Shark Vision 101: Can Sharks See In The Dark?

can sharks see in the dark

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Sharks can be found in just about every kind of ocean habitat, from out in the deep to coral reefs and even under the Arctic sea ice.

They have a range of senses that allow some species to remain at the top of the food chain, such as their incredible hearing as well as their electromagnetic sense which they use to detect heartbeats.

But what about their vision? Whilst it’s true that most sharks have excellent vision during the day, it’s a reasonable question to ask “can sharks see in the dark?”

YES, sharks have a unique feature that allows them to see incredibly well in the dark. It’s vital in ensuring that sharks can catch prey no matter the time, even under the cover of darkness.

Let’s take a closer look…

Do Sharks Have Good Night Vision?

Nightime in the ocean can be a scary place, but not for a shark. These animals are predatory in nature and have a feature that allows them to see well even in low-light situations.

Tapetum lucidum is a layer of mirrored crystals that is located at the back of the shark’s eyeball, just behind the retina.

This feature causes night shine, similar to the shine you may see in your pet cat or dog when light shines on its eyes during the night.

can sharks see in the dark
Image: Tim Whitlow via Flickr

In humans, light passes through the eyes only once, but for sharks in dark waters, the tapetum lucidum bounces the light back which allows the shark to process images a second time.

This essentially means that sharks have night vision and are able to see very well even when there’s not a lot of light.

Why Do Shark Attacks Happen If They Have Night Vision?

Despite sharks having strong vision in the dark, there are still around 80 unprovoked shark attacks on humans every single year.

So why does this happen if sharks are able to see well during both night and day?

When we humans wake up for the first time in the morning and everything seems a little bright and unpleasant, our eyes adapt usually in a matter of minutes and our vision begins to normalize.

This process takes longer in sharks, quite a lot longer in some species, and is often the result of shark attacks.

Sharks tend to misidentify humans due to their eyes taking typically between 30 minutes and a couple of hours to adjust when there’s a change of natural light.

Most shark attacks tend to happen between the hours of 08:00 am and 06:00 am, often during the warmer seasons of the year when light conditions change quickly.

During these periods of changing light, such as dusk or dawn, a shark’s vision may be compromised which can leave swimmers vulnerable.

These are also the times of day when sharks are most active in search of prey, but it’s also common for swimmers or surfers to be in the water at the same time.

How Good Is A Sharks Vision At Night?

It’s estimated that a shark’s vision at night is up to 10 times better than a human’s thanks to the tapetum lucidum reflecting incoming light and giving sharks a second look at any light they missed.

This means that sharks can actively hunt at night time when their prey may be more active and vulnerable.

Some sharks also prefer hunting at night as many of the larger shark species as asleep or inactive during this time.

Whitetip reef sharks, swell sharks, hammerheads, and sand tiger sharks are just a few species that prefer to hunt during the night.

Hunting at night avoids competition for these sharks and allows them to use their strong night vision to catch unsuspecting prey.

Can Sharks See In Murky Waters?

Yes, sharks can see very well in low-light situations as well as in murky waters thanks to their tapetum lucidum feature.

Sharks actively hunt in murky waters all over the globe, it’s a great way to conceal their large bodies whilst also ensuring they can hunt prey.

That said, sharks tend to rely more heavily on other senses when it comes to hunting prey in murky waters.

Sharks have a fascinating electromagnetic sense that combined with their eyesight helps them to catch prey in murky waters.

This sense allows sharks to detect any electric impulses given off by prey, including their heartbeat.

Are Sharks Blind At Night?

Many people still believe the myth that sharks are blind at night, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sharks have incredible vision, even at night. They have highly complex eyes that can change focus and reflect light to improve night-time visibility.

With that said, it’s thought that sharks are largely colorblind and have trouble with object detection at certain distances.

The structure of a shark’s eye is very similar to a human eye, but when conditions are clear, it’s thought that sharks have a vision that is 10 times better than our own.

How Far Can Sharks See?

Whilst sharks can see in very good quality, they can only see at a distance of around 50 feet.

They also have some blind spots where the shark cannot see at all, which are right in front of the snout and behind their head.

how far can sharks see
Image: Sleepychinchilla via Flickr

Final Thoughts

So, can sharks see in the dark? Yes, they certainly can. Sharks have a feature that allows them to see very well under the cover of darkness, it’s a layer of crystals just behind the retina called tapetum lucidum.

These crystals bounce light back to the shark’s eye, allowing them to get a second look at what they are seeing in low-light situations.

This means that sharks can hunt for prey in the dark, with many species preferring to hunt in darkness due to the ocean being less dangerous.

Sharks are remarkable animals that are perfectly adapted to predatory life in the ocean, and their eyesight is only one amazing sense that they have in their arsenal.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post today and I hope you have learned something new about sharks and their ability to see in the dark.

Catch you in the next one.