There are 440 sharks worldwide, found near the coast, shallow waters, and the deep ocean. With 14 species of sharks identified in Thailand so far, sharks are seen at almost all sites, frequently by Sea Bees Diving authorities which have created locations where locals and tourists can watch sharks or experience diving with them (7).
There are 8 famous sharks in Thailand; some big, and small, and one extremely dangerous and rare. Even then, shark attacks in Thailand are extremely rare and swimming is relatively, as long as you go in the daytime. Moreover, the country has diving sites where you can watch and swim with sharks.
Let’s look into the most famous sharks in Thailand and why they are considered scenic wonders and a dream to see for most. While the country is crowded with marine life, there’s also the question of whether this can be potentially dangerous or a good experience for visitors.
The 8 Common Shark Species Seen Off Thailand
1. Leopard Sharks
Leopard sharks are common in Phuket, Phi Phi Islands, and Similan. Officially regarded as the ‘zebra shark,’ they are 2.5 meters long and live in 5-30 meters or more profound depths. Leopard sharks spend their days resting on gravel and sand surfaces.
However, they are seen swimming around in the daytime; the sharks switch their location upon seeing new swimmers (7). They are most active at dawn and nighttime, feeding on crabs, snails, shrimp, and mussels. Although harmless to humans, the sharks must be observed from a distance as they fear large groups of divers taking over their space. The best area to dive in with leopard sharks is Koh Haa, Phi Phi Island, and Shark Point (7).
2. Blacktip Reef Sharks
The blacktip reef follows its name, carrying a slender form and greyish color. The name comes from the black-colored tips on their pectoral and dorsal fins. These sharks can grow from 1.6 to 2 meters in length and are specifically found in coastal areas that carry a maximum depth of 60 meters (7). Because these sharks like to swim in shallow water, they are the top sharks that snorkelers will see on their trip.
The blacktip shark’s diet consists of invertebrate animals and fish, while they also hunt for small sharks and rays. However, these sharks are harmless to humans; they are found in small groups and are friendly creatures who swim around divers through a distance. The blacktip reef is most popular in the Phi Phi Islands and the Similans (7).
3. Bamboo Sharks
Known for having many subspecies, the most common shark in Thailand is the gray bamboo shark. Although the shark is relatively small, it is incredibly terrifying, with a body length of 80 centimeters. Smaller sharks usually travel in groups or hide under corals (7).
Due to their appearance, the gray bamboo shark is often confused with other baby creatures such as the nurse shark. Popular places to see the gray bamboo shark include Shark Point, Koh Dok Mai, the King Cruiser Wreck, and Anemone Reef (7).
4. Whale Sharks
From talking about the smallest of sharks, the whale shark is the largest one globally. With over 12 meters, whale sharks are enormous and feed exclusively on plankton. Not only are whale sharks harmless to humans, but they are also very friendly and want to be close to divers. In Koh Haa, Hin Muang, and Hin Daeng (7).
5. Whitetip Reef Sharks
Like the blacktip reef shark, the whitetip reef shark is named after the markings on its fins. Whitetip sharks lie inactive on gravel or sand bottoms during the daytime. These nocturnal sharks hunt in packs for cephalopods, crabs, and small fish (7). Moreover, whitetip sharks are 2 meters long and can live up to 40 meters deep. Harmless to humans, these are ideal sharks for divers to approach. Deep dive sites for the whitetip reef shark are in the Similan Islands (7).
6. Grey Reef Sharks
Another famous shark with a classic shark silhouette is the gray reef shark. These sharks can grow up to 2 meters in length and swim in depths of 3000 meters. Feeding on squid, crabs, and smaller fish, they are again sharks that are harmless to humans (7). While they may seem shy, they swim around and examine drivers from far away. This shark’s lower dive sites include the Christmas Point, Deep Six, Elephant Head, and the Similans (7).
7. Nurse Sharks
A cousin to the bamboo shark is the nurse shark; in Thailand, the indo-pacific nurse shark has an impressive length of 3.5 meters. These nocturnal sharks feed on crayfish, sea urchins, squid, and crab. During the day, divers can spot these sharks sleeping amongst the caves. However, nurse sharks are becoming rare (7).
8. Bull Sharks
This is one of the sharks that could be potentially dangerous to human beings. Since 1958, there have been fifty shark cases reported. Bull sharks grow over 3 meters and are highly recognizable. At the same time, it is rare to find a bull shark while diving; you can spot them on some parts of the Gulf of Thailand, Hin Daeng, and Hin Muang (7).
Are There Shark Attacks in Thailand? Most Recent Incidents
Shark attacks are pretty rare in Thailand, but there have been some occasions where people were harmed. One of the last attacks occurred in 2000 when a German diver named Stephan Karl emerged from the Phang Nga Islands, covered in severe bites and blood loss. The medical report confirmed that he was bitten by a tiger shark (6).
Other cases include non-fatal shark bites. For example, in 2015, an Australian woman named Jane Name was beaten on the ankle and foot at Karon Beach in Phuket. The edges were believed to be caused by a small shark due to terrible luck and murky water (6).
In April 2018, a tourist was reportedly bitten by a shark on Hua Hin beach. A video clip surfaced which was assumed to be sharks swimming near Sai Noi Beach. However, did this not cause much panic for the tourist industry of Thailand, as people were asked to remain cautious (12).
Just two years later, a German tourist was bit by a bull shark while taking a morning swim in Phuket. It was reported that bull shark attacks are extremely rare; there was a small chance that this time, the shark mistook the man’s legs for prey (13).
More recently on 3 May, 2022, an eight-year old boy was attacked by an assumed barracuda or shark, during his swim on Kamala Beach in Phuket. The young boy sustained multiple injuries to his right calf, which doctors suspected was a bite by a large barracuda, around 80-120cm in length (11).
However, Director of Marine Biology, Kongkiat Kittiwattawong, stated that he believed the injury was sustained by a shark that mistook the boy’s leg to be a fish. The attack could have possibly been by a blacktip reef shark or bull shark. However, not being confirmed, it is believed the governor of Phuket put lifeguards on watch duty around the clock (11).
Is it Safe to Swim in Thailand?
Most sharks and animals under Thailand’s sea make it safe for tourists to scuba dive and swim around the islands. However, it is recommended to not swim at night for the following reasons:
After sunset, sea animals come incredibly close to the shore as the beaches are less noisy. It is difficult to spot echinoderms in the dark, which means you can easily step on them. Fragile needles can get stuck in the skin and be hard to remove, especially for those who are prone to quick allergic reactions (9).
Jellyfish can be found in warmer waters. One such jellyfish is named the Physalia and box jellyfish, one of the most poisonous creatures, live near the island of Koh Samui. Getting stung by a jellyfish can cause deep burns and heart attacks (9).
Pattaya is also home to invisible stingrays that camouflage in shallow coastal waters. Once they reach the end, it is impossible to spot them in the dark. The spiked tail of the fish can cause severe injuries and poisoning (9).
Sharks are at the top of the food chain, which means they come close to shore during dusk, dawn, and nighttime. It is recommended to not surf or swim during high-risk time frames and make sure you swim near the watch of a lifeguard (9).
Where Can You See Sharks in Thailand? (Whale Shark Dive Sites)
Whale sharks are found in West Australia, Indonesia, the Maldives, and the Philippines. However, most drivers say that they have seen whale sharks for the first time in their life in Thailand. It is not easy to express how fascinating it is to take a look at one of the most beautiful and extravagant creatures for the first time in your life (10). It almost feels like you are sitting inside a clean fish bowl all on your own, surrounded by the beauty of sea life.
Let’s look into some of Thailand’s cities where shark sight-seeing and diving are prevalent (10):
Sharks in Phuket:
Phuket is blessed with docile and placid sharks. The teddy bear-like leopard and graceful whale sharks are among the top favorites. You can find the leopard shark the most phonetic; if sightseeing, they are gladly happy to pose for pictures (4). If you are looking for a more prominent dive site in the region, then Shark Point is the perfect location.
As for the blacktip reef shark, there have been no recorded attacks on scuba divers in the country, but they are somewhat challenging to get a photo with (4). A rare find off Phuket would be the bamboo shark that quickly hides behind rocks and in crevasses. As for the dead whale shark, you probably will not find it familiar in Phuket, making the city a more prevalent place for diving and sightseeing harmless sharks (4).
Sharks in Phi Phi Island:
There are very few species of sharks that can be spotted in Koh Phi Phi, including the black-tip reef sharks. With the closure of Maya Beach in 2018, the number of sharks has increasingly grown or rather quadrupled. Moreover, you can spot juvenile reef sharks around the shallow waters, hunting down squid and mullet (8).
The best spot for sharks is Loh Samah Bay, an excellent place for snorkeling and swimming. Also, Palong Bay is located on the left side of the Viking Cave. There is a very high chance of spotting sharks in Bida Nok during the morning hours (8).
Sharks in Pattaya:
Pattaya, like other cities, has suffered excellent shark loss due to the fishing trade. One of the remaining species is the bamboo shark, famously sleeping around coral reefs. For example, the chiloscyllium punctatum is found all around Pattaya (3). They rarely grow more than 4ft in length and can live up to 25 years. Moreover, the blacktip shark and whale shark are other ones that are popular but not as easy to swim close to (3).
Sharks in Koh Samui:
Thailand’s second-largest island, its pristine beaches, and breathtaking mountains make up its boosting economy (1). Koh Samui breathes marine life from luxury hotels to underwear pinnacles, whale sharks, manta rays, sequence nudibranchs, and macro-critters (1). The Sail Rock, also called Hin Bai, Chumphon Pinnacle, and South-West Pinnacle, are popular diving sites for sharks (1).
Sharks in Koh Tao:
Similar to Pattaya, Koh Tao has a variety of sharks, but they are decreasing drastically over the years. The most common shark is the carcharhinus limbatus, known as the black tip reef shark (2). You can easily spot blacktip pups while snorkeling down Aow Leuk. Additionally, the whale shark, also called rhincodon typus, is found in the waters of Koh Tai; these are 12 meters long and weigh 20 tons- basically as large as a bus! (2).
Sharks in Koh Chang:
The majority of those who go scuba diving in Koh Chang get to spot a fish. As for the one in a few fortunate snorkelers, some may get the chance to swim with a whale shark in the Koh Chang waters (5). However, the rhincodon typus, one of the world’s largest fish, can be seen at Koh Chang Marine National Park, which holds smaller in length animals than the mature specimen (5).
Thailand is a beautiful place full of marine life and various species of sharks. You will find small and large sharks, from the leopard to the whitetip reef and bull shark. Some of these are harmless, while others can be dangerous.
Moreover, Thailand is a great destination to see sharks for the first time and explore cities that give you a complete driving experience of the ocean. The country is a wonder for daytime swimming and shark culture, as long as you are careful and mindful of the animals.
1. Wormald, Sarah. Diving In Koh Samui, Thailand? Here’s What You Need To Know! PADI. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] https://blog.padi.com/diving-in-koh-samui-thailand-heres-what-you-need-to-know/.
2. Master Scuba Divers Co Ltd. Sharks Of Koh Tao. Master Divers. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] https://www.master-divers.com/shark/.
3. Dive Team. Are There Any Sharks In Pattaya? Pattaya Scuba Adventures. [Online] April 11, 2019. [Cited: January 20, 2022.] www.pattaya-scuba-adventures.com/scuba-news/pattaya-sharks/.
4. Gaspari, Darren. Are There Sharks in Phuket? Are they dangerous? Aussie Divers Phuket. [Online] June 24, 2020. https://www.aussiediversphuket.com/marine-life/are-there-sharks-in-phuket-what-are-they/.
5. The Koh Chang Guide. Koh Chang’s Whale Sharks. The Koh Chang Guide. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] https://www.koh-chang-guide.com/features/koh-chang-thailand/koh-changs-whale-sharks/.
6. Life, The Thailand. Sharks Of Thailand: Species, Locations, Risk & Attack History. The Thailand Life. [Online] December 4, 2019. https://www.thethailandlife.com/sharks-thailand/.
7. Diving, Sea Bees. 8 Shark Varieties That Divers Encounter In Thailand. Sea Bees Diving. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] https://sea-bees.com/english-blog/8-shark-varieties-in-thailand/.
8. Eli. Sharks In Phi Phi Island. Visa Travel Phi Phi. [Online] July 14, 2020. https://visatravelphiphi.com/sharks-in-phi-phi-island/.
9. Thetravelshots. Why You Shouldn’t Swim At Night In Thailand. The Travel Shots. [Online] September 6, 2021. http://thetravelshots.com/why-you-shouldnt-swim-at-night-in-thailand/.
10. Dive Happy. Whale Sharks In Thailand: Where To See Them. Dive Happy. [Online] [Cited: January 20, 2022.] https://divehappy.com/thailand/whale-sharks-in-thailand-where-to-see-them/.
11. Limited, B. Child hurt in Kamala ‘shark’ bite. Bangkok Post [Online] [Cited: 17 May, 2022] https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/2303762/child-hurt-in-kamala-shark-bite/.
12. Limited, B. ‘Shark attack’ off Hua Hin beach prompts investigation. Bangkok Post [Online] [Cited: 17 May, 2022] https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1447486/shark-attack-off-hua-hin-beach-prompts-investigation/.
13. Nguyen, J. German man bitten by a bull shark while taking early morning swim near the seashore in Phuket. Thai Examiner. [Online] [Cited: 17 May, 2022] https://www.thaiexaminer.com/thai-news-foreigners/2020/01/17/bull-shark-attack-thai-beach-german-man-bitten-phuket-other-attacks/.