Florida Tops List of World’s Most Shark-Infested Waters
Shark tales are making the headlines: New York beefs up patrols following five bites in just two days; a jaw-dropping group of around 50 sharks gets caught on camera off Long Island; and in Florida, beach lovers spot a lone shark enjoying a swim close to a bustling shoreline.
Yet, for all the buzz and intrigue sharks stir up, the reality is that the odds of a shark ever leaving a mark on you are super slim. Think about it: the chances are over one in four million, as reported by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) – pretty much the encyclopedia of shark incidents.
By the way, the 35th annual Shark Week is just around the corner, airing from July 23 to July 29 on the Discovery Channel. The event promises a deep dive (pun intended) into understanding these age-old sea rulers, who play a pivotal role in maintaining ocean health. A fun fact: both Discovery Channel and CNN fall under the Warner Bros. Discovery family.
Just to put things into perspective, out of the world’s massive 8 billion population last year, there were merely 57 confirmed unplanned shark encounters, with only five being deadly. However, it’s worth noting that certain parts of the globe seem to be more “popular” for sharks, with some regions witnessing a rise in incidents over the years.
So, where in the world are these sharky hotspots between 2012 and 2021? Let’s dive in and find out why these places are making waves.
Florida (259 bites)
If you’re looking for the ultimate “sharky” experience, here’s a fun (or maybe not-so-fun) fact: According to ISAF stats, catching some waves in Volusia County, Florida, specifically between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on a September afternoon, is your best bet to have a close encounter.
Why Volusia, you ask? Well, this county, which boasts the iconic Daytona Beach, also has a rather unique title: the “shark bite capital of the world.” And just a stone’s throw south from Daytona, you’ll find New Smyrna Beach, which is pretty much the hotspot for our finned friends. So, surfers, you’ve been warned!
Australia (143 bites)
In 2022, Australia had its share of unexpected shark encounters. Breaking it down: four took place in New South Wales, another four in Western Australia, and Victoria reported one incident.
Globally, most shark bites happen when folks are enjoying themselves on surfboards, water skis, or other floating gear. Gavin Naylor, who leads the Florida Program for Shark Research, gives a little tip for ocean enthusiasts: “Avoid making too much splash when you’re out there. Splashing sounds a lot like a fish in distress to sharks,” he shares as a word of advice from the Florida Museum to all swimmers out there. So, maybe it’s best to keep the water antics to a minimum!
Hawaii (76 bites)
Though Maui stands as Hawaii’s second-largest island, it tops the chart for human-shark interactions. What’s the catch? Well, it seems the island’s underwater layout is something special, with its gradual insular shelf habitats acting like a magnet for tiger sharks.
Speaking of close encounters, fishing isn’t left behind either. Take for instance a recent event in May 2023: a kayaker, enjoying some fishing in the shallow offshore waters of Windward Oahu, got quite the surprise when a tiger shark decided to give his boat a bump (you’ve got to check out the video!). Just another day in Hawaii.
South Africa (29 bites)
From 2012 to 2021, South Africa had its share of unexpected shark encounters with 29 reported unprovoked bites; sadly, six of those were fatal. Most of these interactions happened around the Western Cape, especially the Gansbaai Coast. Now, Gansbaai has always been known for its great white shark sightings. However, lately, these majestic creatures seem to be giving the area a miss, possibly due to some orcas moving into the neighborhood, if recent chatter is anything to go by.
Now, when it comes to pinning down the specific species responsible for these encounters, it’s tricky business. I mean, who can blame someone for not identifying the shark when they’re in the midst of the action? Still, the ISAF mentions that it’s usually the great white sharks that tend to pop up most often in these tales. So, next time you’re surfing or swimming, maybe keep an eye out?
South Carolina (45 bites)
South Carolina might have had 45 unprovoked shark encounters in the past decade, but here’s the silver lining: none were fatal. Most of these unexpected meet-and-greets happened around Charleston, Horry, and Beaufort.
Heading to the beach? Here’s a pro-tip from Neil Hammerschlag, who heads up the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School: “Whenever you’re dipping your toes in the ocean, just remember, there’s a chance you might bump into a shark, anytime, anywhere.” But hey, don’t freak out! As Neil told CNN, “We’re not exactly shark snack material, and the good news is, sharks usually give us humans a wide berth.
California (29 bites)
Guess which place in California has the title for most shark encounters? San Diego takes the crown, recording 20 unexpected shark meet-ups since 1926.
Now, while the numbers might make you think that summer afternoons are the peak time because of all the beachgoers splashing around, here’s a twist: it’s actually the early mornings and evenings you might want to be cautious of. Richard Peirce, a shark aficionado, author, and former head of the UK’s Shark Trust and Shark Conservation Society, shared with CNN, “Many shark encounters are just them mistaking us for something else. Blame it on the low light and the shark’s not-so-great ability to see clearly at those times.
North Carolina (31 bites)
Nestled in North Carolina’s southeast corner is Brunswick County, a beach lover’s paradise. Given its sandy appeal, it might not shock you to learn that it’s seen the most shark encounters in the region, with 17 incidents since 1935.
Here’s a fun fact: the coastal waters of North Carolina are like the highway for marine life! According to Chuck Bangley’s piece in North Carolina Sea Grant’s “Coastwatch,” almost every type of shark from the US east coast takes a tour through these waters at some point during the year. So if you’re swimming or surfing, you might just be sharing the waves with a finned traveler!
Réunion Island (19 bites)
Nestled between Madagascar and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, Réunion is a vibrant, rainforest-clad volcanic island, rich with wildlife. And yes, that includes a good number of sharks cruising its stunning blue waters.
From 2012 to 2021, there were eight fatal shark incidents on this island. That stat might raise an eyebrow, right? In fact, by some counts, this makes Réunion one of the top spots globally for serious shark encounters. But there’s a reason. The island sits smack dab on what’s cheekily referred to as the “shark highway,” connecting the shark-packed regions of Australia and South Africa. So, for those venturing into Réunion’s waters, it’s almost like stepping into a living room—except it’s the sharks’ domain!
Brazil (10 bites)
In the northeast corner of Brazil lies the vibrant state of Pernambuco, boasting the lively Boa Viagem Beach and the picturesque Fernando de Noronha archipelago with its 21 scenic islands and islets. But here’s a surprising fact: Pernambuco witnesses nearly six times more shark encounters than any other part of Brazil!
A recent study from April 2023, published in the International Journal of Oceanography and Aquaculture, mentions that there’s been a significant spike in these uninvited shark drop-ins, especially in Pernambuco’s inshore waters since the 1990s. And now, the local authorities are gearing up to fund some serious scientific detective work to figure out what’s up with the unexpected shark parties.
Bahamas (5 bites)
Nurse sharks are generally the laid-back folks of the shark world. This easy-going nature makes them a big hit among tourists in the Bahamas, who often jump at the chance to swim with them. But keep in mind, these are still wild creatures, and they’re not exactly small either – some can stretch up to a whopping 14 feet!
Instagram influencer Katarina Zarutskie got a little more than she bargained for during her 2018 swim in Staniel Cay. One of the sharks decided her arm looked interesting and gave it a firm bite. Describing the experience to CNN, she said, “It felt like 15 people were suddenly squeezing my wrist super tight. Before I knew it, I was pulled underwater.” Goes to show, even the chill ones can throw a surprise or two!