Tiger sharks, great white sharks, and bull sharks are behind most shark attacks on humans. These species live almost everywhere, are large enough that their prey is human size, are powerful enough to inflict a fatal bite, and are at the top of the food chain, so they aren’t afraid to attack.
Most shark attacks on humans occur within a few hundred yards of shore. That’s not because sharks stick to this part of the sea—it’s just where people are more likely to be. Of the 71 attacks that occurred in the world in 2007, 32 of them happened in Florida.
This list reveals that more people in the water will generally increase the chance of a shark attack.
Volusia County, Florida
Mile for mile, Volusia County, Florida, has more shark attacks than anywhere else in the world. Because the area boasts so many swimmers, these waters have seen 210 attacks since 1882, none of them fatal. Most of the attacks are just bites, though, so they don’t keep die-hard surfers and swimmers away.
Indeed, at New Smyrna Beach, located in Volusia, there are more incidents per square mile than on any other beach in the world. If you’ve been swimming at New Smyrna, you’ve probably been within 10 feet of a shark. These distinctions have earned New Smyrna Beach the nickname “Shark Attack Capital of the World.”
Brevard County, Florida
In the beaches that make up Brevard County, 90 attacks and one fatality have occurred since 1882.
Florida has a lot of shark attacks simply because it has a lot of tourists, and Brevard County is an easy hour-long drive for those already in the area to see Mickey and his friends at Disney World in Orlando. The county is home to the famed Space Coast, 70 miles of coastline named for the space center at Cape Canaveral. In addition to the Canaveral National Seashore, visitors can also enjoy Cocoa Beach and Melbourne Beach.
While the shark attacks are nothing to sneeze at, Brevard County is dangerous for a few other reasons as well. In 2008, Forbes named Brevard County beaches the most dangerous place for rip current drowning. In 2007, 10 people drowned because of the rip currents, a rate that’s higher than any other county in the United States.
Part of this coastline also falls into Florida’s “Lightning Alley,” an area that has the most lightning in the United States. So when you’re not worrying about sharks, worry about the forecast.
About 90 miles of Northern California coastline between Point Reyes and Monterey Bay form one side of the Red Triangle; from those two points, lines extend to meet just past the Farallon Islands, to the west of San Francisco. These waters are home to lots of seals, which in turn attract lots of great white sharks.
But within the Red Triangle are many beaches that attract surfers, including Bolinas Beach and Stinson Beach. One tour guide operator deemed Stinson “the granddaddy of all shark beaches”.
While the Red Triangle is known for the great whites, the rest of the state’s coastline also holds the possibility of attack. Since 1926, 96 attacks and 7 fatalities have occurred in the state
Since 1837, 61 shark attacks and two fatalities have occurred in South Carolina. Though they occur all along the state’s coastline, the majority happen in Horry County, home to popular Myrtle Beach.
Surviving a Shark Attack
Of the average 30 to 50 shark attacks reported each year, only five to 10 prove to be fatal. So while being bitten by a shark is rare, dying from a shark bite is even rarer.
If you’re watching a circling shark and wondering if it’s about to attack its prey, here are the clues: The shark will hunch its back, lower its pectoral fins (the ones near its belly), and swim in zigzag motions.
Status of the Shark
As Shark Week concludes, let’s continue to spread the word about these wonderful creatures that have been around for far longer than we have.
Note: This is the first of a two-part series on sharks.
Part 1: Shark Week 2011
More information on Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.
—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us