Are There Sharks In The Pacific Northwest? What Kinds?

Whether you want to swim on a coastal beach in a Pacific Northwestern state or are deliberately looking to harvest sharks, you need to know if these fish live in the Pacific Northwest. Pacific Northwesterners have stories of witnessing majestic sharks on boating trips, but does that mean you put your life at risk when you take a boat in the Pacific Northwest?

So, are there sharks in the PNW? There are at least 30 different types of sharks in the Pacific Northwest, including the spiny dogfish, leopard, and sixgill sharks. Larger sharks are found in the more northern areas well off the Washington coast, including the great white sharks.

Great White sharks are not a common sight in the Pacific Northwest, but you can encounter them when you take a boat in the Pacific Northwestern waters. Most sharks you might come across in the Pacific Northwest are not as dangerous.

In this article, you will learn more about the types of sharks found in the Pacific Northwest, including:

  • Spiny Dogfish Shark
  • Leopard Shark
  • Sixgill Shark
  • Great White Shark
  • Salmon Shark
  • Tiger Sharks
  • Dusky Sharks
  • Cat Sharks
  • Sand Tiger Sharks
  • Blacktip Sharks
  • Blue Sharks
  • Basking Sharks
  • Smooth Hammerhead Sharks
  • Thresher Sharks
  • Pacific Angel Sharks

What Kind of Sharks Are There in the Pacific Northwest?

Having settled that the great white sharks that you’re used to seeing in movies and on TV aren’t a common sight in the Pacific Northwest, it is time to get into the type of sharks that populate the waters around the PNW states.

1. Dogfish Sharks

dogfish shark

The Spiny Dogfish is the most common type of shark found in the Pacific Northwest. Also called a mudshark, this fish is used commercially as food in Canada as well as in a few European countries.

The appearance of spiny dogfish is not very reminiscent of the classic shark look. Dogfish are lean and have a piked back. You are not in danger if you encounter one in the Pacific Northwestern waters.

These fish are called dogfish because they hunt in packs. And this tendency keeps the dogfish moving in close groups. Sometimes, their young wander off alone. When they do, they usually get hunted by humans.

The Spiny Dog Fish Shark is hunted commercially and recreationally in Washington.

2. Leopard Shark

leopard shark

Leopard sharks are primarily found in the Pacific Northwestern waters and are distinguished by the spots on their bodies. These sharks thrive over sandy flats and muddy waters. They have stout bodies and weigh well under 40 lbs.

Leopard sharks can be dangerous in large numbers but don’t pose a threat in recreational PNW waters. Swimmers are at a higher risk of getting attacked by a leopard shark but, given that leopard sharks really only attack in defense, it is unclear the extent of the danger humans are in around these fish.

Leopard shark meat is consumed both in the US and in Europe. Quite often, these fish are harvested off the coast of Oregon.

3. The Sixgill Shark

sixgill shark pup

This shark is also known as the cow shark, this type of fish is generally found in tropical waters. However, the Atlantic variant of the sixgill is also found in Pacific Northwestern waters. The sixgill shark generally avoids light and swims close to the ocean floor.

This means that the chances of encountering this shark during the bright hours of the day are minimal. People trying to avoid sharks in Pacific waters should swim and snorkel during the daytime.

In contrast, those looking to harvest these sharks should take their boats out in the evening.

Sixgill sharks do not generally attack humans. However, if they feel attacked, they can try to retaliate by attacking. Even the odds of that are so low that since the 1500s, there has been only one recorded attack by a sixgill shark on a human (and that attack was provoked).

4. The Great White Shark

great white sharks in the pnw

Great white sharks are classic horror movie sharks. While they aren’t found “in” the Pacific Northwestern state waters, they are abundant off the coast of Washington. It is definitely possible for some of them to wander into the coastal waters as well.

Great White Sharks are pretty large, with around 16-feet of maximum length and over 4000 lbs of possible weight.

When you contrast this with smaller sharks like the dogfish that weigh less than 40 lbs, you can see why the great white sharks are called “great.” These sharks do not pose a significant threat to humans except in unusual circumstances where they feel threatened or are starving.

Still, their mass and defensive aggression can threaten sailors and divers. Remember that despite not being as dangerous to humans as they are painted to be, these sharks have the highest reported human kills.

5. The Salmon Shark

salmon shark

While this fish might sound harmless because of its name, it is a 10-foot shark named after its favorite food.

Salmon sharks can weigh up to 992 lbs and are fond of salmon, squid, and sablefish. Salmon Sharks are also not very common in the shallow waters of the Pacific Northwestern coast.

However, these large fish are abundant in the deeper water towards the north, especially off the Washington coast. They often bump into fishing vessels and are capable of harming humans. Incident reports of these fish attacking humans are few but hanging around them to prove this point is unwise.

Salmon shark meat is sold commercially for specialty dishes. Despite being around the Pacific Northwest, these fish do not find themselves at the center of the Pacific Northwestern diet.

6. Tiger Shark

While not as common in the cooler waters of the Pacific Northwest, Tiger Sharks have been known to venture into these waters occasionally. Recognizable by their broad, dark stripes, Tiger Sharks can reach lengths of 10 to 14 feet and weigh over 1,000 pounds.

Despite their fierce reputation, Tiger Sharks pose a relatively low threat to humans in the Pacific Northwest due to their rarity in these waters. However, swimmers and divers should still be cautious as Tiger Sharks are known to be curious and may investigate unfamiliar objects or creatures in their vicinity.

7. Dusky Shark

Dusky Sharks are less common in the cooler Pacific Northwest waters, but there have been a few sightings. Reaching lengths of up to 14 feet, these sharks are recognized by their slim bodies and rounded fins.

Although Dusky Sharks are not typically aggressive, they may pose a threat if they feel threatened. Still, human encounters with Dusky Sharks in the Pacific Northwest are quite rare.

8. Brown Cat Shark

Found in the deeper waters of the Pacific Northwest, Cat Sharks are small, nocturnal sharks that grow to about 3 feet in length. They have long, cat-like eyes and usually sport a patterned body.

While their small size and timid nature pose little threat to humans, their habitat in deeper waters can sometimes pose challenges to commercial and recreational fisheries.

9. Sand Tiger Shark

Rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest, Sand Tiger Sharks occasionally venture into these waters. They are known for their narrow, pointed snouts and a row of sharp, protruding teeth. They are generally large, reaching lengths of up to 10.5 feet.

While they may look intimidating, Sand Tiger Sharks are relatively docile and pose little threat to humans unless provoked.

10. Blacktip Shark

Blacktip Sharks are more typically found in warmer waters, but they have occasionally been spotted in the Pacific Northwest. They are known for their distinctive black-tipped fins and slim, streamlined bodies.

Although not typically aggressive, Blacktip Sharks may pose a threat if they feel threatened. However, encounters with Blacktip Sharks in the Pacific Northwest are rare.

11. Blue Shark

Blue Sharks are migratory and occasionally visit the cooler waters of the Pacific Northwest. Known for their beautiful blue color and slender bodies, these sharks can reach lengths of up to 12 feet.

Although not typically aggressive, Blue Sharks are curious and may investigate unfamiliar objects in their vicinity. Still, they pose little threat to humans in the Pacific Northwest.

12. Basking Shark

Basking Sharks are the second-largest species of shark and occasionally found in the Pacific Northwest. Despite their massive size, reaching lengths of up to 40 feet, they pose little threat to humans as they are filter feeders, eating primarily plankton.

However, due to their size, they can accidentally cause damage to boats, so vessels in the Pacific Northwest should remain alert for these gentle giants.

13. Smooth Hammerhead Shark

Smooth Hammerhead Sharks are rarely found in the Pacific Northwest, preferring warmer waters. Named for their distinctive hammer-shaped heads, they can reach lengths of up to 14 feet.

Despite their strange appearance, Smooth Hammerhead Sharks pose little threat to humans and are usually quite shy.

14. Thresher Shark

Thresher Sharks, named for their large, whip-like tails, are occasionally spotted in the Pacific Northwest. They typically inhabit open ocean areas and can grow up to 20 feet long.

Thresher Sharks are not typically aggressive towards humans, but their large, sweeping tails can pose a risk to divers and swimmers if they feel threatened.

15. Pacific Angel Shark

Pacific Angel Sharks are flat-bodied sharks often mistaken for rays. They are common in the Pacific Northwest, typically found lying on the seafloor.

Despite their docile nature, they can pose a threat if provoked. Therefore, divers should be cautious around these sharks, particularly if they’re seen resting on the ocean floor.

Is It Dangerous To Swim in the Pacific Northwest?

Pacific Northwestern waters are home to different types of small sharks and the larger sharks are also not too far off.

Does that mean you put yourself in danger any time you go surfing on the waves of the Pacific Northwestern beaches? Should you cancel your snorkeling plans?

Well, probably not. There is no need to be alarmed regarding the presence of sharks in the Pacific Northwest. These sharks are mostly small and don’t make a habit of snacking on swimmers.

As long as you do not disturb or attack them, they pose no significant threat to you.

In addition to swimming areas, larger sharks are often seen in boating lanes such as the Puget Sound where some feel that they may pose a threat to kayakers. However, there are no recorded attacks and most people don’t consider the sharks in the area to be an issue.

Is It Legal to Harvest Sharks in the Pacific Northwest?

While some people want to confirm the presence of sharks in the Pacific Northwest because they do not want to come across one, others are interested in establishing their existence for hunting and harvesting purposes.

Removing shark fins or trading them in Oregon and Washington is illegal.

Moreover, shark finning is also illegal on a federal level. A few varieties of sharks are also protected federally and may not be harvested in parts or as a whole.

White sharks, basking sharks, whale sharks, and the oceanic whitetip shark cannot be legally hunted or harvested in the United States because of their federally protected status. The standard varieties covered earlier in this post are often pursued regardless of status.

Final Thoughts

There are sharks in the Pacific Northwest, and regardless of their type, they cannot be finned. Smaller varieties are closer to the coast and not lethal, while deadlier ones are found in deeper waters.

The term deadly is rich since these sharks don’t attack humans without provocation. Before you try to hunt for shark meat, confirm the legal status of harvesting the specific variety.