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In search of freshwater bull sharks: kayaking Isla de Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua

Fishermen, Lake Nicaragua, Isla de Ometepe © Craig Fast

My announcement that I wanted to see a bull shark was met with nervous laughter. “You’re more likely to see a caiman,” said my kayaking guide, Eric, “and I know what I’d rather take my chances with.”

If you believe the legends, Lake Nicaragua used to churn with the fins and gnashing teeth of the notoriously aggressive bull sharks, known locally as Nicaragua sharks. Three or four generations ago no-one dreamt of swimming in the lake.

Eric was born on Isla de Ometepe and has lived there his whole life. His grandparents came face to face with the legendary sharks but he never has. “I did an internet search and it said there are 200 left in the lake. They live way over there.” Eric waved his hand vaguely northeast, towards Chontales.

Bull sharks have a rather stout appearance, I’m told, and females can reach up to 4 metres and weigh up to 318kg. They are one of only a few marine species that are equally at home in fresh and salt water. Alarmingly, bull sharks are highly territorial and their preference for warm, shallow water, like Lake Nicaragua, is what makes them more dangerous than great white and tiger sharks, the other shark species most likely to attack humans.

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Overland Traveller copyright © Emma Field 2010