To most people, sharks are terrifying creatures, and many vacationers are concerned about whether or not they live in the freshwater of the Great Lakes. One of the most popular and well-known of these lakes is Lake Erie, but do you have to worry about encountering a shark in Lake Erie?
There are no sharks whatsoever in Lake Erie or any of the Great Lakes, for that matter. Most sharks need salt water to live, so Lake Erie’s freshwater acts as a natural repellent, and it would also be nearly impossible for a shark to swim its way to the lake.
Thousands of visitors arrive each year to experience the diverse habitat, scenic beauty, and rugged shorelines that the Great Lakes have to offer. Those planning to travel to Lake Erie any time soon will likely want as much information as possible before starting their trip. In the following paragraphs you’ll learn why sharks don’t inhabit Lake Erie, if they can live in cold water, and much more.
Official Lake Erie Shark Count: Zero
Lake Erie is an integral part of the Pennsylvania economy, and the state’s most popular state park is on the shores of the lake, making it the ideal place to enjoy the water, laze on the beach, and cast out your line. However, when you stand on the shore and look out over the vast expanse of water, it is hard to know what is lurking just under the surface.
Swimmers and lake-goers, rejoice! You’re completely free to enjoy Lake Erie’s freshwater without worrying about encountering a shark because there aren’t any. Officials are adamant that Lake Erie is free of sharks and will continue to be indefinitely. There are a few reasons for this, including the lack of saltwater and obstructions that block their route.
The lack of saltwater in Lake Erie is the most significant barrier for sharks. Almost all sharks need to inhabit saltwater for their bodies to function (one exception would be bull sharks, which we’ll discuss later), making Lake Erie’s body of freshwater uninhabitable. A shark’s body can’t handle being out of saltwater for very long, as they need it to maintain cell integrity. Therefore, all else being equal, the lack of salt in Lake Erie’s water alone would stop most sharks.
However, saltwater isn’t the only deterrent sharks face; they would have to travel from the ocean to Lake Erie. There are many obstacles a shark would have to overcome to make it all the way from its original habitat to Lake Erie. Although it’s true that sharks have wound up in some crazy places, even the most motivated shark would be hard-pressed to surpass the obstacles on this route, such as the many locks and dams between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Erie.
Another factor inhibiting sharks’ existence in Lake Erie is the water’s temperature fluctuations. Sharks generally like to live in consistent water temperatures; they prefer the water to stay roughly the same temperature. However, Lake Erie’s water temperature can shift from cold to warm and back, acting as another repellent for sharks.
It may not be a hot spot for sharks to hang out, but Lake Erie has plenty of value for human travelers! Coming in as the fourth biggest Great Lake out of five, Lake Erie encompasses a nearly 10,000 square mile surface area, providing plenty of space for people to engage in their favorite water-based activities. This lake is shallower than any of the other Great Lakes, which is shocking when you consider that it still has an average depth of 62 feet and a single point that reaches as far as 210 feet down.
Can Sharks Survive in Freshwater?
The vast majority of sharks won’t last long existing in freshwater. Most cannot survive out of saltwater because their body needs salt to keep functioning. If they’re taken out of salt water, the cells quickly start to deteriorate, taking the shark along with it. So, sharks naturally steer clear of freshwater entirely.
However, a few species of sharks can survive in freshwater, one of them being the bull shark. These creatures are adaptable enough to give themselves the salty nutrients they need without saltwater’s help. A natural function in their bodies lets them use salt from their kidneys to replenish the salt required by the rest of their system, negating the need for extra salt from whatever body of water they inhabit.
Keystone Answers Fun Fact: Lake Erie is the site of roughly a quarter of all shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, and these wrecks are well-preserved to this day due to the water’s cold temperature and complete lack of salt. While sharks may despise this kind of water, it gives would-be divers a chance to uncover some remarkable relics from the past.
Are There Any Bull Sharks in Lake Erie?
Even though bull sharks don’t need salt water to live, you won’t find one of these aquatic animals in Lake Erie. Bull sharks aren’t native to Lake Erie, and the difficult journey they would have to embark on to make it there would be formidable for any shark to overcome; it’s improbable they would be able to get there.
A pathway from the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes is the only route a bull shark could take to get into Lake Erie. Moreover, these routes are riddled with obstacles like dams, and locks, making it virtually impossible for a bull shark to get through to the other side of one successfully.
Although bull sharks have been recorded traveling up the Mississippi River to as far north as Alton, Illinois.
Are There Sharks in ANY of the Great Lakes?
Are you looking to travel to one of the other Great Lakes after your Lake Erie trip ends? Fret not – the rest of the Great Lakes are shark-free, too. Luckily, many of the same obstacles that keep sharks from reaching and living in Lake Erie also apply to the other lakes.
Like Lake Erie, the rest of the Great Lakes are made up of freshwater, limiting the species of shark that could survive there. The bull shark may not be repelled entirely by cold water but prefers warmer water. Of course, that’s assuming that a bull shark could even make it there. Let’s explore a few routes a shark would have to take to find its way to the Great Lakes and just how difficult that would be.
One of the most reasonable routes for a shark to take would be to start from the Atlantic Ocean, swim through the St. Lawrence River, and eventually reach the Niagara River, where their route would be blocked by Niagara Falls. Or to travel the Welland Canal that connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.
Along the way, the shark would encounter the Robert Moses-Robert H. Saunders Power Dam blocking their path through the St. Lawrence River and multiple locks.
A different possibility would be the Erie Canal, which also connects Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean. However, the canal is also freshwater, which provides a natural deterrent, and the channel contains multiple locks.
Another option would be to swim from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Michigan via the freshwater of the Mississippi River, tributaries, and canals. This route would involve locks and facing electric barriers, which would present a considerable challenge. All this shows that you have very little reason to worry about the freak chance of a shark arriving in the Great Lakes.
Can Sharks Survive in Cold Water?
There are many species of sharks living in almost every area of the ocean. Sharks are incredibly resilient, and their ability to survive in cold and warm waters makes them very adaptive and resourceful. However, most sharks are found in tropical and temperate waters, but a few species can survive in cooler waters.
The Greenland shark can survive in temperatures as low as 36° Fahrenheit, and it has been found to live at depths of up to 7,200 feet. The Pacific sleeper shark is capable of living in waters as cold as 41° Fahrenheit and is typically found in depths above 6,600 feet. The White shark is well adapted to live in waters as low as 50° Fahrenheit and goes to depths of 3,900 feet.
So some sharks are specifically adapted to survive in cold waters, such as having a slower metabolic rate, helping to keep their bodies warm. Additionally, they have a specialized circulatory system that helps to keep their blood warm and to circulate.
Even though some sharks can survive in frigid waters, if the water gets too cold, they may become sluggish and inactive, leading to their inability to hunt and feed.
Don’t Worry About Sharks in Lake Erie – There Are None!
Rest assured that you and your family will have a great time on your trip to Lake Erie. Go take your boat out for a spin, swim and splash in the water, and see the beautiful sights that Lake Erie (and the rest of the Great Lakes) offers without worrying about a shark encounter. The lack of salt water, the geographical position of the Great Lakes, and fluctuating temperatures will do a great job of keeping unwanted sharks out.