Sharks on the Great Barrier Reef

Are you thinking of visiting the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and worried about Sharks?

Are you worried sharks on the Great Barrier Reef might bite or attack you while snorkeling or scuba diving?

Maybe you're wondering what happens if you see a shark while snorkeling or scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, what should you do?

Grey Whaler Reef Sharks

Grey Whaler Shark

Black tip reef shark at night

Black tip reef shark

Shark with mouth open

Shark with mouth open

Well, hang in there! This article was made to help alleviate any stress you may have about seeing a shark or encountering a shark while snorkeling or scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

We wrote this article to show you what are the most common sharks found on the Great Barrier Reef. We offer information on whether they are dangerous to humans and what are the chances of actually seeing one.

So, turn off Steven Spielberg’s movie Jaws, go get your favorite comfort food and let’s go on a ride to learn about these amazing creatures that play an important role on the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Let’s get into it!

Sharks Attack! - News Headline in Australia!

Ok, the media loves a great story, and nothing grabs our attention more than the fear of a shark coming out of the depths of the deep blue to bite us. These stories grab our attention, they work on our fear factor. But mostly they are great click bate for the media to entice people to read and watch the nightly news.

Shark attacks do occur in Australia, the statistics show around 3 or 4 times a year. But they are generally not on the Great Barrier Reef.

Where do these Shark encounters happen?

Looking at the statistics they mostly occur in the Southern parts of Australia like New South Wales and Western Australia.

According to with Research provided by Global Shark Attack File the data shows there have been 42 unprovoked fatal shark attacks in Australia since 1990, and although most recorded attacks have occurred in New South Wales, most fatalities transpired in Western Australia.

To give you a statistic there are over two million visitors to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland each year! Tourism numbers are also growing.

Why do dangerous sharks inhabit the Southern parts of Australia?

Scientists are not 100% sure, but a little common sense suggests large dangerous sharks like the Great White Shark are attracted to the Southern Parts and Western parts of Australia for food.

Large seal or penguin colonies offer the perfect hunting grounds for Great White Sharks. Colder water temperatures and large Tuna or fish schools that swim close to shore, also attract Great White Sharks. These food sources bring the sharks in closer to land where they can interact with humans.

Are Sharks on the Great Barrier Reef?

The short answer is yes, but in general, they are mostly harmless to humans. The most common sharks found on the Great Barrier Reef are white tip and black tip reef sharks.

Leopard shark

Leopard shark

White tip reef shark

White tip reef shark

Reef Shark swimming with Snorkeler

Reef Shark & Snorkeler

You can also find grey whaler reefs sharks, leopard sharks, epaulette sharks and wobbegong sharks a shabby door matt looking shark. These sharks are typically harmless to humans unless you specifically provoke them, for example, try to feed them, grab hold of them and spearfish when they are around.

In general, snorkeling and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef you will have no problem at all with these reef-dwelling sharks. They can, in fact, be a highlight of any snorkeling or scuba diving trip, often being the hot topic of conversation if you manage to spot one.

What are the dangerous Sharks?

There are a couple of other sharks that inhabit the warmer waters of the Great Barrier Reef that can potentially be more of a threat to humans but are not commonly encountered.

These are the Tiger Shark, a larger grey shark with tiger-like markings on the side of its body. These guys are generally scavengers and very rarely encountered by snorkelers and divers on the Great Barrier Reef.

Oceanic White Tips, these guys are not generally found on the Great Barrier Reef they tend to hang out in the deeper waters of the Coral Sea. They appear to be roaming foragers with rare sightings on the Great Barrier Reef.

Bronze Whalers, a fast-moving shark, generally smaller than the Tiger or Oceanic White tip. These guys are known to be very inquisitive and have caused problems with spearfisherman in the past.

Bull Sharks, these guys tend to be scavengers and opportunists. Humans have encountered problems with these sharks in the mainland estuaries, and boating harbors where the visibility in the water is very low. Also early morning or late afternoon sunset these sharks tend to be more active.

Which sharks have attacked humans on The Great Barrier Reef?

There have only been a handful of recorded incidences of shark attacks on the Great Barrier Reef. In general, they are mostly human invoked incidences.

The common practice of Free Dive spearfishing is a fun way for sports spearfisherman to catch lovely eating reef fish. The process of spearing a fish on the reef let’s blood into the water from the speared fish. If there are any small sharks in the area they will pick up on this straight away and come in to investigate further.

There have been cases where small reef sharks have tried to bite the dead fish on the end of the spear, but somehow also give the human spearfisherman a bite in the process.

Col McKenzie a renowned voice from the Marine Park Tourism Operators association goes on to say;

“When you're on the Barrier Reef and you're spearfishing, you're going to have encounters with sharks. I've had my fins bitten off a couple of times when the shark has come in behind me and dragged me backward. It's just part of the sport of spearfishing on the Barrier Reef where we have these magnificent animals, the animal's just simply responding to its normal stimuli.”

What should you do if you see a shark snorkeling or scuba diving on the reef?

In general, just relax, enjoy the moment. It is most likely you might see a white tip or black tip reef shark. These guys will go about there day foraging for food in and out of the reefs. They are usually much smaller than yourself and are frightened away very easy. If you have a camera, take a picture, arm yourself with proof to show your fellow snorkelers and dives when you get back on the boat.

Will I get Bitten by a shark snorkeling or scuba diving on the reef?

The short answer is, it is highly unlikely. The statistic you will have a car crash or be injured by public transport is much higher then the chance of being bitten by a shark snorkeling or scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.


If you have any questions or perhaps would like to correct us on any information provided, please do so in the comments below.

As active scuba divers on the Great Barrier Reef, we try to offer independent unbiased information regarding activities enjoyed on the Great Barrier Reef.

If you are looking for a dive holiday on the Great Barrier Reef weather it is a day trip or multi-day liveaboard contact our dive crazy reservation staff on or phone +61 7 40411638. Until next time see you out diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Lady enjoying the water-slide at Moore Reef.

Sunlover Cruises

Great day tour for people of all ages. Visit Outer Reef Pontoon at Moore Reef, with lots of inclusions: snorkelling, glass bottom boat and semi-sub tours, underwater observatory and more.
Tusa at the Reef

Tusa Dive T6

Tusa Dive provide quality Great Barrier Reef snorkel / dive day tours on one of Cairns' newest reef day boats, T6. Up to 5 hours on the reef, visiting 2 locations. Great service - all meals included.
Silverswift At The Reef

Silverswift Dive & Snorkel

Only Cairns Great Barrier Reef day tour to visit 3 different reef sites in one day! Part of the Quicksilver Cruises fleet. Comfortable, high speed catamaran. Up to 5 hours at the reef.
Evolution Dive Boat Cairns

Down Under Dive: Evolution

Well priced Great Barrier Reef day tour, including BBQ lunch. 5 hours on the reef at 2 reef sites. Free guided snorkeling tours, introductory and certified diving are available at extra cost. Brand new boat.

Deep Sea Divers Den: Reef Quest

Value for money Great Barrier Reef day tour. Visits 2 reef sites. Perfect for snorkellers, certified divers and those wanting to try an introductory dive. Buffet lunch included.
Reef Magic Outer Reef Scuba Diving

Reef Magic Cruises

Up to 5 hours at the reef. Outer Great Barrier Reef pontoon with fabulous coral gardens. Meet Wally! Lots of inclusions: snorkelling, glass bottom boat, semi-sub, underwater observatory and more.
Great Adventures Green Island & Reef Package

Great Adventures: Green Island & Great Barrier Reef

This is the only Cairns day tour to combine time on Green Island with a visit to a Great Barrier Reef pontoon. Best of both worlds. Suitable for snorkellers and divers.
The Passions of Paradise boat Cairns Australia

Passions Of Paradise

Australian Tourism Award Winner. Daily dive / snorkel trips to Michaelmas Cay & Paradise Reef on 25m sailing catamaran. Free scuba demonstration & guided snorkel tour. Hot / cold buffet lunch.
Fully inclusive Great Barrier Reef day tours with Reef Experience

Reef Experience

Cairns' only fully inclusive day tour, including: city transfers, trip to Great Barrier Reef, 6 hours on reef, 2 reef locations, meals, free scuba dive, marine biologist presentation & equipment.
Cairns Dive Centre Day Boat - MV Reef Kist

M.V. Reef Kist – Cairns Dive Centre (Island Diver)

Great value one of Cairns cheapest day boats to the Great Barrier Reef. Full day snorkeling visiting 2 x Reef Locations. Includes lunch and all snorkel gear.
Ocean Freedom the quickest Great Barrier Reef day tour dive in Cairns

Ocean Freedom Cruise

Locally owned & operated. 5 star service. Up to 6 hours snorkel / dive time at 2 Great Barrier Reef locations. Best reef tour lunch in town. Friendly crew, glass bottom boat tour & much more.
Great Adventures Day Boat

Great Adventures: Outer Reef

Leaves later than most (10am) and provides up to 3 hours at their outer reef pontoon. Enjoy the sun deck, underwater observatory, semi-submersible and many optional extras.

Silversonic Dive & Snorkel

Silversonic provides daily reef tours departing from Port Douglas and visiting the ribbon reefs at Agincourt Reef. 5 hours at reef and up to 3 dives.

Ocean Spirit Cruises Cairns

Ocean Spirit Cruises provide a luxury sailing catamaran to Michaelmas Cay. This trip is suited to swimmers, snorkelers and families. Often Sea Turtles are seen from the beach. All meals included.

Seastar Cruises

Seastar provides daily dive and snorkel tours to Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef. Up to 5 hours at the reef and 2 guided snorkel tours included.
Poseidon Dive Boat with Divers

Poseidon Snorkel and Dive

Poseidon provides daily tours from Port Douglas to the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs, visiting three (3) separate reef sites. Suitable for scuba divers and snorkelers. Great passenger to crew ratio.
Quicksilver Cruises Boat from Port Douglas

Quicksilver Outer Great Barrier Reef Cruises

The Ultimate Great Barrier Reef Cruise - Quicksilver Cruises provides the only Port Douglas Great Barrier Reef pontoon tour, departing Marina Mirage daily. Can snorkel and dive, Semi-Submarines & Underwater Observatory.
Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel Reef Boat

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel Cruises

Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel offers a great value for money option that spends 5 hours at a beautiful reef location. Free guided snorkel tour, glass bottom boat tour and marine presentation.

Deep Sea Divers Den: Sea Quest

Value for money Great Barrier Reef day tour. Visits 2 reef sites. Perfect for snorkellers, certified divers and those wanting to try an introductory dive. Buffet lunch included.

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Cairns Reef Information

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Do You Need Help Choosing?

Do you need help choosing a trip?

Can't decide? We have personally been on every Cairns reef and diving trip. We can help you choose the best tour, to suit your experience and budget.



Cairns Underwater Camera Hire Service

Spend over $550.00 AUD on your Great Barrier Reef tour with us and receive the latest Digital Underwater Camera Hire. Take amazing High-Resolution images and 1080 HD Video.

Not available for any tours to the Islands as fine white sand damages the seals on the cameras and makes them leak!

You need to come into our shop located on the Cairns Esplanade the day before departure to pick up the camera before 5:30 pm. You also need to supply your own SD Camera Card and drop the camera off back at our shop before 6:00pm.