Alcatraz Island, located in San Francisco Bay, has a rich history as a federal prison, military fortification, and now as a popular tourist attraction. Many people wonder about the wildlife surrounding this unique island, particularly sharks, especially after the stories about the famous Alcatraz escape and the rumors that sharks ate the escapees. However, is this even possible? Are there sharks in Alcatraz?
The San Francisco Bay waters near Alcatraz are home to at least ten species of sharks, including the Leopard, Sevengill, and Soupfin sharks. Great White sharks have also been spotted near Alcatraz but typically stay in deeper waters. Shark attacks in SF Bay are rare, with fewer than ten incidents since 1851.
So, are there sharks in Alcatraz? The answer is yes, but the likelihood of seeing one during your visit is relatively low. Sharks are typically found in deeper waters, away from the shallow coves and beaches near Alcatraz. However, it’s still possible to spot a shark swimming near the island, especially if you’re on a boat tour (or escaping from Alcatraz) or looking out from one of the island’s vantage points.
In this article, we’ll dive into the world of sharks and explore the waters surrounding this famous island, including the story of the infamous Alcatraz escape and sharks’ role in that historic event. Also, I’ve prepared a nice list of the ten most common shark species in San Francisco Bay, along with some interesting facts about each one. So strap on your diving gear and get ready to explore the underwater world of Alcatraz!
Are There Sharks In Alcatraz? (Species Guide)
Sharks are fascinating creatures that have long captured the imagination of people around the world. The waters around Alcatraz Island are home to several species of sharks, some of which are more common than others.
- Sharks Species Near Alcatraz: 11 (At least)
- Most Frequently Seen: Leopard Sharks
- Most Dangerous/Aggressive Species: Great White Shark / Shortfin Mako Shark
- Biggest Sharks In Alcatraz: Common Thresher / Great White Shark
San Francisco Bay is home to a wide variety of marine life, including several species of sharks. These creatures can be fascinating and intimidating with their powerful jaws and sleek bodies. However, it’s important to note that most sharks are not a threat to humans and are vital to the health of the ocean ecosystem. In the following table, you can check specific details about sharks in Alcatraz.
|Species Name||Scientific Name||Max Size||Aggressiveness|
|Leopard Shark||Triakis semifasciata||1.5 m / 5 ft||Not Aggressive|
|Sevengill Shark||Notorynchus cepedianus||3 m / 10 ft||Aggressive|
|Soupfin Shark||Galeorhinus galeus||1.8 m / 6 ft||Not Aggressive|
|Spiny Dogfish Shark||Squalus acanthias||1 m / 3 ft||Not Aggressive|
|Brown Smoothhound Shark||Mustelus henlei||1.5 m / 5 ft||Not Aggressive|
|Pacific Angel Shark||Squatina californica||1.5 m / 5 ft||Not Aggressive|
|Blue Shark||Prionace glauca||3.6 m / 12 ft||Aggressive|
|Shortfin Mako Shark||Isurus oxyrinchus||3 m / 10 ft||Very Aggressive|
|Common Thresher Shark||Alopias vulpinus||6 m / 20 ft||Not Aggressive|
|Great White Shark||Carcharodon carcharias||6 m / 20 ft||Very Aggressive|
Related Article: Are There Sharks In Ohio? (Ohio River Sharks)
The Top 10 Most Common Sharks In Alcatraz
For this section, I’ve prepared a nice list of the Ten Most Common Species of Sharks found in San Francisco Bay near Alcatraz Island, including the Leopard, Blue, and even Great White sharks. Each species has its unique characteristics and behavior patterns, and learning about them can help us better understand their critical role in the marine environment.
This section will explore these shark species in more detail, including their physical characteristics, behavior, and other interesting facts. By the end, you’ll better understand and appreciate these incredible creatures that call San Francisco Bay home.
This shark is the most commonly sighted species in the Bay. They are harmless to humans and typically grow to around 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length.
Named for its seven-gill slits, these sharks are also relatively harmless to humans. They can grow up to 3 meters (10 feet) long and are known to feed on various prey, including other sharks.
Also known as the School Shark, this type of hound shark grows up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) in length. They are commonly found near the shore and feed on small fish.
Spiny Dogfish Shark
This small, slender shark can grow up to 1 meter (3 feet) in length and is often found in large schools. They feed on a variety of prey, including squid and small fish.
Brown Smoothhound Shark
This type of hound shark grows up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length. They are typically found in shallow waters and feed on small fish and crustaceans.
Pacific Angel Shark
This species is a type of angel shark and can grow up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length. They are known for their unique flat shape and are often found lying motionless on the ocean floor, waiting for prey to come within striking distance.
This shark is a relatively common sight in the Bay, but they tend to stay in deeper waters. They are known for their distinctive blue coloration and can grow up to 3.6 meters (12 feet) in length.
Shortfin Mako Shark
This fast-swimming shark can grow up to 3 meters (10 feet) in length and is found in open ocean waters. They are known for their impressive speed and agility, making them a popular target for sport fishermen.
Common Thresher Shark
This species is easily recognizable by its long, whip-like tail. They can grow up to 6 meters (20 feet) in length and are typically found in open ocean waters.
Great White Shark
While not as commonly sighted as other species on this list, Great White Sharks have been spotted in the waters near Alcatraz. These apex predators can grow up to 6 meters (20 feet) in length and are known for their powerful bite force and predatory behavior.
Despite the lack of recent sightings of sharks around Alcatraz Island, it is crucial to remember that they are an integral part of the ecosystem and should be respected and protected.
Related Article: Are There Sharks In The Pacific Ocean?
The History of Alcatraz Island
Alcatraz Island has a rich history, beginning as a military fortification in the mid-1800s and later becoming a federal prison in the 1930s. The prison housed some of the most notorious criminals in US history, such as Al Capone and Robert Stroud, aka “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”
Despite the island’s turbulent past, it’s also home to many exciting stories involving sharks. During the prison’s operation, prisoners were often tasked with cleaning the shark tanks at the island’s aquarium. There were also rumors that sharks deter prisoners attempting to escape by swimming to the mainland.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were several reports of shark sightings in the area, including one that described a “monster shark” seen near the island in 1908. However, there is some skepticism about the accuracy of these reports, as they lacked specific details and were likely an exaggeration. In addition, the technology at the time made it difficult to identify and track shark populations accurately.
Today, Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist destination, with visitors coming from all over the world to explore its history and take in the stunning views of San Francisco Bay. Visitors can explore the island’s former prison cells, take guided tours, and even visit the island’s museum and gift shop.
Actually, I highly recommend visiting Alcatraz for anyone traveling to San Francisco. It’s a truly unique destination with a rich history and connection to the underwater world that will captivate and intrigue visitors of all ages. In fact, it left such an impression on me that I even have a permanent magnet of the island on my fridge! (Check the following image).
Related Article: Are There Sharks In Australia?
Escape From Alcatraz: Were They Eaten By Sharks?
Alcatraz Island is best known for its history as a federal prison, but one thing that I love about Alcatraz’s story is the infamous escape attempt that took place in 1962. The escape involved three prisoners, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, who managed to break out of their cells and escape the island using a homemade raft.
As a big fan of the movie “Escape from Alcatraz” starring Clint Eastwood, I’ve always been fascinated by this thrilling tale of the Alcatraz escape. But what about the sharks’ involvement in the escape?
Rumors have persisted for years that sharks attacked and ate the escapees while they were attempting to swim to freedom. However, there is no concrete evidence to support these rumors, and it’s widely believed that the escapees likely drowned in the treacherous waters of San Francisco Bay.
Despite the lack of evidence, the story of sharks attacking the escapees has become an enduring part of Alcatraz’s lore. It’s a reminder of the potential dangers that lurk beneath the waters surrounding the island and adds an element of excitement and risk to the already thrilling tale of the Alcatraz escape.
While it’s unlikely that sharks played a role in the escape itself, it’s worth noting that shark attacks in San Francisco Bay are a rare occurrence. In fact, there have been fewer than 20 shark attacks in the area since 1851, and you can check all about it in detail in the next section.
Overall, the story of the Alcatraz escape and the rumors of sharks’ involvement add to the mystique and allure of this iconic island. Whether you’re a fan of the movie “Escape from Alcatraz” or just looking for an exciting adventure, a trip to Alcatraz will surely be an unforgettable experience.
Are There Shark Attacks In Alcatraz? (Research)
Shark attacks in the waters surrounding Alcatraz Island are relatively rare, with only 17 since 1851. To gather data on these incidents, we turned to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) and the Shark Research Institute (SRI), two organizations that collect and analyze data on shark attacks worldwide. Also, I’ve done extensive research in the Global Shark Attack File (GSAF) file to gather extra information.
The table below summarizes all confirmed shark attacks in the San Francisco Bay Area from the 1850s to the present. The data includes the date of the attack, the area and location of the incident, the activity the victim was engaged in when attacked, the type of attack (provoked or unprovoked), and whether the attack was fatal or non-fatal.
- Number of Shark Attacks In Alcatraz (SF Bay): 18 records (GSAF + ISAF)
- Fatal Attacks: 1
- Unprovoked: 15
- Provoked: 3
One of the most notable attacks occurred in 1959 at Baker Beach when a shark tragically killed an 18-year-old boy named Albert. This fatal attack serves as a sobering reminder of the potential danger posed by these creatures. At the same time, the statistics reinforce that shark attacks are very rare, and the odds of dying in a shark-related incident are very low.
|1851||San Leandro Bay||Alameda County||Hard Hat Diving||Unprovoked||No|
|1926||SF Bay||Richardson Bay||Swimming||Unprovoked||No|
|1945||SF Bay||Alcatraz Island||Escape attempt||Unprovoked||No|
|1956||SF Bay||Van Ness Pier||Fishing||Provoked||No|
|1959||SF Bay||Angel Island||Swimming||Unprovoked||No|
|1959||SF Bay||Baker Beach||Treading water||Unprovoked||Yes|
|1962||SF Bay||Angel Island||Swimming||Unprovoked||No|
|1962||SF Bay||Steinhart Aquarium||Attempt to catch shark||Provoked||No|
|1966||SF Bay||San Mateo Bridge||Fishing||Unprovoked||No|
|1967||SF Bay||Aquatic Park||Swimming||Unprovoked||No|
|1984||SF Bay||Steinhart Aquarium||Diving||Provoked||No|
|1992||SF Bay||Pigeon Point||Surfing||Unprovoked||No|
|1993||SF Bay||Ocean Beach||Surfing||Unprovoked||No|
|1998||SF Bay||San Francisco||Swimming||Unprovoked||No|
|2014||SF Bay||Marina State Beach||Surfing||Unprovoked||No|
|2020||SF Bay||Gray Whale Cove||Surfing||Unprovoked||No|
Of the 17 recorded shark attacks, only three were provoked. Interestingly, two of these provoked attacks occurred in aquariums in the area rather than in the open sea. It’s a good reminder that these animals can still be dangerous even in captivity. Fortunately, as you can see from the table, most shark attacks in the San Francisco Bay Area have been non-fatal, with only one casualty over the past several decades.
Are There Sharks in Alcatraz? The Myth and The Truth
To recap, we have discussed the location and history of Alcatraz Island, the importance of sharks in the ecosystem, and the ten most common sharks found in San Francisco Bay. We have also looked at historical reports of shark sightings, the shark attacks in the area, and some historical context about Alcatraz Island and its famous stories.
Sharks are a beautiful part of the marine life around Alcatraz Island. However, the likelihood of encountering one during a visit to the island is relatively low. Most sharks prefer deeper waters, and the waters around Alcatraz Island are not particularly deep. Also, the famous escapees from Alcatraz most likely died from hypothermia or drowning than were eaten by sharks, but it’s impossible to know (some even think they haven’t died and actually escaped).
Is it safe to swim to Alcatraz? Swimming to Alcatraz is not recommended due to strong currents and cold water temperatures. Additionally, although rare, shark attacks already took place in the area. The water around Alcatraz is known to be home to various species of sharks, including the great white shark.
Is Alcatraz still surrounded by sharks? At least 11 species of sharks live in the waters around Alcatraz, including the Great White Shark and the beautiful Blue Shark. Shark incidents in the area are rare, despite the story of the escapees from Alcatraz dying eaten by sharks.
Are there Great White Sharks in San Francisco? Great White sharks are found in the waters around San Francisco, including near Alcatraz Island. The area is known to be a feeding ground for the sharks, particularly during the late summer and fall. However, Great Whites are hard to see as they prefer deeper waters.
Has anyone escaped Alcatraz swimming? There have been no confirmed escapes from Alcatraz by swimming. The 1962 escape is the most well-known attempt, but it is believed that the escapees drowned or died from exposure to the cold water. Some even believe sharks ate them.
How deep is the water in Alcatraz? The water around Alcatraz Island can reach depths of over 300 feet in some areas. The average depth is around 43 feet. The strong currents and cold water temperatures make swimming and other activities challenging and potentially dangerous.
- “Sharks of San Francisco Bay.” San Francisco Bay National Marine Sanctuary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/animals/sharks/sf-bay.html.
- “Sharks in San Francisco Bay.” Aquarium of the Bay, http://www.aquariumofthebay.org/animal-guide/marine-animals/sharks.
- “Sharks in the San Francisco Bay.” San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Aug. 2015, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Sharks
- International Shark Attack File (ISAF): https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/maps/usa-pacific/coastal/california/san-francisco-bay/
- Shark Research Institute: https://www.sharkattackdata.com/incident/us-ca-sf-bay-area
- Global Shark Attack File (GSAF): https://www.sharkattackfile.net/
- Alcatraz Island NPS: www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm
- Escape from Alcatraz: www.history.com/topics/crime/alcatraz-escape