Do Sharks Swim Around Cruise Ships?

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Cruise ships spend their time sailing across oceans and seas, so it makes sense that a lot of people wonder whether they might see sharks on a cruise. 

After all, sharks are the biggest and most famous fish in the sea, and catching a glimpse of one is something that would excite many people and bring fear to others. 

People in white ship on sea looking at a shark

So let’s dive in and find out more about sharks and the chances of seeing one from a cruise ship.

Myth Busted: Sharks Don’t Follow Cruise Ships

Sharks aren’t able to swim at the speed of a cruise ship for a sustained period so they’re not capable of following them. There’s also no real reason for them to follow a cruise ship as there is limited discharge.

Sharks are actually nowhere near as fast as a cruise ship. The average cruising speed of a shark is around 5 miles per hour although they can reach around 12 mph for short bursts when they are pursuing their prey.  

These figures are well short of the speeds of a cruise ship. Cruise ships sail at an average of 23 miles per hour (20 knots), with maximum speeds reaching about 34.5 miles per hour (30 knots).

Queen Mary 2 is the fastest cruise ship
Queen Mary 2 is the fastest cruise ship

So, clearly, it’s not really possible for a shark to follow a cruise ship once it is up to speed. 

It would be possible for a shark to follow a cruise ship when it’s moving more slowly near to port. 

But would they want to?

Aside from a natural curiosity, there’s little reason for a shark to pursue a cruise ship. Unlike a fishing vessel, there is no by-catch or discharge to offer an easy meal to a shark.  

Usually, the only discharge from a cruise ship is treated sewage which is not exactly an attractive dinner option. Some cruise ships do discharge food waste, but this is already pureed and so is more tempting for small fish than large sharks who prefer a heartier meal.

There’s no great incentive for sharks to follow in the wake of a cruise ship and this is probably why sightings are relatively rare. 

The wake of Arvia cruise ship at sea

Can You See Sharks From Cruise Ships?

Sharks are big creatures and if they were to come close to a cruise ship there’s a good chance that you would be able to see them but I have spent a lot of time on cruise ships and I’ve never seen a shark (I have seen dolphins and whales).

Guests on cruise ship looking at the sea

This doesn’t mean that there is no chance of seeing one. I have searched extensively for reports of shark sightings from cruises and have found the following quote:

“I have seen sharks from the deck of our cruise ship. We were docked in Acapulco, and I saw several sharks lurking in shallow water (about 4–6 feet deep, I’d estimate) between the pier and the shoreline.”

So you definitely can see sharks from a cruise ship, but sightings seem to be pretty rare and a follow-up comment from a musician who spent 10 years on a ship without seeing a shark:

“In the 10 years I spent working on cruise ships I saw many dolphins, flying fish, the odd whale, and two Orchas (mother and pup?) “breaching” like dolfins(sic) do – a sight that will live with me forevermore – but no sharks! Cruise ships stay in deeper water and avoid swimmers, surfers, seals and other prey for sharks.”

The area that you visit on a cruise will play a big part in the likelihood of you seeing sharks. You are far more likely to spot a shark in shallow, clear waters and in areas with a stable shark population. 

One of the best places to see sharks is the Bahamas, but you may also have a chance to catch a glimpse of a shark in places like Mexico, Australia, Hawaii and the Caribbean. 

Shark fin above water

Shark Sightings on Cruise Ships

These days everyone has a camera and likes to share what they see online. So, you’d think there would be plenty of photos and videos of sharks taken from cruise ships. But, from my research, there are very few. 

By far the most well-shared video of a shark from a cruise ship was taken in Massachusetts from a cruise on a tall ship. In the video, you can clearly see the huge basking shark getting very close to the ship. 

If you’re feeling nervous having watched that video please note that basking sharks are gentle giants and pose no threat to humans!

People sometimes report seeing shark at Royal Caribbean’s private island, CocoCay, in the Bahamas. These are lemon sharks, which again, are harmless to humans. They don’t bite people unless provoked and even then, any damage from their small teeth would be minimal.

CocoCay
CocoCay

The fact that there are so few videos or reports of sightings suggests that seeing a shark from a cruise is a very rare treat.

If you’d rather not leave shark sightings to chance then it is possible to go on a shark encounter as a shore excursion. This will give you the chance to see a shark up close and personal from the safety of a cage. This would definitely be a very memorable part of any cruise!

Cruise Ship Shark Attacks

Given that shark sightings from cruise ships are so rare, you may not be surprised to learn that shark attacks on cruise ships are almost unheard of. 

Even if you have a really extreme fear of sharks, then I think that you should feel pretty safe onboard a cruise ship given the vast size of a ship compared to a shark. 

Great white sharks can grow up to 6.5 meters long, but this pales in comparison to a cruise ship which can be over 350 metres long. 

the jumping great white shark
Great White Shark

So you’re safe onboard a cruise ship, and the only risk of a shark attack is if you are already in the water. 

Sadly, American teenager Cameron Robbins died after jumping off a party boat during a sunset cruise in the Bahamas. There is speculation that he was attacked by a shark.

There was also a confirmed shark attack that killed a female cruise passenger when she was on a snorkelling excursion.  

This was also in the Bahamas which is one of the best places in the world to see or swim with sharks. Shark attacks on humans are incredibly rare with just 32 reported in the Bahamas since the 18th century.

The Bottom Line

The chance of seeing a shark from a cruise ship is very small, this is a bit of a shame given that seeing one of these magnificent creatures would surely provide one of the more memorable moments on any cruise.  

You can be reassured that the chance of being attacked by a shark when on a cruise ship is basically zero. 

If seeing a shark on a cruise is important to you then it’s worth considering travelling to a destination where you’re able to arrange a shark encounter in a safe and controlled environment. This can be arranged in Hawaii and the Bahamas, and potentially some other destinations.

If you’re not so keen on that idea, then you might be happy to console yourself with the sight of whales and dolphins from your cruise ship. 

View of two bottlenose dolphins jumping by the ship

This is a much more common sight since both whales and dolphins like to leap out of the ocean, making them far easier to spot. Dolphins are particularly common since they frequently swim along ships, jumping over the bow wave. 

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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