Egypt's Red Sea is well-loved for its colourful coral reef ecosystem, plummeting walls and pinnacles, and eerie shipwrecks. But, this dazzling dive destination is also home to impressive marine wildlife, with some sites delivering powerful pelagics displays year-round.
In this article, we'll introduce you to the top six types of sharks in the Red Sea. We'll also tip you off to which dive sites offer the highest chances for an encounter, and the best time to visit if you want to up your odds.
Keep reading for all the details!
1. Reef sharks
Grey reef sharks are the most commonly spotted species in Egypt's Red Sea, along with black and whitetip reef sharks which are also often seen.
Grey reef sharks are shy reef dwellers, have a stocky build, and grow to a maximum length of around two metres. This species is easily recognised by the dark grey band running along the outside edge of the tail, and a small white tip or margin on the dorsal fin. Because they spend much of their time patrolling reef walls and dropoffs, grey reef sharks are often encountered by beginners, cruising the easygoing currents.
- Top dive sites: This is the most common species seen while shark diving in Egypt, with encounters possible at most of the region's popular dive sites.
- Seasonal encounters: Reef sharks inhabit these waters all year long.
- Pro tips: This smaller species is ideal for your first shark encounter, typically observing dive groups from afar rather than approaching.
- Conservation Status: Near threatened
2. Hammerhead shark
Easily identified by their uniquely shaped head, scalloped hammerheads are among the Red Sea's most fascinating shark species. These graceful pelagic predators are most often seen during early morning dives, emerging from the depths to visit cleaning stations or gathering at current-swept drop offs.
Sometimes they can even be seen schooling by the dozens out in the blue, especially in the Red Sea’s central dive sites, known for fast-moving currents and schooling fish like jacks, tuna, and mackerel. But, in this diverse region, you never know when a hammerhead might pop up. Chance encounters can take place anytime, anywhere, especially during dawn and dusk dives.
- Top dive sites: Head to Daedalus and Elphinstone for seasonal schools, and Jackson Reef in the Tiran Straits for chance encounters at depth.
- Seasonal encounters: Hammerheads are most frequently spotted in the north from July to September, and in the south from May to July.
- Pro tips: This is a timid shark species, easily scared off by loud noises like tank bangers and boat engines. So, you'll want to observe them in absolute silence!
- Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
3. Oceanic whitetip sharks
Not to be confused with the smaller whitetip reef shark, this striking pelagic species is one of the most dynamic animals you'll encounter diving in the Red Sea. Oceanic whitetips are opportunistic and inquisitive pelagic predators, and by following a few simple instructions from your dive guide, you can ensure a safe and responsible, up-close encounter with this incredibly powerful shark species.
These solitary ocean goers are easily identified by their elongated, rounded and white-tipped dorsal and pectoral fins, and impressive stature - growing up to four metres in length!
- Top dive sites: Take a trip to the Brothers Islands, St. John's, and Elphinstone, for a chance to spot these sharks cruising gracefully out in the blue.
- Seasonal encounters: Encounters are most common between October and January, but sightings are reported year-round.
- Pro tips: Avoid rapid or flailing motions around this species that could accidentally imitate a struggling fish - every shark's favourite snack!
- Conservation Status: Near Threatened
4. Tiger sharks
This is one of the rarest and most elusive species in the region, spending most of its time patrolling in the open ocean. So, you'll need a bit of luck on your side for a Red Sea tiger shark encounter. But, that doesn't mean you won't spot one!
This solitary nomad can grow to an impressive nine metres in length, and weigh in at over a tonne. Tiger sharks have a distinctive striped pattern running along their back and sides. This natural camouflage helps the tiger shark to slowly approach its prey before striking with great speed and agility.
- Top dive sites: Rocky Island, Safaga, and Elphinstone are known for chance encounters, but tiger sharks make surprise appearances around the Straits of Tiran, too.
- Seasonal encounters: Because tiger sharks are so highly nomadic, they have no true season. If you want to see one, you'll just have to keep diving!
- Pro tips: This species can be highly curious, even approaching dive groups. But, they likely won't stick around for long - so keep your camera handy!
- Conservation Status: Near Threatened
5. Whale sharks
Each year for a few short months, certain spots in Egypt's northern and southern Red Sea transform into hotspots for whale sharks. These massive filter feeders are frequently spotted on the surface as they cruise in the shallows feasting on their favourite meal - plankton.
While very little is known about the movements and migrations of these ocean giants, scientists believe that the Red Sea's aggregation is likely linked to mating, as male and female sharks appear in equal numbers. You are most likely to see a whale shark while snorkelling or on the dive boat - but they do make surprise appearances at depth, so keep one eye on the blue!
- Top dive sites: Visit reefs like Jackson and Woodhouse in the Tiran Straits for your best chances at an encounter.
- Seasonal encounters: Plan your trip between March and July when whale shark sightings are most consistent.
- Pro tips: Though it's tempting to reach out and touch these harmless giants, divers should keep their distance for the sharks' safety!
- Conservation status: Endangered
6. Leopard sharks
Correctly named the zebra shark, but known the world over as a leopard, this spotted bottom-dweller is most often encountered resting on the reef or sand.
The leopard shark is a nocturnal species, so in most cases, you'll spot it napping during daylight hours. But, Red Sea night divers can sometimes come across one free swimming. Similar to a nurse shark, this animal uses suction to feed, favouring molluscs and crustaceans over more challenging prey like fish. If you are lucky enough to spot one of these fascinating sharks, approach slowly as they tend to startle. And, avoid flash photography which hurt their light-sensitive eyes.
- Top dive sites: Leopard sharks are most commonly seen in northern sites around Tiran and Ras Mohammed but are present throughout the region.
- Seasonal encounters: Many liveaboards focusing on shark itineraries between May and October, offering great chances of an encounter. But sightings do occur year-round.
- Pro tips: Observe this sleeping shark from afar for a chance to watch it pump air over its gills, allowing it to breathe without swimming.
- Conservation Status: Endangered
7. Thresher sharks
One of the Red Sea's most shy and elusive species, an encounter with a thresher shark can be a real highlight of a trip. But luckily for divers, several of the Red Sea’s famous sites often regular sightings.
This fascinating animal is unique in its appearance, sporting massive eyes for hunting in the ocean's depths, and a long whip-like tail for stunning its prey. Because threshers are deepwater sharks, they are usually seen during early morning dives, as they slowly make their way up towards cleaning stations. Threshers are extremely sensitive to light and sound, so if you see one, resist the temptation to bang on your tank or use a flash for photos - you'll just scare the shark off.
- Top dive sites: Threshers are most commonly seen around the Brothers Islands.
- Seasonal encounters: Unlike most Red Sea shark species, your best chances of an encounter are from September to February. Although chance sightings do occur year-round.
- Pro tips: Don't forget to stay silent and avoid startling this species with flash photography.
- Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Now that you know a bit about shark diving in Egypt, you're probably excited to start planning your trip. Cue the baby shark song, and start practising your underwater dance moves - you're going to need them!
Remember, you should always select an operator who uses sustainable shark diving practices that don't interfere with the animals' natural behaviour. And, it's up to you to keep a safe distance to help protect yourself, and these fascinating endangered animals. Click here to learn more about ZuBlu's commitment to conservation, as well as the organisations and projects we partner with.
And, keep the Red Sea’s other shark species in mind as you plan your trip. In addition to these major players, you might also spot silvertips, threshers, and silkies here. If you’re ready to take the first step toward diving with these powerful pelagic animals, get in touch with our travel experts. Our team is standing by to help you plan and prepare for your trip, offering up-to-date travel advice and information.