Are there sharks in Cancun? Cancun is a fantastic travel destination on the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mexican Caribbean. Worldwide known for its paradisiac beaches, nightlife, and warm people, Cancun is the principal city of the Mexican Caribbean. Its beachfront 5-star hotels and resort receive thousands of tourists daily, looking for outstanding views and private access to some of the beaches in the region.
However, such a paradisiac place does not attract only tourists. Marine wildlife also loves the Mexican Caribbean coast, and as tourists worry a lot about a particular ferocious sharp-teeth animal, its presence in the area can bring the following question: are there sharks in Cancun?
A recent study from the University of Quintana Roo confirmed 37 shark species in Cancun, but the number can go to 49. The most common sharks near Cancun are the Whale Shark, Caribbean Reef Shark, Tiger Shark, Nurse Shark, Bull Shark, Hammerheads, Shortfin Mako, Lemon Shark, and Blacktip Reef Shark.
The study also shows that the number of cartilaginous fishes in the Mexican Caribbean (therefore in Cancun) can go up to 85, being 49 shark species and 36 rays. This is impressive and pleasant news for scientists, who believed that only 28 shark species lived in this region.
In this article, you’ll find a complete guide about the recent discoveries involving sharks in the Mexican Caribbean, the most common shark species in Cancun, and a comprehensive database including all the shark attacks in Cancun ever registered.
To learn all about Sharks in Cancun, keep reading.
Are There Sharks In Cancun? (Species Guide)
Cancun is an incredible paradise, with some of the most beautiful paradisiac beaches on Earth. However, not only do tourists like to visit (or live) in the area: but sharks also love it there. Until recently, researchers used to say that there were 28 shark species in Cancun, but a recent discovery from professors at the University of Quintana Roo updated this number.
According to María Pillar Blanco-Parra and Carlos Niño-Torres, in their study “Elasmobranchs of the Mexican Caribbean: biodiversity and conservation status,” there are 85 cartilaginous fishes in Cancun (sharks and rays), with a total count of 49 shark species and 36 rays.
- Total Number Of Shark Species In Cancun: 49 (37 confirmed)
- Number of Cartilaginous Fishes Species In Cancun: 85 (49 sharks, 36 rays)
The study took several years to complete. The researchers gathered their data from surveys in local fisheries, collecting sighting reports, and using published reports, including those from national and international collections and museums. From this immense amount of work, they found 85 species of elasmobranch (sharks and rays) in the Mexican Caribbean and, therefore, Cancun.
From the 85 reported species, at least 65 (37 sharks and 28 rays) have been confirmed. This is an impressive growth in the number of species documented in the area, which was 28 before this detailed research about sharks in Cancun.
Related Article: Are There Sharks In Dominican Republic? (Full Guide)
10 Most Common Sharks in Cancun
There are at least 49 shark species in Cancun, but not all are easy to find. The most common species in the Mexican Caribbean sea is the Whale Shark, the biggest shark on Earth. They are easily located near Cancun, especially in Isla Mujeres, where diving with these gigantic (but harmless) sharks is possible. Of course, caution is needed because of their size, but this diving is considered safe.
- Most Frequently Seen: Whale Sharks
- Most Dangerous/Aggressive Species: Tiger Shark / Bull Shark
- Biggest Sharks Found In Cancun: Whale Sharks
Two species of hammerheads are also frequent visitors to the beautiful beaches of Cancun, the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, and the Smooth Hammerhead Shark. Finally, the feared Bull Shark and Tiger Shark finish the list of the five sharks that are more frequently seen. In the following table, you can find the complete list of the ten most common sharks in Cancun.
|Species||Scientific Name||Maximum Size||Aggressiveness|
|Whale Shark||Rhincodon typus||Up to 18 m!|
|Nurse Shark||Ginglymostoma cirratum||Up to 4.2 m|
|Blacktip Reef Shark||Carcharhinus melanopterus||Up to 2 m|
|Tiger Shark||Galeocerdo cuvier||Up to 9 m|
|Bull Shark||Carcharhinus leucas||Up to 2.1 m|
|Caribbean Reef Shark||Carcharhinus perezi||Up to 3 m|
(Poisonous To Eat)
|Lemon Shark||Negaprion brevirostris||Up to 3.7 m|
|Shortfin Mako Shark||Isurus oxyrinchus||Up to 4 m|
|Scalloped Hammerhead Shark||Sphyrna lewini||Up to 4 m|
|Smooth Hammerhead Shark||Sphyrna zygaena||Up to 5 m|
Unfortunately, out of the 49 species, some are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including:
- Blacknose shark
- Dusky shark
- Sandbar shark
- Night shark
- Gulper shark
- Bramble shark
- Little gulper shark
- Shortfin Mako shark
- Basking shark
- Whale shark
- Smalleye smooth-hound
Related Article: Are There Sharks In Barbados? (Detailed Research)
Sharks In Cancun: Shark Watching Tours
Cancun is a fantastic place to see sharks, as there are great sighting tours in the area. Tulum and Playa Del Carmen are the best regions to visit and see sharks, as sightings are easier in these places. Sometimes, even on boat cruises that are not made especially for shark watching, it is possible to see some species, including Bull Sharks and Hammerheads.
However, the best option for shark watching in Cancun is the tours that you can book, especially to see or swim with Whale Sharks. This is the largest shark species, with full-grown adults measuring up to 18 meters (59 ft). Most tours get off Cancun to Isla Mujeres, a small island considered the best place on Earth to see Whale Sharks, as they are abundant there between Mid-May and September.
For those that are less adventurous but still want the chance to see some sharks, the Cancun Aquarium is the best option. The attraction is located at Plaza Las Isla and contains a lot of different shark species that can be viewed safely through the glass. If you eventually get carried away there and create the guts, it is possible to dive inside a cage to feed the sharks in the aquarium.
Related Article: Are There Sharks In El Salvador? (Detailed Answer)
Diving With Sharks In Cancun
Another way to get really close to sharks in Cancun is quite frightening for me: diving with Bull Sharks. Shark incidents are rare events worldwide, but if there is one shark that is actually dangerous and aggressive to humans, it is the Bull Sharks. It is considered by many to be the most dangerous shark in the world, more of a potential threat than either the White shark or the Tiger shark.
Even so, if you are a licensed scuba diver in Playa Del Carmen, you can book an experience to dive with these ferocious large-stout animals that are attracted near you with bait.
Finally, this last option is controversial. I think is not nice, but there are those that would like to try the experience. In Isla Mujeres there are still a few locations where it’s possible to take pictures holding Nurse Sharks that are kept locked in small nets.
The problem is that these animals are kept in these nets their whole lives, being pestered by tourists every day, 365 days a year. There are those who say that the animals are replaced from time to time. Still, it is hard to believe that local businesses take this precaution, even more so with so little (if not any) supervision by the authorities.
Tragic Death Of Joram Villanueva
This story marks the last known deadly shark incident reported in the Cancun region in 2008. Joram, a 32-year-old male at the time, went swimming in the evening in the Caribbean Sea at Delfines Beach in Cancun. Unfortunately, Joram got lost from the people with him, and a few days later, his body was found without his arms, part of his feet, and his face.
Civil Protection said that when he was about 300 meters into the sea when he disappeared. After he went missing, his wife, who was pregnant then, warned the authorities, and the search began. According to the reports, some swimmers tried to help the man, but the tide was too strong.
This was the first register of a shark attack on a swimmer on the coasts of Quintana Roo. However, it’s important to notice that despite the local news describing this case as a shark fatality, it was marked as invalid data by GSAF (Global Shark Attack File) investigators because it’s impossible to know if there was shark involvement before death. That is, Joram could have died by drowning first.
Are There Shark Attacks In Cancun? (Updated)
Cancun is not at all a place with a lot of shark attacks. By the way, no place is. Even in Daytona Beach, in Florida, located in the so-called “shark bite capital of the world,” shark attacks are rare.
However, after extensive research using the GSAF and ISAF data, I discovered that through the years, 16 incidents had taken place in the Mexican Caribbean area, including Cancun. Out of the sixteen attacks, 13 were unprovoked, one provoked, and two were considered invalid by lack of evidence of shark involvement before the victim’s death. All episodes are listed in the table at the end of this section.
- Total Incidents Reported: 16
- Provoked Attacks: 1
- Unprovoked Attacks: 13
- Invalid Data: 2 (Shark involvement not confirmed)
- Fatal Attacks: 23
An interesting fact I’ve noticed in the files is that the first shark attack ever registered in the Cancun area dates back to 1518 and involves a “cacique,” an indigenous tribe chief. The chief was swimming when his toes were severed in a shark attack. The report of Juan Grijalva in the book “De Orbe Novo,” written by Peter Martyr, was the first evidence of this attack, later confirmed by GSAF investigators.
The toes of one of his feet cut off; this was due to a ferocious shark which snapped them off at one bite while the cacique was swimming.Juan Grijalva
More than 500 years later, the most recent incident occurred in 2021 when a 14-year-old boy was diving in Mahahual, Quintana Roo. The young boy suffered severe lacerations to his right arm, and his family needed to raise money for reconstructive surgeries. David later reported that he could get rid of the shark by pinching his nose, a desperate move he claims to have learned through some shark documentaries.
|06-Jul-2019||Quintana Roo||Cabo Catoche||Fishing||Provoked||N|
|12-Jan 2011||Quintana Roo||Xcalak||Fixing a motor||Unprovoked||N|
|14-Aug-1997||Quintana Roo||Cozumel||Scuba diving||Invalid||–|
|14-Aug-1997||Quintana Roo||Cozumel||Scuba diving||Unprovoked||Y|
|11-Jun-1993||Quintana Roo||Cozumel||Scuba diving||Unprovoked||Y|
|May 1992||Caribbean Sea||Isla Mujeres||Scuba diving||Unprovoked||N|
|Jul-1959||Quintana Roo||Chinchorro Banks||Wading||Unprovoked||Y|
Can you see sharks in Cancun? Tours are available to see sharks in Cancun, including diving with Whale Sharks and Cage Diving to get a real close look at some of these ferocious animals. It’s also possible to see some sharks while swimming and snorkeling near reefs, but you need to be lucky.
Do great white sharks live in Cancun? Great White Sharks have never been confirmed in Cancun. Despite a few reports of sightings, there is no official evidence of Great Whites in the Mexican Caribbean. However, it’s not impossible for one of these feared animals to eventually get to the Caribbean Sea.
Can you swim in the ocean in Cancun? Sharks-wise it is very safe to swim in the ocean in Cancun. Since 1518 only 16 shark incidents have occurred near Cancun, as most involved divers hundreds of meters from the sea. Swimming on the main beaches of Quintana Roo is a fantastic shark-bite-free experience.
Do you have to worry about sharks in Cancun? Shark attacks in Cancun are rare, with only 16 incidents registered ever. Furthermore, most attacks occurred away from the paradisiacal beaches and involved divers. Therefore, being attacked while swimming on Cancun beaches is extremely unlikely.
Are crocodiles in the ocean in Cancun? There are saltwater crocodiles along the Mexican Caribbean coast, including in Cancun. However, sightings of these animals in the sea are extremely rare episodes, and there is no register of attacks on the beaches, only in lagoons near Cancun.
- Shark Attack Data: https://www.sharkattackdata.com/place/mexico
- Global Shark Attack File (GSAF): https://www.sharkattackfile.net/
- Florida Museum: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/
- International Shark Attack File (ISAF): https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/
- CMS Sharks MOU: https://www.cms.int/sharks/en/country/mexico
- Sharks In Cancun: https://www.cancuncare.com
- Full Study: Elasmobranchs of the Mexican Caribbean: biodiversity and conservation status