The great diversity of chondrichthyan species in the Mediterranean

The presence of sharks and cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea attracts the attention and questions of bathers and yachtsmen frequenting Mediterranean beaches. This is a legitimate question, as sharks can be encountered along the coast of Provence. Rest assured, however: the presence of these marine predators is very rare, and attacks on humans are virtually non-existent.

Sharks of all sizes

The Mediterranean Sea is home to a wide variety of shark and dolphin species, although sightings are relatively rare.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 74 species of cartilaginous fish are considered resident in Mediterranean waters. There are 40 species of shark, 32 species of ray and a single species of chimaera.

Most Mediterranean sharks are less than 2 meters long. However, there are around ten species that can reach a size of close to 4 metres, and a few that can reach almost 10 metres in length. These species include :

  • basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus),

  • the common thresher shark (Alopias vulpinus),

  • the large-eyed thresher shark (Alopias supercilliosus),

  • bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus),

  • the mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus),

  • porbeagle (Isurus paucus),

  • blue shark (Prionace glauca),

  • the ferocious shark (Odontaspis ferox),

  • the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran),

  • Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)

  • and the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias).

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The blue shark: present and harmless

The blue shark (Prionace glauca) is relatively common in Mediterranean coastal waters. They can often be found near the Almanarre beach in Hyères-les-Palmiers, where the females come to give birth to their young. This species is not generally considered dangerous to humans, although an attack was recorded in August 1986 in Gruissan, Aude. However, this is the latest known attack in French waters.

The mako shark: the swift predator

The mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) is one of the fastest fish in the ocean. With peak speeds of up to 75 km/h over short distances, they are capable of pursuing and capturing their prey. Although present in the Mediterranean, mako sharks are rarely seen.

The great white shark: an exceptional presence

The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is the ocean's largest predator. Its imposing size and teeth adapted to capturing large prey, such as large fish, marine mammals and sea turtles, make it an emblematic species. Although their numbers are estimated at around 500 individuals, they have become extremely rare in the Mediterranean. These encounters are therefore exceptional and usually take place on the high seas, far from the coast. However, a few sightings have been reported, such as that of an individual in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez in 2012, at a distance of around 300 meters from a beach, and another off the coast of Camargue in 2022.

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Surprising and little-known stingrays

Rays are also present in the Mediterranean, but are less studied and less well known than sharks. They are surprisingly diverse in terms of shape, color and ecology. Most Mediterranean stingrays are relatively small, with a wingspan of no more than a meter. However, species such as the spiny butterfly ray (Gymnura altavela) and the Mediterranean sea devil (Mobula mobular) can reach a wingspan of 2 and 5 meters respectively.

The monstrous chimera: a unique species

The monstrous chimaera (Chimaera monstrosa) is the only species of chimaera found in the Mediterranean. This benthopelagic species can live at depths of up to 1,600 meters and generally reaches a size of no more than 1.5 meters.

Threats to sharks and rays

Despite their relative rarity, Mediterranean sharks and rays face many challenges. Like many other shark and ray species around the world, they are victims of driftnets, marine pollution from nautical and industrial activities, and the effects of climate change, which are causing water temperatures to rise. These factors contribute to their uncertain protection status and vulnerability to extinction.
Conservation measures are essential to preserve these fascinating species and maintain the ecological balance of the Mediterranean Sea. Raising awareness, regulating fishing, reducing pollution and creating marine protected areas are all necessary actions to ensure the survival of these magnificent marine creatures and maintain the diversity of underwater life and flora in the Mediterranean.

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