Are There Sharks In Costa Rica: A Surfers Guide

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica: A Surfers Guide

Costa Rica and Surfing

Costa Rica is a great place for surfing and especially for beginner surfers. There are lots of very good surfer schools, the place is decidedly friendly to surfers, and there are sandy beaches and warm water. What’s not to like?

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica A Surfers Guide

The country featured in the cult classic Endless Summer II, which was all about surfing. So, yes, Costa Rica is famous for its surf spots. There are surf breaks galore that would suit beginners and professionals, such as Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point; accessible by boat only.

Costa Rica and Shark Attacks

Surf injuries are always something to watch out for when choosing a destination, as in how likely they are. The other thing all surfers want to know about is whether sharks are patrolling the surf. Surfers need to know what species of shark they could encounter and how many of them are habitually seen out and about.

Shark attacks are rare in Costa Rica and it’s considered one of the safest surfing places in the world. There are, however, sharks along Costa Rica’s coastline; some of which have the potential to be very dangerous.

Numbers of shark peaks between June and October, most noticeably around Cocos Island, where hundreds of sharks school in the waters. Cocos Island is an UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

Provoked attacks result from some human action. Provocation explains why normally docile sharks, such as the nurse shark, attack.

Unprovoked attacks occur when the human is attacked and pursued without knowingly doing anything to the shark.

Costa Rica’s Sharks

Let’s have a look at the sharks that can be found in Costa Rica’s waters and their potential risk to surfers.

Scalloped Hammerhead Sphyrna Lewini

These large sharks are open-water hunters, able to detect even the most hidden of prey.

The Scalloped Hammerhead are often found in schools of over 300 in Costa Rica’s waters and particularly like nutrient-rich seamounts. Golfo Dulce provides critical nursery habitat for Scalloped Hammerhead sharks.

Scalloped Hammerhead Sphyrna Lewini

A ‘Critically Endangered’ species, due to commercial fishing and sport angling, it’s good to know the Scalloped Hammerheads have this haven to flourish in.

Hammerheads are potentially dangerous sharks, responsible for around 17 non-fatal, but unprovoked attacks (source: International Shark Attack File). 

Silky Shark Carcharhinus Falciformis

Named for their sleek appearance, Silky sharks are quick, solitary, and can be aggressive.

Silky Shark Carcharhinus Falciformis

They feed on bait balls of jacks and other pelagic species that live in the open ocean surrounding Cocos Island.  

Silky sharks are considered dangerous to humans because of their aggressive nature and size. Silky sharks with head raised, back arched and tail lowered, are in threat display posture.

Bull Shark Carcharhinus Leucas

The Bull Shark is one of the dangerous animals in Costa Rica. Their usual feeding ground is a short distance off the coast of Santa Rosa National Park.

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica A Surfers Guide

Only four out of over 360 shark species have been involved in a significant number of unprovoked shark attacks: the Great White, Tiger, Bull, and Oceanic Whitetip.

Bull Sharks may be the most dangerous shark. It has been recorded in 69 unprovoked attacks on humans, but the numbers may be higher because of the lack of easily identifiable markings.

Unlike most other sharks, the Bull Shark is known to also swim in freshwater.

Tiger Shark

Found in the waters of Cocos Island, they are less frequently seen near the mainland. During the day, they usually stay in deeper waters. They are solitary nocturnal hunters near reefs and in shallows, and eat just about anything they encounter.

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica A Surfers Guide

They belong to the family of requiem sharks; sharks that migrate and bear live young. Tiger sharks inhabit waters where humans swim, so the chances of an encounter are greater than with deep-water shark species.

They like coastal waters, and seem to prefer areas that are murky and shallow, like bays and estuaries.

Shark attacks are rare but the Tiger shark is recognized as one of the “Big Three” aggressive shark species. According to the International Shark Attack File, the Tiger shark ranks No. 2 behind the great white shark in reported attacks on humans.

They are identified as a species ‘near threatened.’

Surfers and swimmers need to know that Tiger sharks tend to be both curious and aggressive when they spot humans in the water.

White-Tip Reef Shark Trianodon Obesus 

Slender with a short, blunt snout, this is the most common shark found in Costa Rica is the White-Tip Reef shark. They are most abundant on the fore-reef. Highly social, these sharks often lie together in groups on the bottom.

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica A Surfers Guide (2)

Whitetip reef sharks feed nocturnally and have been observed feeding cooperatively at night at Cocos Island, moving over the reef, flushing out sleeping prey.

The species may become threatened.

Rarely reported to attack humans, this shark is potentially dangerous, particularly when fish have been speared. 

Nurse Shark Ginglymostoma Cirratum

Nurse shark are often seen swimming along both coasts of Costa Rica. They search for skates and smaller fish in the sand and inhabit sandy areas in Costa Rica. They rest during the day and hunt at night. They gather in groups of up to 40.

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica A Surfers Guide

Timid unless provoked, they are not generally considered dangerous to humans. Even in the rare instances when a Nurse shark does attack a human, the bite isn’t powerful enough to be lethal [source: International Shark Attack File].

The downside is that the Nurse shark’s small mouth is attached to a large pharynx. They latch onto their food with a vicelike grip.

Whale Shark Rhincodon Typus

Are There Sharks In Costa Rica A Surfers Guide

This is the biggest shark, which eats by filtering little pieces of plankton out of the water and is thus uninterested in humans.


There are sharks in Costa Rica, including two of the most dangerous species of shark; the Tiger and the Bull sharks. However, there have been only rare attacks by sharks on surfers, There are many beaches that get big waves and have strong currents, with some famous spots perfect for surfing.

With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other, there are over 700 miles of coastline so Costa Rica is likely to always remain a favorite surfing spot.

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