Can Sharks Swim Backwards?

Sharks cannot swim backwards due to their anatomy. While most fish use their fins for movement, sharks get their propulsion from their tail fin. The shape and size of a shark’s tail are specifically designed for forward swimming and lack the capacity to move backward.

How Do Sharks Swim?

Sharks are only able to swim ahead. They use their tail fin to propel them forward and their pectoral fins to change direction upwards, downwards, or sideways. They also have dorsal fins to help keep them balanced and prevent them from rolling sideways.

The tail fin of a shark is shaped like an inverted V, creating maximum thrust when it moves from side to side. This motion propels the shark forward in the water. The shark’s pectoral fins function similarly to wings on an airplane, allowing it to direct itself up and down as well as turn quickly. 

What Happens To A Shark Swimming Backwards?

Sharks will drown and then die when they swim backwards. Some fish have a protective layer called gill slits, a one-way opening that opens outward and allows the water they intake to exit. Since the slit opens one way to prevent reverse flow, swimming backwards will have water pooling up in the shark’s gills, trapping water inside and causing them to drown. 

Since it is anatomically impossible for sharks to swim backwards, the only way they could theoretically move in that direction is if they were dragged by a rope or any similar force. Ultimately, sharks are true forward swimmers and are not built to swim in any other direction. 


Since sharks use their tail fin to move, they are not capable of swimming backward. Sharks rely on the thrust created by their tail to propel them forward and physically can’t reverse. While some fish may be able to swim in both directions, sharks are only built for forward motion.