Although the great white shark is arguably the better-known and more feared breed of shark, the bull shark also poses an equal if not greater threat to humans due to the higher likelihood of the species occupying areas popular with bathers. Spotting the difference in the wild is difficult, as you can typically see only the fin. But if you're observing safely from a distance, a number of key differences will help you make the distinction.
Great whites are markedly bigger than bull sharks. Average great whites reach lengths of 15 feet, with larger specimens growing to more than 20, making them the largest predatory fish on earth. Bull sharks typically reach about 11 feet at their longest.
The great white has a distinctive white belly and a slate-gray upper body, so if you observe one from beneath, hopefully at an aquarium and not in the wild, you’ll be able to tell the difference between it and a bull shark, which has a lighter coloration across his entire body. The bull shark has a rounder snout than the great white, and his fins have dark tips. He also has smaller eyes in proportion to his head than the great white.
Although both are fast swimmers, a great white will always be able to outswim a bull shark. Bull sharks are known for head-butting their prey before delivering a fatal bite, while great whites typically bite straight away. If you spot a large shark in a habitat bull sharks and great white sharks share, such as Australian coastal waters, and the shark leaps out of the water, you’re probably observing a great white, as bull sharks are not known to perform this behavior. Another way to tell the difference is observing how they feed. Great whites eat dead animals that they find floating in the water; bull sharks do not. Bull sharks are happy to feed on a wide range of prey, from molluscs and crustaceans to dolphins and other sharks, while great whites prefer fish, rays, other sharks and large sea mammals.
If you spy a shark in freshwater, the shark is more likely a bull shark than a great white. Bull sharks have been observed swimming into inland estuaries, river mouths and even lakes. Great whites much prefer coastal waters and are rarely seen inland.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.