Sharks in Turkey

Page update - Apr 3, 2023

Should you be afraid of sharks or other marine animals in Turkey? In this review, we will try to answer this question in detail and describe the most dangerous local sea creatures for tourists.

Latest news. The imaginary shark incident in July 2022

A very interesting incident happened on the beach in Marmaris on July 4, 2022. People saw a big fish in the water. Naturally, at first everyone thought of a shark. A group of holidaymakers chased the fish away, one of them using a mop. The fish got scared and swam away.

It turned out that it was not a shark at all, but a sea pike (garfish). These fish are not dangerous for humans. They feed mainly on sprat and other small fish. The weight of a garfish does not exceed 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds), the body length is usually 70-75 centimeters (27-30 inches). So it turned out that the shark attack incident was fake.

But all the same, the tourists showed their courage. After all, they weren't scared off, they started chasing the fish away. The only question is: how did the tourists get the mop on the beach? History is silent on the subject.

A video of these events can be seen on YouTube.

Is it real to encounter sharks in Turkey?

The possibility exists, but it is extremely low.

The ISAF (International Shark Attack File) is a statistic that shows all the cases of shark attacks in all regions of the globe. According to its data, during the 123-year observation period, from 1900 to 2022 (inclusive), only 4 cases of shark attacks on humans in Turkish waters have been recorded, of which 2 were fatal.

The last case was recorded in Muğla province back in 1967.

Three shark species are the most dangerous to humans:

The great white shark is very rare in the Mediterranean. During the years 1985-2022 there have been only 10 sightings of the shark in Mediterranean waters, not a single one off the coast.

The tiger shark does not appear in Mediterranean waters as they are too cold. No sightings have been recorded.

The bull shark is not found in the Mediterranean for the same reason - too cold water. No sightings have been recorded there either.

Although dozens of shark species inhabit the Mediterranean Sea, but they are not worth being afraid of, due to their small size and pose no great danger to humans, and do not swim up to the beaches.

Thus, enjoying a vacation in Turkey, you do not have to worry about toothy sharks. Unfortunately, there are a few other species of sea creatures to be wary of.

Please note!

Injuries of any nature caused by marine animals are NOT an insured event. They are covered under 'Careless Interaction with Sea Animals' in the standard travel insurance. The treatment is at the expense of the injured tourist. Please be careful and check your current insurance terms.

Dangerous species of the Mediterranean Sea

Sea urchins and jellyfish are said to be the most dangerous species for tourists in Turkey. The so-called "domestic" species of marine life are almost harmless. However, after the opening of the Suez Canal (1869), marine species from the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, which are often poisonous, started entering the Mediterranean. Today, ecological scientists count 443 species in the Mediterranean Sea that are well established there. Science calls such species 'invasive'.


There are several hundred varieties of jellyfish in the Mediterranean waters. Some are harmless to humans, while others are poisonous. For safety reasons, it is recommended that tourists do not touch them at all. Of course, the wish of touching such sea beauty in person is great, but watching them from a distance is much safer.

In case the jellyfish stung, you should wash the wound with salt-water (fresh water is not suitable!). After the sting, the jellyfish leaves its poisonous stinging cells on the skin. When they come into contact with fresh water, they break down, further releasing new portions of the poison. Only plenty of salt water can effectively wash out these poisonous cells. Be sure to ask the beach lifeguards for help, they should know what to do in case of a jellyfish burn.

After washing the burn, you should disinfect the wound yourself or see a doctor. Vinegar is believed to help. But this folk method of self-treatment is dubious, besides, where does vinegar come from on the beach? Unless the lifeguards have it, which is highly unlikely.

Let's look in detail at the 3 types of jellyfish that are considered to be the most dangerous or widespread.

Physalia (or 'Portuguese boat')

The physalia is a very large and interesting jellyfish, but it is dangerous for human health. In fact, it is not one jellyfish but several and different ones (siphonophore) that have merged into one.

The jellyfish did not used to inhabit the Mediterranean Sea because the water temperature was too cold for it. Today, due to global warming, the physalis is already found in large numbers off the coast of Gibraltar.

It is only a matter of time before they appear off the coast of Turkey, Greece, Tunisia, Croatia, and Italy.

The physalis' body consists of tentacles and an upper blue gas bubble. It reaches a large size up to 30 cm (12 in) and has a ridge that is clearly visible and easy to identify on the sea surface. Be warned!

Physalia uses its tentacles to hunt small fish and crustaceans. With its tentacles, which can be up to 30 meters (100 feet) long, it envelops its prey and stings it to death with its poison and then eats it. The physalis does not distinguish whether to sting a fish or a tourist's leg.

The single sting of the physalis is very unpleasant, but not fatal. But in the case of physalis grabbing a human arm or leg with its tentacles, the probability of amputation is almost one hundred percent. If it can catch the whole human body (such cases are not an exception!) - the lethal outcome is guaranteed.

When on the beach, therefore, look out for blue ridges over the water, rather than shark fins. If you are bitten, go to a doctor.

Rhopilema jellyfish

The Rhopilema nomadica (Nomad Jellyfish) is a large jellyfish that did not previously inhabit the Mediterranean Sea, having migrated to its waters via the Suez Canal from the depths of the Indian Ocean. An adult jellyfish can be 40 to 60 centimeters (16-24 inches) in diameter and can weigh up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds). The common color of these jellyfish is either blue or white.

Nomadic jellyfish feed on plankton. To protect from predators, they have poisonous stingers. Once stung by a jellyfish, it is unpleasant, but not life-threatening. Jellyfish of this species multiply into huge colonies in hot climates. Once caught in a large colony of Rhopilema nomadica, a person suffers multiple skin injuries and, due to intoxication by the poisons, may die, or become weak to the point of simply drowning.

The good news is that so far only a few specimens of nomadic jellyfish have been sighted off the Turkish coast, but we cannot rule out the possibility of whole colonies in the future. At present, this species of jellyfish is causing big problems in Cyprus and Israel.

Pelagia noctiluca

Jellyfish that have the ability to glow in the dark are scientifically called 'Pelagia noctiluca'. They can be distinguished at night in the sea by brief flashes of light. Approaching jellyfish of this species is undesirable.

Noctiluca jellyfish, permanent inhabitants of the Mediterranean Sea, are common along its entire coastline. They are small in size, only about 10 centimeters (4 inches) in diameter, and therefore hardly visible, thus creating a greater danger. They also have eight tentacles that can grow to 3 m (10 feet) in length. Their food is plankton, other jellyfish, crustaceans and fish roe.

Stings of pelagia are very painful, but a single sting does not represent a serious threat to health. But if a diver or swimmer gets into large concentrations of these jellyfish, he/she can get a large dose of poison. The jellyfish can be encountered on the beach after they have been ejected either by the current or the tide.

Sea urchin

This kind of sea creature is not prone to aggression, but you can get stinged by needles if you step on it. Good news! None of the existing three species of poisonous sea urchins (Toxopneustes, Echinothurioida, Tripneustes) inhabits the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. There are several species of poisonous sea urchins in the Red Sea, but they have not yet managed to reach the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.

Sea urchins are absent near the shore during the day, but can be found at night even on the shore. If you accidentally step on a sea urchin and get prickled, you should take the following measures: be sure to remove the prickly leg; wash the wound with vinegar; disinfect the wound. It is advisable to seek medical help.

Some people experience allergic reactions after being injured by sea urchin spines - there is no way of knowing in advance and everyone runs a risk.

The greatest danger is that if the needle penetrates deeply into the tissue, it may break off when you remove it. In this case, medical help from a surgeon should be used.

Avoid contact with prickly sea creatures - sea urchins!

Tropical lionfish

Tropical fish, which in the scientific world are known as Pterois (or "lionfish", or "winged fish"), are very dangerous. The venom of these fish, if bitten, can cause paralysis or be fatal.

The lionfish did not previously inhabit the Mediterranean Sea. They migrated from the Red Sea via the Suez Canal. They were discovered for the first time on the coast of Israel in 1991. Currently, they inhabit the coasts of Cyprus and Israel. Off the coast of Turkey, their numbers are small, but the population is increasing.

The spread of the lionfish out of their original habitat is now a worldwide problem, with a particularly acute problem in the Caribbean. Taking cues from Japanese chefs, Dominican and Cuban cooks are learning the art of cooking lionfish as a delicacy in Japan.

With the further spread of lionfish in the Mediterranean, we can expect them to appear as fish dishes on buffets in Tunisia and Turkey or in mezes in Greece and Cyprus. This fish becomes soft and very tasty if cooked properly. The Japanese have the technology.

An adult lionfish grows up to 30 centimeters (40 inches) in length and weighs about 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds). The bright fins make this fish easy to spot. It is the fins of the fish that are dangerous, as they contain poisonous spines. But the bite is also dangerous and poisonous.

Modern medicine knows a lot about the symptoms of this poisonous fish bite. Cases of stings, paralyzes and even deaths are known among aquarists who actively keep the lionfish in aquariums. In case of a bite, seek medical advice immediately in order to prevent dangerous consequences.

Good to know

- It is not the sharks which pose a threat to tourists in Turkey, but food and alcohol poisoning. Read our in-depth review "Alcohol in Turkey";

- For other dangers, see our detailed review "What not to do in Turkey";

- Some tourists try to bring seashells or sea creatures back home. Read about the rules of export in our review "What you can and can't take out of Turkey". Better bring traditional Turkish gifts, which you can read about in our in-depth review "20 best gifts from Turkey".

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