Florida is shark-bite capital of world

Photo by Neil HammerschlagTiger Shark in the waters off Grand Bahama Island.

Group swimming safest; nips at surfers rarely fatal


In the early evening, surfers take to the waters off the coast of Central Florida in places like Daytona and New Smyrna Beach. The skies are beautiful; the waves are good.

But the waters can be treacherous. They are full of plankton and other small fish that are among the favorite food of young sharks. The sandy bottom churns up, and visibility is poor. Sometimes, the experts say, sharks lunge for what they think is a small fish and it turns out to be a foot or a hand dangling off a surfboard.

“It’s almost always a case of mistaken identity,” said Neil Hammerschlag, a shark expert at the University of Miami. “They are looking for a silvery flash of light, a fish. Sometimes the sun catches the sole of a foot, the palm of a hand. They are the right size.”

In Florida, and the rest of the United States, shark attacks rarely lead to much more than a few stitches in an emergency room. But some attacks are horrendous, and those are the ones people remember. The Hollywood movie “Jaws,” with shots of a toothy shark nearly as big as a fishing boat, terrified a generation of Americans.  Hammerschlag and other researchers often swim with sharks, and they say the danger of sharks is greatly overblown. Even off South Africa and Australia, where great white sharks sometimes kill surfers and swimmers, the experts say the attacks are not deliberate.

“They’re looking for food, and they make mistakes,” Hammerschlag said.

Florida, it turns out, is the shark-bite capital of the world. In the past 50 years, 600 shark attacks have been reported off Florida, far more than anywhere else, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. The attacks off Florida as well as those off California and Hawaii make the United States the country with the most shark attacks: 930 in 50 years.

According to Shark Attack File experts, in all other places around the world, 858 shark attacks have been reported in the same 50-year period. South Africa and Australia trail the United States in the number of attacks, but many more people are killed there.

In the United States, smaller sharks most often are the ones doing the attacking, experts say. The Shark Attack File, which is the world’s most complete record of shark attacks, was created in 1958 by the U.S. Navy as part of a project to develop a shark repellant to protect sailors.

There are often 20 to 30 attacks in Florida’s waters in a year. In one year, 1973, none was reported, according to the Shark Attack File.   The record was 37 attacks in 2000. Many of the attacks take place along the central coast, where a combination of surfers, small fish, murky waters and sharks is more prevalent than anywhere else in the world, experts say.

According to the Shark Attack File, only about three percent of the attacks off Florida have been fatal, compared with 31 percent in the coastal waters of Australia. “It’s because they have great white sharks,” said Hammerschlag, “and those are larger and can do a lot of damage.”

Most of the Florida attacks are what George Burgess, director of the Shark Attack File, calls “hit and runs,” a quick snap of the jaws before the shark darts away. The most common victims are surfers. Maneuvering in murky water, and making noise as they paddle out to sea, stretched out on fiberglass boards and splashing with their hands and feet, they resemble injured fish, Burgess said.

Surfers also are more likely to be in the water at dawn and dusk, a time when sharks generally hunt for food,” Hammerschlag said. In one shark attack off New Smyrna Beach, Daniel True, 19, was surfing in about four feet of water when a shark ripped a gash in his right foot. He drove himself to the emergency room, had his foot stitched up and went home. On his Facebook page, he simply wrote that he’d had a fine day except for the fact that a shark “tried to eat my foot this morning.”

In Miami, Mark Quartiano makes a living taking people out on his charter boat to hunt for sharks with a rod and reel. Having been in the business for more than 30 years, he, too, says when sharks attack it is often because they have confused a person with the food they regularly consume.

Burgess, the Shark Attack File director, said bathing suits with colors and patterns resembling those of fish sometimes attract sharks. It is often hard to know when sharks are in the water, so Burgess recommends swimming in groups, which is always safer than swimming alone.

Experts say sharks are usually not happy when they sink their teeth into people. They almost always spit out bits and pieces. Humans, Hammerschlag said, “don’t taste like fish; people are not really their food.”

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24 responses to “Florida is shark-bite capital of world”

  1. Mina Hami says:

    I find this an extremely interesting because I did not know that Florida was named the ‘Shark-Bite Capital of the World,’ the number of shark attacks is high-being: 600 in the last 50 years, about 12 attacks a year in Florida. Is that the number of deaths or just the number of attacks? Knowing the reasons behind shark attacks; could there be an environmental reason (such over fishing in the fishing industry) of why the numbers of attacks are so high in certain years as opposed to other years? I don’t know if the fishing industry is linked to the number of shark attacks on humans, but could it be? Also does it depend on how far out some swimmers get? Or do sharks come farther into the shallows where swimmers are?

    The article says that sharks attack humans because we are mistaken for fish-their food source, due to our bright swim attire and loud noises-so this means sharks can see color or just the different shades of gray? Because in that case of color-I rather have an all black swim suit next time I go into Florida’s ocean waters.
    Although the article pointed out that smaller sharks seem to be attacking more, another question is: is there a certain species of shark that attack humans more than others?

    Overall, there is such a miss understanding of sharks that it’s very sad. I agree that movies like Jaws did not help the species one bit. However, what plans do the experts have in order to gain a positive respect for these creatures? Is it possible to do an article following this one up about: although sharks are feared, they shouldn’t be,because sharks actually are helpful in keeping ecosystems balanced etc.

  2. MBergman says:

    Wow. I had no idea that Florida was the shark-bite capital of the world! What’s even more shocking is that the U.S. is the country with the most shark attacks in the last 50 years. I will definitely be careful not to swim in murky water at either dawn or dusk- I don’t want to be a shark’s meal!

  3. Aisha M says:

    I didn’t even know that! How crazy – of all the places around the globe FLORIDA happens to be the one that takes home the gold medal for the shark bit capital of the world. I’m sure they’re legitimate mistakes when the sharks attack, but still, the number of attacks is pretty crazy.

  4. Aisha M says:

    That should read “shark bite capital.”

  5. I did not know that Florida was the shark bite capital of the world, it is interesting and scary. I did assume that either Florida of Hawaii would be place in the United States that has the most amount of shark bites. It is scary that it is the place where most shark bites happen in the whole world.

  6. Ed Domansky says:

    Great stats and information. It is especially helpful to know that dawn and dusk are key times to be extra careful and on the alert for sharks when swimming or surfing in the ocean.

  7. This article is very interesting for me, especially today. This evening I was conversing with my friends. One of them is scuba diving instructor and he knows a lot about the ocean, the other one is really scared of sharks. We were discussing how sharks only bite humans by accident. As the article mentions, sharks confuse surfers with injured seals due to the bubbles that they make while paddling and actually, our flesh doesn’t taste well to them so they spit it out. The problem is that due to the confusion sharks can kill. Big sharks like the ones from Australia can kill human with just the first bite that is why there are more fatal accidents there than here in Florida, even though the amount of cases is bigger here. We also mentioned how much harm the movies ‘Jaws’ has, made to sharks reputation.

    My friend, the Scuba Diving instructor gave us a tip in case we are surfing and we see a shark what we should do is dive so that way they won’t confuse us with food. He also told us an interesting fact, and is that dolphins can be meaner than sharks and people still love them. Sometimes, to catch food dolphins poke baby whales stomach until they die and they eat them.

  8. I have scuba dive many times in Florida but I did not know it was “shark bite capital.” I am going to be more aware of my surroundings since I was never aware that there were that many sharks in the area.

  9. Hollyh1593 says:

    This was a very interesting and informative story. Many news elements apply to it including human interest, proximity and even consequence. I think it was a good decision to use a more descriptive lead instead of a summary lead because it set the scene for the rest of the story. One thing that I felt could be improved is that you mention the Shark Attack File in graph six and reference it again in graph seven, but don’t explain what it is until graph eight. I think at least a short explanation after the first mention would help the average reader understand better where the information is coming from.

  10. Camille says:

    I recently moved to Florida and I had no idea that it was the shark-bite capital of the world! I thought this article provided useful and intersting information. I have always been afraid of sharks and to learn that they do not bite us on purpose or enjoy the taste of us is refreshing.

  11. Nick says:

    I have had the fortune of swimming in beaches in Australia, South Africa and Florida, but never have I felt that threatened by shark attacks. While sharks seem very terrifying, what gives me comfort is a simple fact: more people die each year from falling coconuts than from shark attacks. The real threat is not the sharks in our oceans, but the coconuts above our heads.

  12. Glm9125 says:

    I have seen many sharks while swimming in Florida beaches. I have never been bit or threatened by shark. This article has a lot of really cool information and can teach people the truth about sharks. I think most people think that sharks are looking to eat humans, when in reality they are simply trying to eat a few fish and sometimes get a little confused.

  13. Emelia676 says:

    I must say that, as a Florida native, I have never met someone who has actually been bit by a shark. Although we do see them now again while at the beach, or out on the boat, the idea that shark bites are this prevalent just seems incorrect.

  14. M Yidioshakim says:

    Since I was very young I have always found myself interested in sharks. Once I woke up in ft Lauderdale and I could actually see sharks swimming near the shore. It is important to keep in mind how many sharks are around this area, always have precaution. Usually people never think things are going to happen to them, and they actually do. Interesting article, and very informative.

  15. April says:

    I found this article extremely informative and interesting. I have always come to Florida for vacation throughout my childhood and I now attend the University of Miami. After reading this piece of writing, my overwhelming fear of sharks has weakened, as I have learned that people aren’t their true targets. I have always believed that they were looking for human flesh to digest and it is a relief knowing that we are in fact not all that tasty to them. It is however shocking to hear that Florida has the most shark attacks in the world even if they usually aren’t fatal ones. The sound of this is a little bit threatening, as I love the ocean and often go to the beach. This article has definitely given me good insight, as I now have no future plans to surf or wear colorful bikinis in the ocean. I guess you can say I have zero intention of being injured by a shark.

  16. Gabriel Ibrahim says:

    I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and had no idea that we were the shark bite capital of the world. I guess i can believe it because i have friends who have been bitten by small sharks and ive caught a nurse shark. You learn something new everyday. interesting read.

  17. Reuben Torenberg says:

    Having been one of those in the generation of Jaws, I’m still terrified of sharks. Just because they are biting legs and hands by ACCIDENT doesn’t make them any less dangerous. I’d stay away from the depths just to avoid any risk

  18. I had no idea that this was the Shark Bite Capital. I guess I always assumed that those things happened more in the Pacific near Hawaii or down in Australia. Now that I know this information I have to admit that I’m a little scared now! I think I’ll be safe because I always swim in groups and I never go far out. This article was extremely informative and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  19. AJ Ricketts says:

    I have always heard that sharks are not really as dangerous as society makes them out to be, but I never knew the reasoning or logic behind this. It makes more sense to know that often times it mistakes a human hand or foot as a struggling fish.

  20. Gespinales1 says:

    What a relief! After all these movies about sharks hunting people it’s nice to see that sharks really don’t like the taste of us. This was a great article. Good thing I’m always a little skeptical about going into murky water. You never know what might be in the sand! I do go far out in the ocean when I go paddle boarding but for the most part I have yet to see a shark(Let’s keep it that way!)

  21. Sophie says:

    Very interesting. It’s nice to know that we don’t taste like fish and they are not hunting humans down every change they get. Hollywood always find ways to exaggerate a small fact and use it to their advantage in special effects and cinematography. Still 600 shark attacks in the last 50 years are a lot of attacks for just being mistakes.

  22. Lizz Evalen says:

    This was the main reason my parents did not want me going to school in Florida, but even the sharks can’t keep me away from the beautiful weather!

  23. Diane Urdaneta says:

    It is a good thing to know that sharks are not after humans as Hollywood portrays it. I love the ocean, but I’m really scared of it too and it is a relief to know that shark bites are because of mistaken identity and not because sharks like the taste of human. The story about Daniel True is funny as he made it seem as it was only a tiny non-alarming incident.

  24. Caitlin says:

    This will not keep me out of the waters 🙂 ill be out there still surfing everyday

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