Lakes and rivers probably don’t come to mind when you think of sharks. They’re ocean creatures you say – and going by the popularity of Shark Week – they’re all either great whites or Makos. Yet curiously, even Discovery Channel has left this one niche of sharkdom relatively unscathed: that of freshwater sharks and where to see them.
Now before you jump of your favorite swimming hole and grab a harpoon, a little perspective. Yes, sharks are primarily creatures of the ocean. Of the 400+ species of these integral eco-regulators, only 4 could accurately be called freshwater sharks. They’re the Glyphis (river shark) genus, and, more famously the bull shark, the latter of which sometimes gets air in yearly Shark Week programming.
So where can you see freshwater sharks? First of all, relax. Freshwater sharks are more common in estuaries and rarely venture too far inland. In fact, there are few places on Earth you’d be privileged to see such a fascinating phenomena. They’re the following lakes that, yes, actually have sharks – and Lake Michigan is not one of them.
Arguably the most famous lake on the planet where you can count on seeing our toothy friends, Lake Nicaragua is a massive lake in Central America. The lake drains into the Caribbean Sea by the San Juan River, through which the Lake Nicaragua shark is believed to arrive from the ocean.
The Lake Nicaragua shark is actually the bull shark species that comes here in a 7-11 day journey from the open ocean, in a behaviour that almost mimics spawning salmon. We’re not sure yet why bull sharks seek out this massive lake in Nicaragua, but it’s clear that something compels them to make the journey here.
Whatever that might be, the lake is a major tourist draw, and has been the sight of concerns about ecological damage from raw sewage being dumped in this fascinating corner of Central America.
You probably know Lake Pontchartrain from its unfortunate role in Hurricane Katrina, yet the brackish estuary by New Orleans holds something else of ecological interest; you can see bull sharks here in summer months. But they’re usually gone by October or November.
Don’t hit the panic button here folks. Freshwater sharks help regulate Lake Pontchartrain and the connected Gulf of Mexico. Indeed they’ve been seen in the Mississippi as far north as St. Louis, but that’s incredibly rare. There’s only been one negative reaction with a bull shark in Lake Pontchartrain; in 2014 a boy was bitten on the foot near Southshore Harbor by what experts believe was a freshwater shark.
Carbrook Golf Course
Sharks on a golf course? Yep, in fact bull sharks bring new meaning to the word ‘water hazard’ at Carbrook Golf Course in Brisbane, Australia, which came here in 1996 when an adjoining river flooded and presumably brought the toothy creatures.
Turns out that bull sharks have a penchant for golf courses – well, at least this one – and today Carbrook golf course is world-renowned for the freshwater sharks who’ve stayed here and multiplied.
Current estimates put 12 sharks at Carbrook golf course, who seem to enjoy the attention they get from curious golfers across the globe, many of whom bring offerings of meat and chicken. And while that might not be the best of ideas, most golfers can agree here that you don’t want to retrieve your ball if it hits the water at the 14th tee.