Are There Sharks in San Francisco Bay?

Updated On October 9, 2023
Golden Gate Bridge

If you have ever considered taking a dip in San Francisco Bay, think again!

San Francisco Bay is beautiful for an afternoon stroll and taking in the eerie view of Alcatraz, but it is very dangerous for several reasons.

According to Fog City Secrets, San Francisco Bay has many dangers associated with it, perhaps the most dangerous are the rip currents that gather up power right off the beaches, especially around the Ocean Beach area.

Many have entered the waters not realizing the dangers and risking their lives.

Another danger in the waters is the wide variety of sharks. 

San Francisco Bay Wildlife states that there are 11 different types of sharks inhabiting the bay, as well as rays and other sea life that you would not want to encounter.

So… Are There Sharks in San Francisco Bay?

Yes, there are sharks and many different species of sharks in San Francisco Bay!

While great white sharks swim along the Pacific Coast from September through December, they rarely come into San Francisco, unless they are disoriented or by accident.

There are 11 other types of sharks that live in San Francisco Bay. reports that the most common shark in San Francisco Bay is the leopard shark, which makes the bay his home all year long.

The shark is grey with brown spots, it can grow up to six feet long.

They live off the food they find in the sediment on the bay floor like shrimp, clams, and other fish.

Many fish for the leopard shark and there are even recipes on the Web on preparing it, but there are great dangers in eating this fish.

They often live for decades, accumulating toxins like pesticides and mercury.

For this reason, health authorities suggest that no one, especially women and teens under 17 consume these sharks, or any shark, caught in bay waters.

San Francisco panorama
San Francisco panorama

Shark Species in The San Francisco Bay

There are numerous types of sharks found in San Francisco Bay.

Many people fish for them, but they should be thrown back due to the fact they can contain high levels of metals and other toxins they can pass along to humans.

Here are some of the varieties of sharks commonly found in the San Francisco Bay:

Leopard Shark

This is the most common shark found in San Francisco Bay.

According to, they are considered docile fish and are unlikely to harm humans.

There are only a handful of attacks by leopard sharks at all.

They are caught for sport though and should be thrown out due to toxins.

Sevengill Shark

The Sevengill shark is considered to be aggressive and dangerous to humans.

They are the most dangerous sharks in San Francisco Bay.

According to the International Shark Attack File, Sevengill sharks have been found to attack humans in at least five documented occurrences. reports they eat almost anything including seals, porpoises, and dolphins.

They will also eat bodies left at sea.

They will often swim in teams to stalk larger prey.

Pacific Angel Shark

The Pacific Angel shark’s favorite place to be is in estuaries and bays.

So, they are right at home in San Franciso Bay.

There are a few documented attacks but in most cases, they have been provoked.

They are quite happy eating other fish, mollusks, and squids.

The angel shark can grow up to 6.5 feet long and are covered with different colored spots, that help them camouflage themselves on the bay floor.

They look pretty ferocious through with several rows of sharp, needle-like teeth.

Brown Smooth Hound Shark

Brown Smooth-Hound Sharks are small sharks and only reach around 3 feet at maturity.

Unlike other sharks that stay on the sandy bottom of the bay, Smooth Hounds are very active fish and fast swimmers.

This small shark is content eating other fish and sea life and is considered safe for humans.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there have been no brown smoothhound shark attacks on record.

Soupfin Shark

According to, Soupfin sharks are usually not aggressive to humans.

The only times they show any signs of aggression are when they are eating, mating, or provoked by humans.

They can grow up to six feet in length and like to feed in midwater and on the floor of the bay.

These sharks are fished for their flesh, fins, and especially their liver which contains high levels of Vitamin A.

Sharks and a surfer
Sharks and a surfer

Is it Safe to Swim in the San Francisco Bay?

San Francisco Bay can be a dangerous place to swim, and it should not be done regardless of what you have read.

There are plenty of safe coves around that are safe, so those looking for an afternoon frolicking in the water should leave San Francisco Bay off their list.

Many dangers are lurking in the bay.

Here are just some of the concerns swimmers need to be aware of according to

  • Cold Temperatures: The San Francisco Bay can range from 45 degrees to 60, in warm weather months. When the water is cold, you can get hyperthermia, making swimming difficult or impossible.
  • Do Not Swim Alone: It is not suggested that you swim in the bay, but if you do, you should never do it alone, in case you get into trouble.
  • Poor Visibility: Fog rolls in very quickly off the bay, which means it is easy to lose sight of land and become disoriented. This can often lead to swimmers heading into deeper water instead of closer to shore.
  • Boaters All-Around: There are many boaters on San Francisco Bay to look out for. Since so few people swim in the bay, they are not used to looking out for swimmers. So, swimmers need to look out for them or go to areas without boaters.
  • Dangerous Rip Currents: San Francisco Bay is known for strong rip currents that form off the beaches, making them unsafe for swimming. The most dangerous is Ocean Beach, which has the strongest currents and the most drownings. From Ocean Beach and Angel Beach, it is easy to get swept out to sea. So, they should be avoided at all costs.
  • Pollution: The Bay is very polluted, so those considering swimming it, should think again. Many swimmers who were not in protective clothing and gear have gotten sick after being in the water.

Interesting Shark Facts in the San Francisco Bay

According to, there are numerous species of sharks in San Francisco Bay, most of them are not that aggressive to humans, but you should never try your luck and try to provoke a shark.

If they feel they are in danger, just about any shark may think you look like dinner, especially if you encounter a group of sharks and interrupt their feeding or mating.

Here are some facts about sharks in the San Francisco Bay:

  • Sharks are ancient creatures and have been on earth for 400 million years.
  • There are 350 species of sharks worldwide; at least 11 of them make their home in the San Francisco Bay.
  • 73 million sharks are used in shark fin soup each year.
  • There are over 70 species of sharks that are protected, due to the risk of extinction.

Sharks in Freshwater Vs. Saltwater

We typically do not think of sharks being in freshwater, but that is not the case.

According to, while most sharks prefer saltwater they can end up in freshwater if they are in a waterway that connects an ocean to a lake or river.

This is possible if the freshwater is deep, which makes it a good haven for sharks.

Most sharks that have inadvertently reached fresh water, try their best to get back in the more suitable saltwater habitats.

There is one exception to this, and it is the bull shark.

They have the ability to change their bodies to adapt to both salt and fresh water.

In most cases, when sharks are in freshwater distributaries, it is the bull shark.

3 Safety Tips for Swimming in Shark-infested Water

Florida is known for having many shark attacks, here are some tips from Florida on how to avoid shark attacks in the San Francisco Bay and elsewhere:

  • Stay out of the water at night: Many species of sharks are most active at night, dawn, and dusk, this is often their key feeding times. Also, humans cannot see deep into the water at night, so they will not be able to see a shark swimming in the dark water below.
  • Do not go in the water if you are bleeding or have open wounds: Sharks have an innate ability to smell blood, even the smallest amount. Their oratory senses can lead them to the source of that blood, and if it is a human, can mean an aggressive attack.
  • Swim with others: Do not swim alone as most shark attacks occur when there is a lone swimmer. In areas where there is danger, do not enter the water at all. Or if you do, go as a group.
Swimming below a shark
Swimming below a shark


The San Francisco Bay is not a good place to swim, period!

There are very heavy undertows and strong currents that can whisk a swimmer out to sea.

And due to fog that can quickly roll in off the bay, swimmers can become disoriented and go away from shore instead of towards it.

In addition, there are sharks, stingrays, and other hazardous creatures that are not your friends.

Toxic waters and cold conditions also make San Francisco Bay a dangerous place for water activities.


San Francisco Safety Overview

READ THE FULL REPORT: San Francisco Safety Review

Safety Index:

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to swim in San Francisco Bay?

No, this is not a good area for swimming at all for a variety of reasons.

Many inlets are safe, which tourists and locals can find online.

They are all much better than San Francisco Bay.

If I am a fisherman, can I eat sharks and other fish from San Francisco Bay?

No, the bay has a terrible pollution problem.

Any fish reeled in from San Francisco Bay should be for sport and thrown back in.

Fish and sharks may contain toxins, metals, and other pollutants that make them unsafe to eat.

Do they allow boats on San Francisco Bay?

Yes, there are many boaters on San Francisco Bay, some say this is the best way to enjoy the water in the Bay.

Those that enjoy boating should be aware of rough waters and check out water conditions before they begin their excursion.

1 Comment on Are There Sharks in San Francisco Bay?

  1. Swimming in San Francisco Bay may seem like a tempting idea, but the dangers of rip currents, pollution, and various species of sharks make it a risky and potentially life-threatening activity.

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