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 many 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:

  • The Spiny Dogfish Shark 
  • The Leopard Shark
  • The Sixgill Shark
  • The Great White Shark
  • The Salmon Shark

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.

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.

This shark hunting table confirms whether you can legally take part in such an operation or not.

Pacific Northwestern Shark TypeIs it legal to hunt?
Spiny Dogfish SharkNo
Leopard SharkYes
Sixgill SharkYes
Great White SharkYes
Salmon SharkNo

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.

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