American Oceans

Are There Sharks in Lake Michigan?

a sand tiger shark up close

Lake Michigan, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the United States, is home to a diverse range of aquatic life. An intriguing question that poses itself to many people is whether sharks inhabit this large body of water. Given the popularity of shark myths and hoaxes circulating on the internet, it’s crucial to approach such a question with a clear and knowledgeable perspective on the matter.

Historical Shark Sightings and Misconceptions

bull sharks predators looking for prey to eat

Throughout history, there have been several instances of shark sightings in unlikely areas, such as the Great Lakes or even freshwater rivers like the Mississippi River. Many of these sightings were later revealed to be hoaxes or misidentifications of other aquatic creatures. For example, bull sharks were reported to have adapted to freshwater and caused panic among locals in lake or river communities. However, in most cases, these claims were found to be baseless, as only a few cases of real-life bull sharks traveling upstream have ever been recorded.

Public Perception and Myth Debunking

The public’s fascination with sharks, amplified by movies like Jaws, has contributed to the spread of urban legends and myths surrounding this species. One such urban legend suggests that the Great Lakes are teeming with various species of sharks, including great white sharks. However, scientists and researchers have repeatedly debunked this myth.

In reality, sharks are not commonly found in freshwater environments like the Great Lakes. A primary reason for this is that, like most marine species, sharks’ natural habitat consists of salty waters. A notable exception to this would be bull sharks, that are capable of living in freshwater bodies. However, the actual presence of bull sharks in the Great Lakes is extremely rare.

Case Studies: George Lawson and Other Reports

In 1955, a case involving a man named George Lawson claimed to have captured a shark in Lake Michigan. The report garnered significant attention and was published in the Illinois Tribune. It was later revealed that Lawson had captured a small shark in the Gulf of Mexico and transported it to Lake Michigan to stage the scene. This incident led to an urban legend about sharks residing in Lake Michigan.

Another event, recounted by Action Line in the 1970s, involved Coho fishermen who claimed to have caught a shark in Lake Michigan. However, the account was not supported by any photographic evidence or corroborated by official sources.

In most instances, shark sightings or reports in the Great Lakes and other unlikely locations can be attributed to hoaxes, exaggerations, or misidentified aquatic creatures. These false claims, perpetuated by urban legends and media hype, have created misconceptions about sharks in regions where they are not present.

Scientific Research and Expert Insights

Experts from institutions like the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago have conducted research on the possibility of sharks in Lake Michigan. Phil Willink, a senior research scientist, emphasizes that it is highly unlikely for sharks to enter the Great Lakes due to several ecological barriers. One significant barrier is the St. Lawrence River, which connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Lawrence River contains a series of dams, rapids, and locks, making it difficult for marine species like sharks to enter the lakes. Additionally, the icy water temperatures in the Great Lakes are not suitable for most shark species except for the cold-tolerant Greenland sharks. However, Greenland sharks are known to inhabit deep waters in the far North Atlantic, so their presence in Lake Michigan remains unlikely.

5 comments

  • Sometimes very rare but humans will try to put sharks in fresh water. Usually within 2 months, it will flop onshore and die.

  • Not to argue with your information just a comment. Great white sharks apparently have developed the capacity to adapt to colder water (becoming endothermic as opposed to exothermic) and are frequently seen in some Nova Scotia, Canada rivers in the summer. This also suggests that they have also begun to adapt to freshwater.
    Not debating your information but suggesting that it may not be the case in the future as these sharks continue to adapt.

  • Lake Texoma has a measurable saline content. The Striped Bass they stocked here in the 60s, reproduce naturally, now.

    A Bull Shark would thrive here, but couldn’t naturally find a way into the resevoir.

    We catch massive (relatively) striped bass here, tho. year round.