark engaged in a massive fight that lasted more than 20 minutes. When he pulled it in, it soon became apparent why, as it turned out to be an impressive 9.58 feet long.
Outside of Florida, the largest bull shark caught on a rod was caught in Australia and weighed almost 772 pounds. Although it is large, it is small compared to the Hammerschlag shark!
What else is unique about bull sharks?
As we mentioned earlier, bull sharks are believed to be responsible for the Jersey Shore attacks. The main reason they are blamed is that two of the attacks took place in a freshwater creek. The ability to survive in freshwater is easily the most unusual and fascinating thing about bull sharks. Although a very small number of shark species live exclusively in freshwater (true river sharks), bull sharks are the only ones that can move alternately between the two types of water and thrive in both.
The main reason they can do this is because of their ability to regulate their bodies depending on the amount of salt in the water and their large oil-filled liver. Sharks living in freshwater have larger livers than sea sharks because freshwater has less buoyancy than saltwater. This is actually one of the reasons bull sharks have such thick, stocky bodies.