How do sharks defend themselves?



By Blaise Jones

In a related story, Blaise Jones explained that there are many other predators in the water that feed on sharks: goliath grouper, sperm whales, killer whales, and even sea lions and seals.

So, when being attacked by other animals, how do sharks defend themselves?

Four-Point Defense Strategy

Sharks have four main methods of defense:

  1. Running away,
  2. Hiding,
  3. Defending themselves,
  4. Becoming too difficult to eat.

RUNNING AWAY: The most common method of shark self-defense is to simply run away. Sharks are very fast swimmers when they want to be so when their senses tell them it’s time to flee, they can scatter quickly.

HIDING: The second most common method of shark defense is hiding. Many sharks rely on their camouflage to protect them. The natural countershading of sharks is amazingly effective at rendering them almost invisible throughout the water column. Many species also have specialized color patterns that allow them to blend in with the bottom, such as the wobbegong shark.

ATTACK: When camouflage or swimming away won’t work, sharks will go on the attack. A shark will usually put on a threat display when it feels threatened. This display involves them arching their backs like a cat and pointing their pectoral fins downwards. Often times they’ll swim rapidly back and forth in a figure-8 and will gape their mouths and display their teeth. If this display fails to drive off the potential predator, the shark will attack. Even the smallest of sharks have powerful jaws full of sharp teeth, and they can inflict heavy damage upon potential predators.

DIFFICULT TO EAT: The final method of defense sharks employ is being too difficult to eat. Many sharks have a spine that sticks upward along their dorsal fin. This spine is used as a hook that catches in the throat of animals attempting to swallow the shark, often resulting in the shark getting spit back up.

Some sharks try and make their bodies as big as possible. The swell sharks get their names from their unique behavior of sucking in vast quantities of water in order to swell up in size, similar to pufferfish. This makes them appear larger, which might deter a predator. The shy catshark will curl up into a donut shape, making it appear larger and as well as making it more difficult to swallow.

So while sharks may not always be on the top of the food chain all, they are most certainly far from helpless.


  1. Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide by Gene Helfman and George H. Burgess
  2. The Encyclopedia of Sharks by Steve Parker
  3. The Secret Life of Sharks by Dr. A. Peter Klimley