Can Sharks Drown? (The Surprising Answer)

  • By: Alex
  • Date: August 8, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

It’s a perplexing question, to say the least, for anybody who has ever seen a shark swimming effortlessly through the water. After all, these predators of the deep seem perfectly adapted to life in an aquatic environment. But despite their impressive abilities, sharks are not immune to the dangers of drowning.

It’s a perplexing question, to say the least, for anybody who has ever seen a shark swimming effortlessly through the water. After all, these predators of the deep seem perfectly adapted to life in an aquatic environment. But despite their impressive abilities, sharks are not immune to the dangers of drowning.

Like any other animal, sharks need oxygen to survive, and they can only get this vital resource by exchanging air with the atmosphere.

While most species of shark rely on gills to extract oxygen from the water, some, including the ragged-tooth and salmon shark, use a process known as buccal pumping.

This involves drawing water into the mouth or buccal cavity and forcing it through the gills.

Another method some sharks use is ram ventilation, in which the shark swims forward with its mouth open, allowing water to flow over the gills.

While these methods effectively supply sharks with oxygen, they also have limitations.

If a shark cannot move or its gills are damaged, it will eventually drown.

In short, sharks are well-adapted to life in the ocean but are not invincible. Like any other animal, they need oxygen to survive and can drown if unable to get it.

How do Sharks Drown?

How do Sharks Drown

To understand this, we need to first understand what hypoxia is. Hypoxia happens when there’s not enough oxygen in the water for animals to breathe. This can be caused by things like pollution or climate change.

When the hypoxic zones in the ocean grow, it forces pelagic sharks to use the oxygenated surface layers and avoid the lower hypoxic regions.

Sharks adapt to moderate hypoxia by altering their circulatory and/or respiratory responses.

Still, these strategies may not be effective enough for the sharks to endure moderate, progressive, or prolonged hypoxia or anoxia.

As the oxygen levels in the ocean continue to drop, more pelagic sharks will become susceptible to drowning. So, sharks drown when they can’t get enough oxygen to breathe, and they’re forced into areas with even less oxygen.

Sadly, climate change affects our oceans and the animals that live there.

How to Sharks Breath?

How to Sharks Breath

Did you know that there are two different ways that sharks breathe? 

The first is called buccal pumping, which comes from the muscles that pull water into the mouth and over the gills, known as buccal, or cheek, muscles.

Many sharks, such as nurse sharks, angel sharks, and carpet sharks, employ this technique. Several other sharks, such as skates and rays, also breathe in this manner.

The second method is called ram ventilation, and it’s used by sharks that have to keep moving to live.

This method is more efficient than buccal pumping but requires much more energy. So while buccal pumping is best for sharks that don’t move around much, like nurse sharks, angel sharks, and wobbegongs, ram ventilation is better for active predators like great white sharks.

Can You Drown a Shark?

Can You Drown a Shark

We’ve all seen the movies where the heroic protagonist grabs ahold of the villainous shark’s fin and swims as fast as they can toward the shore. As the shark thrashes about, trying to escape, our hero uses all their strength to keep dragging it through the water until finally, exhausted, the shark gives up and drowns. But could this really happen? Can you actually drown a shark?

The answer is yes, but it’s not quite as simple as Hollywood makes it out to be.

You see, there are two types of sharks, benthic and pelagic. 

Benthic sharks, like nurse sharks, live near the bottom of the ocean, where they can rest on the seafloor. Pelagic sharks, on the other hand, swim in open water and can get close to the shore. Great white sharks are an example of a pelagic species.

Both sharks need to keep water flowing over their gills to breathe. But while benthic sharks can pump water through their gills by moving their fins, pelagic sharks rely on ram ventilation. Water flow over their gills must be maintained at all times, which entails that they must continue moving forward to keep constant water flowing.

So, if you were to grab onto a pelagic shark’s fin and try to swim it to shore, the shark would eventually tire and drown. However, if you tried to do the same thing with a benthic shark, the shark would be able to pump water through its gills and wouldn’t drown.

Of course, that’s not to say that it would be easy to grab onto a shark’s fin in the first place. Sharks are fast, strong creatures that wouldn’t go down without a fight. So while it is theoretically possible to drown a shark, it’s certainly not something we recommend trying.

Is It Possible for Sharks to Drown if They Stop Swimming?

One common misconception is that sharks will drown if they stop swimming. However, this is not entirely true. Some shark species, such as the great white, mako, salmon, and whale sharks, are obligate ram ventilators. They must swim forward to breathe.

They must keep moving to force water through their gills and breathing. However, other species of shark, such as the tiger shark, can pump water through their gills and remain stationary for long periods.

Is it possible for a shark to drown upside down?

It’s an interesting question with a bit of a complicated answer.

First, it’s essential to understand that sharks are fish, and like all fish, they breathe through gills. Water flows over the gills, and oxygen from the water is absorbed into the bloodstream. This process is called respiration.

  • When a shark is upside down, the water flow over the gills is disrupted, and the shark can’t respire properly.
  • However, sharks can survive for short periods in this inverted position by using a technique called buccal pumping. Buccal pumping is when the shark forces water over its gills by contracting its throat muscles.
  • This allows the shark to get enough oxygen to stay alive until it right itself.

So, while a shark can technically drown upside down, it would take quite a long time, far longer than most humans could survive without air.

Can sharks drown without fins?

Can sharks drown without fins

The answer is yes; they can. The practice of finning, which entails cutting off a shark’s fin and then returning the creature to the water, usually results in the animal’s death.

This is because the shark cannot swim appropriately without its fins, and it eventually tires and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where it suffocates. Finning is illegal in many parts of the world, but it still occurs in some areas.

This cruel practice not only results in the death of countless sharks but also threatens ocean ecosystems’ health. Sharks play an essential role in these ecosystems, and their loss can lead to a decline in biodiversity.

When a shark dies, does it float?

Sharks do not float when they die. It’s quite the opposite. Sharks have a very high density due to their large liver filled with oil.

This oil helps to keep them more buoyant in water, but once they die and their liver decomposes, they lose this buoyancy and sink.

However, there have been rare instances where sharks have been found floating on the water’s surface. There are several possible explanations:

  • One possibility is that the shark’s internal organs have decomposed, causing it to become buoyant.
  • Another reason is that a different predator consumes the shark from the inside out, causing it to float due to gas accumulation.

Do sharks drown their prey?

It’s a common myth that sharks drown their prey by dragging them into the ocean’s depths. In reality, this is rarely the case.

Sharks have a unique physiology that allows them to swim without expending much energy, meaning they can maintain a steady pace for hours. This will enable them to keep pace with their prey until it exhausts itself and can no longer swim.

Only at this point will the shark move in for the kill, using its powerful jaws to tear its prey apart. While this method may not be as dramatic as dragging an unsuspecting victim into the depths, it is nonetheless brutally effective.