Can Sharks Swim Backwards? Fin-tastic Shark Facts You Should Know!

Nidhi Sahai
Feb 20, 2023 By Nidhi Sahai
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Edited by Luca Demetriou
Fact-checked by Vikhaash Sundararaj
White shark swimming and looking for prey
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.9 Min

Sharks are the group of elasmobranch fish that is characterized by its cartilage type skeleton, its body is made of cartilage and does not depend on bones as in bony fishes.

Sharks have four-eight gill slits on each of the sides of its head, and also the pectoral fins which are not fused with the head. Modern sharks are grouped under clade Selachimorpha. 

Sharks date back to more than 450 - 410 million years ago; sharks have since been diversified into more than 500 species in the world.

The range of a shark is amazing, a shark comes in the size of a small dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi), which is a deep-sea shark species of 6.7 in(17 cm) in length, another whale shark (Rhincodon typus), which is the largest fish species at present, can attain a length of approximately 40 ft (12.2 m).

Sharks can be very easily seen in the depth of 6600 ft (2011.68 m) in all oceans and even seas. Sharks do not prefer to inhabit freshwater but there are some species like river sharks and bull sharks that can live in both freshwater and seawater.

The covering of the dermal denticles is used to protect the skin of the shark from parasites and damage.

Their teeth are very sharp perfect to reap the bodies of prey.

The kind of body which a shark has is the reason they cannot do the backward movement. Many sharks use their tails for forwarding movement and also they have side to side movements which they do by their fins.

This body design of sharks helps them to maintain a good respiratory process. On moving backward, the water enters through gills instead of getting pumped out, which can very easily lead the shark to drown.

Gravity can help a shark to move backward instead of swimming all the way. But still, normal respiration will get hindered by this. Many large predators include blue shark, tiger shark, thresher shark, great white shark, the Mako shark, and the Hammerhead shark.

The fins of sharks do not have the ability to move upwards. These predators have a cartilage-type skeleton which helps in forwarding motion and to follow the prey.

You can also read about, are sharks are afraid of dolphins and are there sharks in lake Michigan for more great content.

Do sharks swim in reverse?

The answer is no. The moment sharks wish to swim backwards, it begins to depend on the gravity of the water, and when sharks swim backward sharks let water into their gills. Some sharks may 'walk' backward, as found in Australia but it depends on gravity.

Sharks cannot stop suddenly or swim in reverse. The pectoral fins of sharks do not have the ability to bend upwards like a fish, and that limits its swimming ability to forward motion.

When a shark swims backward it needs to use gravity to fall and not swim backward. The pectoral fins that sharks have cannot fuse to their heads and because of that, sharks get problems in swimming backward.

Sharks also can locate their prey, which is buried deep under the sea bed. The structure of the vertebra of the shark gives it movement from the tail and from the side.

A lot of sharks species skeletons are made like that which propel them to ascents and descents in the open oceans. Sharks eat small fish as food.

Are there any advantages of sharks inability to swim backwards?

Some sharks have to swim continuously to keep oxygen-rich water flowing over their gills, but there are other sharks who pass the water or who pump it through their respiratory system by pumping the mechanism of the pharynx.

This allows sharks to rest on the seafloor and still breathe. Sharks, on the other hand, do not have a swim bladder as many other fishes have.

Sharks are dangerous and can kill innocent people who are swimming in the ocean. Yellow, white, and silver are the colors that attract most sharks and that's why humans who go into the ocean never wear such clothing and always wear dull-colored clothing to avoid shark attacks.

Sharks use the open ocean as their playground and swim at the speed of 4o mph (64.37 kph). The reason sharks attack men more than women may perhaps have something to do with their brains. Their teeth are very sharp perfect to reap the bodies of prey.

These creatures survive in the ocean where there is less oxygen content. Sharks that are prone to attack humans are mainly tiger sharks and bull sharks.

What happens if sharks swim backwards?

Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) swimming

Sharks can swim forward only and not backward to maintain the default breathing, as water flows through the open mouth of sharks and then take the exit from their gills, the place where the exchange of gases takes place.

Sharks can drown themselves when pulled backward because water gets inside their gills and does not exist from their gills. It can die if we pull a shark backward as fishermen do for catching sharks. Sharks have pectoral fins that cannot curve upwards, which limits their swimming abilities. The brain of a shark is mostly hollow.

Can sharks suddenly stop swimming?

A shark's body is cartilaginous, which propels them to rapid ascents and descents without harming them. A lot of sharks species skeletons are made like that which propel them to ascents and descents in open oceans.

But there are many other sharks like the nurse shark, which can pump oxygen-rich water over their gills without swimming. Sharks swim in backward motion only because of gravity, but still, the head is not in the south position.

The type of fins which sharks have are pectoral fins and these fins get attached with the head. Most sharks species in the world cannot swim in shallow water.

And for some sharks, like the great white shark and the mako shark, there's no time to stop swimming, they have to keep on moving to stay alive otherwise death will come. All sharks take oxygen from water for breathing.

This keeps the water filtering through their gills, and a continuous supply of oxygen to breathe.

More water will get pushed through the gills if they move faster. If they stop swimming, they stop receiving oxygen and soon will die.

So this is simple, either a shark swims continuously and gets plenty of oxygen whether in deep waters or in the ocean or they will die. Sharks must swim continuously in order to maintain a sufficient amount of oxygen-rich water in their body.

Some shark species have a unique combination of obligate ram ventilation and buccal pumping, which they use in breathing. Not all sharks need to swim continuously in order to live, this is applicable for only a few of them.

One shark species called the nurse shark has spiracles that force water across its gills that allow this shark to take a stationary rest.

Sharks basically have many rest periods instead of sleeping the way a human does. The skin on the body of the shark gets protected by dermal denticles.

Do sharks need to keep swimming to stay alive?

Sharks do need to swim continuously to stay alive. They have to keep on moving to stay alive. All sharks take oxygen from water so they can breathe and continue movement.

When sharks take oxygen from water for breathing, this keeps the water filtering through their gills, and gives them a continuous supply of oxygen to breathe. More water will get pushed through the gills if they move faster.

If they stop swimming, they stop receiving oxygen and they will die. So this is simple, either a shark swims continuously and gets plenty of oxygen whether in deep waters or in the ocean or death will occur to them quite instantly.

If a shark is pulled backwards can they actually drown?

Sharks can drown and death will come to them instantly because, during backward movement, water gets inside their gills.

The process of breathing in a shark goes opposite when pulled backward. Sharks can swim forward only and not backward to maintain their default breathing process as water flows through their open mouth and exits from their gills, the place where gaseous exchange takes place. They eat small fish as food.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for can sharks swim backwards, then why not take a look at bull sharks in great lakes or hammerhead shark facts?

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Written by Nidhi Sahai

Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication

Nidhi Sahai picture

Nidhi SahaiBachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication

Dedicated and experienced, Nidhi is a professional content writer with a strong reputation for delivering high-quality work. She has contributed her expertise to esteemed organizations, including Network 18 Media and Investment Ltd. Driven by her insatiable curiosity and love for journalism and mass communication, Nidhi pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, graduating with distinction in 2021. During her college years, she discovered her passion for Video Journalism, showcasing her skills as a videographer for her institution. Nidhi's commitment to making a positive impact extends beyond her professional pursuits. Actively engaging in volunteer work, she has contributed to various events and initiatives throughout her academic career.

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Fact-checked by Vikhaash Sundararaj

Bachelor of Fine Arts specializing in International Business

Vikhaash Sundararaj picture

Vikhaash SundararajBachelor of Fine Arts specializing in International Business

With a background in International Business Management, having completed his degree at the University of Hull. Vikhaash has volunteered with 'Teach For India' to help students create a monthly newsletter. In his free time, he enjoys sports and was the assistant captain of his school's hockey team. He has also gained marketing experience through an internship at Decathlon Sports India.

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