10 Similarities Between Swimmers and Sharks #SharkWeek

In honor of Shark Week 2015, we wanted to tap into the spirit of this wild ocean animal by discovering just how many characteristics competitive swimmers have in common with these slick beasts.  Read below, and you may just find out that swimmers and sharks are indeed more alike than you realize.

#1 – SKIN

Hammerhead to Mako, Great White to Thresher – all sharks are known for their tough, hide-like skin that is covered in toothy structures called denticles.  This type of studded skin makes it easier for sharks to swim and protects them from various elements in the water.  Mmmmm….denticles, sound familiar?  Check your technical suit circa 2008/2009 and you may notice the same sandpaper-type texture, as several suits in that era were inspired by shark skin in their drag-reducing and water-repelling properties.  The non-rubberized technical suits today still strive to be as seamless as possible, mimicking the texture of our finned friends.

Titanium, dolfin

Courtesy of Dolfin


We all remember the scene in Jaws when the Louisiana license plate is thrown out of the captured shark’s belly during its autopsy, indicating that sharks are known to eat just about anything.  Small fish, seals, even other sharks are fair game for these predators, who work themselves into a frenzy, complete with head and tail thrashing. Um, have you ever seen a swim team devour a pizza after practice?  Or observed a swimmer’s reaction when the word “Chipotle” is spoken?  Sharks have nothing on hungry swimmers.

#3 – SLEEP

These kings of the ocean actually have the unique ability to sleep while swimming, so they are almost always in constant motion.  Think about that last set of 500s you did at practice….was your mind actually present, or were you zoning out and essentially sleeping while freestyling your way down the pool?  And don’t even mention napping- swimmers can snooze standing up, while hunkered down in our parkas on uncomfortable bleachers or on a locker room bench when “going to the bathroom” during a particularly tough set.

#4 – SPEED

Ok, we have to give it up to the sharks on this one.  Mentally, we think we’re as fast as sharks when we’re tearing up the black line in our 50 sprints, but in actuality, we are still slightly slower than even a goldfish.  Marinelife.com says that the mako shark has been clocked at 22mph, while the fastest a human can swim is estimated at a mere 4.4 mph. (livestrong.com).  Even with the Florent Manaudous and Cesar Cielos of the world, we human swimmers still have plenty of work to do in this department.


Click to Enlarge


Swimmers are notoriously clumsy on land and, in most cases, are better off sticking to water-based action.  One simple look at Ryan Lochte’s injury history is enough to quell any thoughts of breakdancing or skateboarding before a big meet.  Sharks obviously share this same apprehension of land as they, well, die, if ever they were to leave their happy ocean life.


No doubt sharks are born, live and die in the water and we human swimmers are also not too far off this aquatic circle of life.  Many of us have being put in water as one of our earliest childhood memories and have spent a significant portion of our lives in water.  Nathan Adrian, for example, began swimming lessons at 2 and started swimming competitively at the age of 5 (nathanadrian.com) and shows no signs of stopping.  There are Masters athletes approaching ages in the mid-90s, so, just as with our ocean spirit animal, the sport of swimming is definitely one in which we can still relish getting wet well into our old age.


Streamline, Mercersburg Swim Camps

Courtesy of Mercersburg Swim Camps

As with speed, sharks inherently have a “fin up” on us with this one, as their torpedo-shaped bodies flow through the water with the least amount of natural friction.  Pointing our toes, tightening our cores, flinging our arms up in a streamlined pose off the wall while racing are all ways we try to mimic sharks’ effortless movement that they no doubt take for granted.

#8 – FINS

Sharks have fins. We love to use fins.  It’s that simple.


SwimSwam’s Olivier Poirier-Leroy recently pointed out the “16 Swimmers You See at Practice” and research shows that the spectrum of different shark temperaments is no different.  Just as you’re likely to meet everyone from the ‘cheerleader’ to the ‘yappity yap’ at your local swim club, you’re just as likely to run into a variety of social personalities ranging from timid to bold in the shark world as well.


Personally, I find nothing creepier than a shark’s eyes – black, soul-less, non-blinking.  Sure, on-deck, our eyes look pretty normal, too, but take a look at the be-goggled swimmer stepping up to race and beware.  Mirrored lenses especially emit that same cold, non-blinking, “I’m going to eat you alive” aura of a shark when paired with a sleek cap on a buff swimmer just waiting to pounce from behind the blocks.

Michael Phelps (Photo Courtesy of Rafael Domeyko)

Michael Phelps (Photo Courtesy of Rafael Domeyko)


In This Story

Leave a Reply

2 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted

Both swim

Babak Khademi

I love this article. I always thought about this, nicely said 🙂

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!