Nocturnal Predators: Are Sharks More Active At Night?

are sharks more active at night

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Something that is certain when it comes to sharks is the fact that there are more than enough myths to go around with plenty to spare.

Some shark stories and beliefs are so ingrained in people’s minds that it can be hard to tell fact from fiction which contributes to the generalized un-based fear of sharks. 

Today we will tackle one of the most common beliefs: are sharks more active at night? The short answer is no.

However, it’s not so black and white and there are over 500 different shark species with varying activity patterns. 

Today you will learn at what time, or times, of the day most sharks are active, what species may have different hunting times, when it’s more likely to encounter a shark near the shore, and more.

Are Sharks Really More Active At Night?

It is inaccurate to say all sharks are more active at night. The truth is most species are crepuscular, meaning that they are more active during dusk and dawn while remaining primarily inactive during the night and day. Nevertheless, a few shark species are in fact nocturnal. 

Remember I told you it’s not so black and white?

Let’s dive a bit further into the grey area. Let’s begin by listing a few species that are known to display nocturnal hunting habits:

  • Swell shark
  • Horn shark
  • Hammerhead shark
  • Whitetip reef shark
  • Sand tiger sharks

The reason for these species being nocturnal is not known for sure but theories point to the fact that at night they encounter less competition from larger, more aggressive sharks who also view these smaller sharks as potential prey. 

At the other end of the spectrum, you will find there are some sharks that display more diurnal hunting habits such as the bull shark and the tiger shark. 

And then there are also sharks such as the great white shark who don’t care about your expectations and labels on behavior and just hunt whenever they want to. 

Do Sharks Actually Hunt At Night?

As you already know, while most shark species are crepuscular there are still several species that are mostly nocturnal predators so yes, some sharks will actively hunt at night to improve their chances of success and survival.

Yet, it is important to keep in mind that, like most predators, if a shark is hungry and spots prey it will actively try to hunt it regardless of the time of day. 

Also, many shark species are considered apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain and have no natural threats.

This contributes to the fact that they’ll gladly inspect whatever looks, sounds, or smells like prey whenever they want to without worrying about being seen. 

Are Sharks More Aggressive At Night?

Aggressive displays don’t really have a particular time of night or day. Sharks will be aggressive when protecting potential prey from other predators, when actively hunting, and when feeling threatened in any way.

Now if you want to know at what time of day are most sharks generally known to display aggression the answer would be dawn and dusk as it will be the time when the highest percentage of shark species will be actively hunting. 

And if you are worried about shark attacks in particular, although rare when they do happen and seem unprovoked it could easily be that there was a potential food source close by, and in the hype of things, the shark viewed the unsuspecting swimmer as possible competition.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that most shark attacks happen to surfers as they can easily resemble a turtle or seal when looked at from below, so if you’re a surfer looking for the adrenaline rush of catching some nighttime waves I would highly suggest you reconsider. 

At What Time Of The Day Do Sharks Usually Hunt?

So I have been throwing the terms “dawn” and “dusk” around when describing shark behavior but what exactly do these terms mean? So dawn is what happens right before sunrise, and dusk occurs right before sunset.

What do these two time periods have in common? Very dim light, mostly darker periods of the “day”.

It might actually be where the common belief that “all sharks hunt at night” stemmed from as different shark species would be observed during these times. 

What this means for you is that if you are a regular beach goer maybe just avoid being in the water at these two times.

If for some reason it can’t be avoided and you end up in the ocean at night try to cause as little splashing as possible when making your way to shore.   

Do Sharks Come Closer To Shore At Night?

Coastal sharks will come close to the shore during their preferred hunting times. Such times will be dusk, dawn, and for a few nocturnal species, night. 

Younger sharks are also more likely to remain closer to shore as they prefer warm water and their preferred prey of small fish, rays and crustaceans tend to be near the shore as well.

As a general rule of thumb, it might be best if you just stay out of the ocean at night if you are in an area known to have many sharks because if your visibility is low so is the shark and you could be more easily mistaken by prey.  

Final Thoughts

So the answer to the question are sharks more active at night is a no for the most part but as with everything in the natural world, there will be some exceptions, it is hard to label sharks as just strictly diurnal, nocturnal, or crepuscular. 

As you can see their activity patterns are as varied as the species themselves, and as the opportunistic predators they are, they will not pass on an opportunity to hunt when hungry just because it doesn’t fit their regular hunting schedule.

If you are asking such a question because you are considering going in for a nice, nighttime, swim in the ocean it would probably be better if you didn’t as the reduced visibility, absence of people, and behavior of some predators might put you at risk.