The Most Dangerous Beaches for Shark Attacks
Of the 460 shark species in the world, only about 30 have ever attacked humans, and of these, only a handful have done it a number of times and are big enough to be considered dangerous to people (to learn more about these sharks, read the linked article “the most dangerous sharks”).
Shark attacks are not common (fewer than 100 a year, on average) and few of them only result in the victim’s death (generally fewer than 20 a year).
In theory, any place where sharks occur can be dangerous, and sharks can be found in virtually any sea or ocean. In practice, the 2199 shark attacks and 471 fatalities recorded in the world between 1580 and 2007 have not occurred randomly. So why are some places more dangerous than others, regarding sharks?
Shark attacks occur most where sharks, and especially dangerous species, are abundant (which explains why they are so uncommon in Europe), and when the human density in the waters is important (which could explain why Asia and – South Africa excepted – Africa, are so absent from these stats as well: those continents don’t – yet- have a culture of ocean swimming, diving and surfing). Contrary to some beliefs too, the most dangerous locations for sharks are not the warm tropical waters where sharks, amongst other species, are abundant, but colder waters home, especially, to the great white shark (responsible for 47% of attacks worldwide).
I. North America
Of the 2199 shark attacks recorded in the World between 1580 and 2007, 881 (40%) occurred in the USA, where 38 of these attacks were fatal (8% of the World total of 471). These numbers tell us that shark attacks are particularly “common” in the USA, but that the sharks that occur there are, generally, not the most dangerous ones.
1. Florida, USA
Florida has seen the most shark attacks in the World between 1990 and 2007: 397 (and in 2007, 32 of the 71 shark attacks. Worldwide happened inFlorida alone). However, the “Sunshine State” only ranked 4th in the World over the same period for the number of fatal attacks: “only” 4. Of the 71 attacks that occured in the world in 2007, 32 happened in Florida.
- Volusia County
The Atlantic coast of Florida appears to be the most dangerous for shark attacks, and especially Volusia county (central east coast) and the beach of New Smyrna, which has been rightly nicknamed the “shark attack capital of the world”. Indeed, New Smyrna has more recorded incidents (210 attacks between 1882 and 2008) per square mile than any other beach on Earth.
In the past few years, shark attacks along this beach have increased dramatically. In 2007, notably, 17 of the 112 shark attacks worldwide, have occurred at New Smyrna Beach.
However, most bites are fairly minor ones (some victims even drive themselves to hospital) and none of these attacks have been fatal.
So why so many attacks in Volusia county? Because it is a beautiful coastal location with white sand beaches, surrounded by water on all sides, and blessed with a subtropical weather, which attracts many surfers, anglers, swimmers and tourists year round. In other words, there is a high human density in the waters so an increased chance of someone being attacked.
Furthermore, there are is also a high density of sharks in the same area (tigers, blacktips, spinners…) which is rich in baitfish. Luckily, most bites are probably “mistake bites”, or “taste bites” by young blacktip and spinner sharks, which are not the most powerful and dangerous of sharks.
- Brevard County
The second “hot spot” for shark attacks in Florida is Brevard County, where 90 attacks (one fatal) have occurred between 1882 and 2008.
Like Volusia County, Brevard County and its beautiful beaches (Cocoa Beach, Jetty Park, Klondlike Beach), barely an hour drive from Orlando and Disney World, attracts many tourists and potential shark attack victims.
Besides being dangerous for sharks, the beaches in that area are also extremely dangerous for rip currents (10 people drowned there because of these currents in 2007).
2. Hawaii, USA
Hawaii has seen 113 shark attacks between 1882 and 2008. Again, this has largely to do with the number of people in the water, but it is also because sharks are plentyful in Hawaiian waters.
Indeed, some 40 species of sharks have been recorded there, and though most are pretty harmless to humans, the dangerous tiger shark, in particular (second only to the Great White for attacks and fatal attacks) is also fairly common in Hawaii.
Though some native Hawaiians worship the tiger shark as “aumakua”, the guardian spirit, sharks have been the victims of a government eradication program, in the 1960s, following a 1959 fatal attack.
- Oahu island
34 of the 113 attacks have occurred in Oahu, causing 6 deaths. The Northern shore of this island, and especially Velzyland Beach, favorite among surfers, is considered particularly dangerous since it is filled with sharks, notably tigers and Galapagos sharks.
- Maui island
36 of the 113 attacks since 1882 have occurred in Maui, causing 3 deaths.
3. California, USA
- “Red Triangle”
Stretching from Bodega Bay to Ano Nuevo Island near Santa Cruz and out to the Farallon Islands (beyond San Francisco’s Golden Gate), down to Monterey Bay, the “Red Triangle”, or “Bloody Triangle” is an area (in)famous for being “infested” with sharks, notably Great Whites (it is sort to be the most densely populated area for that species).
Great Whites are so abundant in the area because it is also home to a very important population of seals, their primary source of food.
Unfortunately, humans, and mostly surfers and abalone divers, are also attracted to the area (notably to Stinson, Bolinas beaches) and even see the shark presence as an additional “thrill”.
- San Diego
Southern California is far less risky than northern California for shark attacks, though shark attacks do occur there too, now and then. Since 1926, San Diego has been the scene of 10 attacks, and one fatality, in 2008.
4. South Carolina, USA
Between 1867 and 2008, South Carolina has seen 61 shark attacks and 2 fatalities. Some 40 species of sharks can be found in South Carolina’s waters. Most of them, though (like the sandbar and bonnethead sharks) are harmless to humans. But potentially dangerous species such as the tiger and bull sharks also live in that area and the latter, especially can often be found in estuaries.
But, unlike Florida, the sharks in South Carolina don’t generally come as close to the beaches (and are consequently less dangerous to humans), probably because the continental shelf (and its rich fish fauna to feed on) is located further away from the coastline here (80 km or 50 miles instead of barely 1 mile in Florida) and because the milder South Carolina waves don’t throw fish inshore as much as in Florida.
- Horry County
Horry County, which has had more than 50 attacks in the last century, (notably at the popular Myrtle Beach) is the most dangerous place in the state for shark attacks. The last recorded fatality, though, occurred in 1852.
5. North Carolina, USA
Between 1882 and 2008, North Carolina has had 32 shark attacks leading to 3 deaths.
6. Texas, USA
Galveston is probably the most dangerous beach in this state, with 13 shark attacks since 1911.
These beaches, north of Acapulco, where the scene of several shark attacks in 2008. However, guards, fishermen and locals have been on the lookout since, and no more attacks have been reported.
II. South America
101 attacks and 23 fatalities have occurred in South America between 1931 and 2008.
The vast majority of South America’s shark attacks happen in Brazil: 89 resulting in 21 fatalities between 1931 and 2008. Between 1990 and 2007, in hardly 18 years, Brazil has seen 63 shark attacks and 14 people killed by sharks (the 2nd rank in the world for deaths, after Australia).
Most Brazilian attacks occurred in the tiny beach town of Recife. The shark problem in Recife was man created, when, in the 1980s, the construction of Porto Suape, south of Recife, closed off two freshwater estuaries where bull sharks gave birth. Attracted maybe, by the blood disposed by a local slaughterhouse, the displaced bull harks settled in a channel next to Recife, which was already widely used by surfers.
The 20 km (12.5 mile) coastline of Recife almost instantly became an extremely dangerous place for shark attacks, with not only many attacks, but very serious ones (as many as 1/3 of them being deadly).
- West End, Grand Bahama Island
The waters surrounding this Caribbean island and particularly frequented by sharks, notably tiger sharks. Though attacks have been quite rare, an Austrian tourist was killed in 2008.
1. South Africa
In the last century, South Africa has seen 214 shark attacks which have causes 42 deaths. Between 1990 and 2007, this country ranked 3rd in the world for fatalities due to sharks (9 ou of a total of 28 attacks).
Dyer Island, in Gansbaai, near Cape Town, has been nicknamed “Shark Alley”, notably because of the high density of great whites that are attracted there by Geyser Rocka and its seal colony of more than 50,000. The warm Indian Ocean waters of Kosi Bay, in KwaZulu Natal, are famous for its aggressive and potentially highly dangerous bull shark, known locally as Zambezi shark. Between these two “hot spots”, in Durban or the Garden Route, you find many sharks and shark species (mako, tiger, ragged tooth, tiger, hammerhead, blacktip…).
Most attacks occur on surfers, around Cape Town or Durban (where there is also a high density of humans in the water), but Port St John, in the Eastern Cape, has been the scene of two fatal shark attacks in 2009.
Sharks are virtually present everywhere, in South Africa. This country has been the first one to protect great whites and the first one, as well, to invent the controversial “shark cage diving”. This new popular tourist attraction has, indeed, been blamed for recent shark attacks, because it encourages sharks to come closer to shore than they normally do and to see humans as a potential source of food (sharks are attracted to the cage by putting a mixture of fish blood and guts into the water). People in favor, on the contrary, claim that this activity provides a way to learn more about sharks in their natural environment and helps to raise awareness about sharks and their gloomy fate in our hands, and to fight the irrational fear of sharks that most humans have.
Australia is home to 166 shark species and, not only to many shark attacks (345 out of the world’s 2199 between 1580 and 2007), but mostly many deadly ones ( 135 out of a world total of 471). In other words, more than 28 % of fatalities linked to sharks have occurred in Australia (which is, besides, not a very populated country), and an impressive 39% of shark attacks in Australia are fatal. If Florida has the most incidence of reported attacks, Australia is, by far, the most dangerous place on Earth as far as sharks are concerned.
No Australian coast is a safe place as far as sharks are concerned, yet, the more densely populated Pacific coast (states of New South Wales and Queensland), in the east, is home to most attacks.
Like the South Africans, Australians are now exploiting their impressive shark population by getting the tourits to “cage dive” with them.
1. New South Wales, Australia
New South Wales has seen 140 attacks and 61 fatalities between 1700 and 2008.
In 1937, and even more in the 1960s (after a number of fatal attacks), protective nets and mesh were installed near Sydney. In 2006, 84 beaches were equiped with these nets or by drumlines (baited hooks intend to attract sharks away from people). As a result, New South Wales saw a dip in the number of attacks…and probably in the number of sharks as well (and of other species which can entangled in them and die).
After 15 years with no shark induced deaths, a series of attacks in 2008 and 2009 and started up the debate on the efficiency of these protective measures, and environmentalists push for the building of caged enclosures for swimmers, instead.
In 2008, divers were held hostage at a shipwreck by a circling shark, a woman was knocked off her surfski by a white pointer shark, and a 16-year-old surfer was killed by a bull shark while bodyboarding. And the series of shark attacks around Sydney went on in 2009, a surfer was attacked at Bondi beach, a navy diver at Sydney Harbor, and a 15-year-old boy was bitten on his leg while surfing with his father, probably being the target of the hit and run attack of a great white.
2. Queensland, Australia
Between 1700 and 2008, 103 attacks and 38 fatalities have happened in Queensland. From 1957 to the 2008, Queensland has actually seen more death related to sharks than New South Wales (22 out of the 57 that occurred countrywide).
Like in New South Wales, many Queensland’s beaches are protected by controversial nets and drumlines. In 2005, these protective measures caught 630 sharks, 298 of them being longer than 2 m, including a 5.2 m tiger shark.
Despite these measures, attacks still happen in Queensland. In 2006, notably, a woman swimming waist deep in Brisbane was torn to death by three bull sharks.
3. Northern Territory
In the Northern Territory, sharks are a potential danger, like in all of Australia, but are shadowed quite a bit by the even more dangerous salt water crocodiles and deadly box jellyfish.
4. Papua New Guinea
Since 1925, 49 shark attacks resulting in 25 deaths have been recorded on this Pacific tropical island, on barely 5,150 km (3,200 miles) of coast.
Divers from all over the world are attracted to these waters rich in marine life, and many people actually come to dive with sharks. Sharks are more at risk than humans, though, in Papua New Guinea, where fisheries exported some $1.2 million worth of shark fins in 1999. Sharks have been (and are still) fished for generation in Papua New Guinea. They are sometimes “called” through ritual songs and prayers, to come close enough to the boat to be be noosed,before being clubbed and taken home to eat.
3. New Zealand
Between 1852 and 2008, New Zealand has been the scene of 47 shark attacks, resulting in 9 deaths.
Where are the safest beaches in the world?? Anywhere in the Mediterranean.