For people who live on the West Coast, sharks are a common sighting in the ocean. Whether you’re visiting the beach to paddle with your kids or if you’re going surfing, it’s important to know about the sharp toothed animals that can roam the waters.
A common misconception held by a lot of beginner surfers is that sharks are dangerous and deadly creatures that we cannot live amongst. This, of course, isn’t true. Instead, it’s essential for surfers to understand the various species of sharks in the area to live alongside them without injury on either behalf.
Oregon is a state situated right on the West Coast, meaning there are sharks in these waters. Here is our surfer’s guide to the types of sharks found in Oregon!
Shark species in Oregon
- Basking shark
Basking sharks are one of the largest shark species in the world, growing up to 40 feet long. They are known for lazily gliding through waters with their large gaping mouths, which work to filter plankton through the water.
Despite their intimidating size, basking sharks are completely harmless and gentle creatures – even if they do have more teeth than any other shark species!
- Great white shark
Oregon is home to the notorious great white shark, possibly the most feared shark species in the world. They might not be as big as basking sharks, but they are fiercely powerful hunters with a frightful attack nature.
Contrary to popular belief, great white sharks aren’t considered an aggressive species in Oregon. Their prey consists of sea lions and seals, not humans. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t accidentally mistake a human for a seal.
- Leopard shark
Leopard sharks are most easily recognized by their variegated leopard-like pattern that is designed to help the sharks camouflage amongst dappled light. These sharks have lived on the planet for around 1 million years and pose no threat to humans, as they are notoriously shy.
- Pacific blue shark
This shark species is found across the Pacific. The Pacific blue shark is a threatened species as they are often caught by commercial fishing nets. Their prey consists of octopuses and squid and sometimes other fish.
While Pacific blue sharks aren’t typically an aggressive species (they’re slow scavengers that typically stay away from humans), they are responsible for a fatal attack in Oregon in 1975.
- Common thresher shark
Thresher sharks are a long shark species with distinctly short heads and very long tail fins. The tail fin is used as a defense mechanism, as the sharks will whip their fins to harm or capture prey. As a result of their small heads, common thresher sharks have surprisingly small teeth.
- Broadnose sevengill shark
Broadnose sevengill sharks are commonly found across the northwestern Pacific coast. As their name suggests, these sharks are known for having seven gills instead of five like most other sharks. While they’re not threatened, this species is often unintentionally a victim of bycatching.
They aren’t known to attack humans.
Other common shark species found in Oregon include sixgill sharks, salmon sharks, spiny dogfish, Pacific sleeper sharks, catsharks, school soupfin sharks, brown smooth-hound sharks, shortfin mako sharks and Pacific angelsharks.
How to Surf Amongst Sharks
It’s always important to keep up to date with the latest surf reports for a bunch of reasons. Most importantly, surf reports tell surfers about local surf conditions, which typically includes whether there have been any shark sightings.
When you arrive at a beach, lifeguards should have equipped the beach with signs about potential sharks if there have been sightings. Depending on the species, you might feel safe enough to continue surfing in the water.
Truth is, sharks are generally docile animals that won’t attack humans. Media representation paints sharks as man hungry monsters, but they have existed alongside humans for centuries and will typically avoid crowds. Sharks survived four mass extinctions and have been around for millions of years, so they’re not going to let humans scare them away.
While you can technically surf with sharks in the water, it’s important to know your shark species. Some species, like basking sharks and leopard sharks, are naturally shy and likely to avoid shallow waters. Even if you spot one of these sharks, they’re not going to pose a threat.
Other species that are known to be more aggressive in hunting and attacking styles, such as the notorious great white shark, should probably be avoided. Despite the fact they’re not likely to attack humans, they might accidentally mistake your limbs for a seal – especially if you’re wearing a black wetsuit.
However, if you’re anxious about surfing when a shark sighting has been announced, it’s better to be safe than sorry and pick another beach. You’ve got to be confident enough to remain on your board and know how to swim in the rare event of an attack.
Make sure to listen out for the lifeguard’s advice. Most lifeguards will sound a specific shark alarm if a potentially dangerous shark enters the bay, signaling to everyone in the water to retreat to the shore.
Shark Attacks in Oregon
Luckily for anxious surfers, shark attacks are a rare occurrence around the world, including Oregon. Of course, this doesn’t mean that shark attacks don’t happen or have never happened, because history would tell us otherwise.
Arguably the most recent shark attack in Oregon happened in 2019 when a shark (species unknown) bit off part of the victim’s board, missing his leg by 6 inches. There have been several other attacks in recent decades, but humans pose far more of a threat to sharks than the other way around.
Most sharks found dead in Oregon’s waters are as a result of bycatching, wherein “unwanted” sharks are caught in commercial fishing nets.
Oregon is ideally located right alongside the Pacific Ocean, making it a haven for shark sightings across the state’s waters. While sharks are generally non-aggressive animals who simply swim near the shore in search of food, it’s important for surfers to understand surf safety and what sharks they are dealing with to avoid potential accidents.