Which Shark Species Are Present In Cayman?

Some shark species reside in Cayman throughout the year inhabiting coastal waters, some species are pelagic and pass by seasonally on migratory routes, and others inhabit the deep waters around Cayman down to 3000ft/1000m of depth.

The most common species that are resident in Cayman throughout the year are the Caribbean reef shark, nurse shark and hammerhead sharks.

In total 17 species of sharks have been recorded inhabiting Cayman’s waters, listed below. Seven species inhabit our coral reefs on top of the coastal shelf (< 100ft/30m) and inside sounds (1-7). Some of these were also recorded at deeper depths down to 600ft/200m. Pelagic species (8-10) inhabit off shore water but sometimes come close to shore and the three deep water species (13-17) were recorded below 600ft/200m. These are:

  1. Caribbean reef shark (Carcharhinus perezi)
  2. Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
  3. Lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris)
  4. Blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)
  5. Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)
  6. Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini)
  7. Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
  8. Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
  9. Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)
  10. Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
  11. Cuban dogfish (Squalus cubensis)
  12. Dusky smooth-hound (Mustelus canis)
  13. Boa catshark (Scyliorhinus boa)
  14. Sharpnose sevengill shark (Heptranchias perlo)
  15. Broadnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus)
  16. Gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus)
  17. Blurred lanternshark (Etmopterus bigelowi)

Where Do Sharks Occur & Move?

Shark populations in Cayman are relatively small. We less than 200 Caribbean reef sharks and approximately 350 nurse sharks resident in Cayman waters. Sightings of individuals from the remaining species in Cayman are so few that population sizes are not yet possible to be estimated.

Caribbean reef and nurse sharks have relatively small home ranges (< 12mi/20km). However, some sharks occasionally move long distances (> 62mi/100km) and move between all three islands.

Individual sharks prefer certain areas on each island and exact spots are different between species and individuals. Generally, sharks are less abundant in areas with high human activity (boat traffic, SCUBA diving and fishing) and more abundant in areas with higher productivity (prey availability). Some species, for example the Caribbean reef shark, are more susceptible to human disturbances than others (e.g. the nurse shark). Divers & snorkelers tend to encounter more nurse sharks than Caribbean reef sharks, especially in areas with lots of noise due to boat traffic (including cruise ships, jet skis) & human in-water activities (including SCUBA diving, swimmers).

It is a special event to encounter a shark in Cayman and a sign that our coral reefs are healthy and thriving.

Environmental And Economic Importance Of Sharks In Cayman

Sharks are vital for healthy coral reefs by helping to keep corals and reef fish communities healthy, in balance and thriving. Recent studies in other regions have shown that the removal of Caribbean reef sharks from the reef environment can lead to the degradation and eventual smothering of the coral reef by algae. This change is facilitated by the initial boost in medium-sized predatory species, such as grouper and snapper, which would normally be eaten by sharks. The medium-sized predators then remove the herbivorous species, such as small parrotfish, from the reef. As key predators sharks keep the balance on our coral reefs by keeping their prey populations at healthy numbers and thus herbivores abundant to eat the algae off the reef.

Sharks benefit the tourism industry and are of socio-economic value to Cayman. A thriving marine environment is essential for tourism in Cayman. Furthermore, divers travel the world to see sharks and even tourists that don’t want to see a shark want to visit destinations with healthy shark populations (DoE survey, 2009). Sharks add USD 46.8 to 62.6 million/yr to the Cayman economy (DoE survey, 2009) and therefore are an important non-consumptive resource for Cayman’s tourism product.

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