Are There Sharks in the Mississippi River?

Updated On May 21, 2023
Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is one of the longest rivers in the United States.

It flows directly into the Gulf of Mexico, where saltwater and freshwater blend together.

Because of this, there are some sea creatures that find themselves harboring in freshwater, including the Mississippi River.

There is the potential for there to be sharks in the Mississippi River.

Keep reading to discover if they do in fact, travel and if the waters are safe. 

So…Are There Sharks In The Mississippi River?

The short answer is yes.

There are sharks that will get into the Mississippi River traveling from the Gulf of Mexico.

While most are located at the mouth of the river, sometimes, they have been spotted upstream heading up into the Mississippi River towards the cooler states and where the water is completely fresh.

This is not something that is common, especially as you get further up the river heading North. 

Mississippi River bridge
Mississippi River bridge

Shark Species in the Mississippi River

While there are a few different sharks that like to travel in the Mississippi River, there is one that you could see traveling up to 700 miles successfully.

At least, that is the longest recorded record of finding a bull shark in the Mississippi River.

Bull Shark

The bull shark is one that can survive in both saltwater and freshwater environments.

While they can live in both, they do prefer the saltwater environment.

However, the small fish that they like to prey on is in the Mississippi River.

The amount of fish and turtles that are found throughout the river keeps their attention and in the warmer months, the Bull shark will travel as far as Illinois.

Some of the Bull sharks that travel in the Mississippi River can get as long as 11 feet, making them just as dangerous as the alligators that travel in parts of this river, also. 

Most of the bull sharks do not swim much past Louisiana, but every few decades, there may be one that is found very far North that got comfortable in the freshwater and took advantage of the area beyond the Alligator waters. 

Is it Safe To Swim In The Mississippi River?

No matter where you are in the Mississippi River, it is not a place that is safe to swim or travel.

The Bull shark is a very dangerous and aggressive subspecies of the shark.

In fact, there are other concerns that make the Mississippi River unsafe and a dangerous place to be swimming regularly. 

Strong Currents

As you travel up the Mississippi River towards its destination in Minnesota, you will notice rough and strong currents all through the river.

These rough waters are hard enough to boat through on days with excess wind and extreme flooding.

Attempting to swim in this river is like attempting to swim in the ocean with a rip current. 


These are other large and unwanted predators that sometimes lurk in the Mississippi River.

While the river has strong currents that usually deter alligators, it is not impossible for some to lurk towards the Gulf end of the river and use this as a way to travel from one marsh to the other.

This means that those swimming unknowingly could be putting themselves in significant danger. 

River Otters

While often looked at as cute animals, you do not want to attempt to cross them when swimming.

If at any point they start to feel threatened, they will attack to get you out of their habitat.

Pairing an aggressive otter with a strong current can make for a dangerous situation.

A ship on the Mississippi river
A ship on the Mississippi river

Interesting Shark Facts In The Mississippi River

There are some fun facts about sharks in the Mississippi River:

Long History

According to fossils found along the Mississippi River, there have been several types of sharks traveling the Mississippi for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, the older ones are now extinct, and the Bull shark is a modern ancestor of these sharks. 

They Are Not In A Hurry To Leave

While saltwater is the preference for most sharks, Bull sharks actually enjoy freshwater when they are on the Mississippi River.

They are most commonly seen at the bottom but once they get on the trail of some smaller prey heading North, they may take off in that direction.

They are often the biggest predator in these waters, as it is too strong a current and eventually too cold for the alligator. 

They like Bass, Too

While many bass fishers flock to the Mississippi River annually to fish for both Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass, they may find they have a competitor if they have continued traveling North.

Sharks in Freshwater vs. Sharks in Saltwater

The majority of sharks surviving today are calling saltwater oceans their homes.

However, there are some freshwater sharks that have been discovered.

The differences between these species are the following:

  • Liver adaptability
  • Dulled Senses
  • Dehydration
  • Liver Adaptability

The biggest difference between the two types is their liver development and how well they can adjust to the change in the water.

Freshwater is not as dense as saltwater because it is lacking salt.

Evolution has caused most sharks to be born with a dense liver that cannot maintain the lightness of freshwater.

Those sharks that do have a lighter liver, however, are able to maintain freshwater. 

Dulled Senses

When you change the environment for a shark from saltwater to freshwater, you are changing the chemical composition within its body.

Since there is a need for a certain amount of salt in most sharks, a freshwater environment forces their senses to dull.

When the senses dull, they become confused and will start to navigate to an area where they can find more salt.

This is not true of the bull shark that is found in freshwater, however, because their need for salt is much less.


In addition to dulling their senses, a lack of salt can have a strong physical impact where the body is starting to break down.

When these sharks breathe in freshwater without any salt content, they will flush excess fluids out of their body, forcing them to dehydrate, and the organs begin a shutdown. 

3 Safety Tips For Swimming in Shark-Infested Waters

If you still want to head out and take a swim in the Mississippi River despite the fact that sharks could be lurking, there are a few tips you need to keep in mind so that you are safe:

Travel in Groups

If you plan to go swimming, make sure you go with a group.

A shark may see you as easy prey if you are alone.

When there are multiple people together, it appears more as a threat than a prey.

You need two or more in your group to safely go swimming so that if there is an attack, there is someone who can help you.

If you have at least three people swimming with you, then someone else can go for help.

This will improve your chances of survival from the attack and being kept from being pulled under by a strong current. 

Swim During The Middle of the Day

During this time, sharks are not out often because they have already hunted for the day and will not be out again until dusk.

If you decide to go swimming at either time, sunrise or sunset, and be mistaken for fish or other prey that they are looking for.

Also, they can see better in the middle of the day, so they will be able to see that you are much larger and will often avoid you. 

Avoid Excess Splashing in a Shark Zone

If you have small children or pets out in the Mississippi River splashing around, you will appear to be prey to sharks that are lurking in the area.

They will come quickly to see what is going on and how they can feed on what is in front of them.

You not only put yourself at risk but your children or pets that are being loud and drawing attention to them.

Sharks in an aquarium
Sharks in an aquarium


The fact remains that there are some bull sharks calling the Mississippi River home.

While it becomes less apparent the further North you travel, you are never completely safe from them and should always be prepared when swimming or traveling near the river.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that the Bull shark that sometimes resides in this river is not the only danger, as there are other predators in the waters, as well as danger from the river itself. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Can I still travel the Mississippi River by boat?

You certainly can, as there are over 480 miles of river that is accessible by boat.

Many boaters are often the ones who see the sharks first as they leave the Gulf and start heading north.

Once you head in that direction, you will be able to see all the different animals that are found in the waters and also along the banks.

Some larger land mammals use the Mississippi as a water source.

Can I wear my jewelry when I am swimming?

Fish and sharks are both attracted to shiny metals and bright lights in the water.

If you are wearing jewelry while swimming and the sun hit it just right, you could have every bull shark and fish circling you within a half-mile radius.

You do not want to be an attraction, so make sure you remove it before you get into the water.

Can I get into the water with an open wound?

It is a fact that sharks can smell blood for a significant distance when they are in the water, which is what attracts them to injured prey.

While science is not completely sure about human blood, it is best to steer clear of the water and avoid getting in if you have been bleeding recently or have an open wound.

This is for your protection and others around you.

1 Comment on Are There Sharks in the Mississippi River?

  1. It is possible for sharks to travel and survive in the Mississippi River, but it is not a common occurrence.

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