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Shark Attacks off the Coast of Florida

Silky Shark with divers [©CC BY-SA 2.0 NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research https://www.flickr.com/photos/oceanexplorergov/]
Silky Shark with divers [©CC BY-SA 2.0 NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research https://www.flickr.com/photos/oceanexplorergov/]

Florida has got an unenviable reputation for shark attacks. Roughly half of all confirmed shark attacks in the United States occur in Florida and globally Florida leads the world. In the last 125 years there have been over 600 confirmed attacks by sharks off the coast of Florida.

However, the chance of being attacked is pretty slim and in reality you are more likely to be struck and killed by lightning.

Of course it doesn’t help that Florida is also deemed the lightning capital of the World!! Between 1959 and 2003, over 2,000 people have been struck by lightning in Florida with 425 fatalities.

Though many people fear shark attacks, you are much more likely to be injured in a car accident or stung by a bee or fire ant. For example, some 30 people die each year in the southern States from fire ant stings and as many as 100 across the United State from bee stings.

Where you enter the water also has some bearing. The Florida shark attacks also seem to be concentrated around specific coastal counties, in particular Volusia, Brevard and Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast. In fact 63% of all recorded attacks have occurred in these three counties.

Volusia, Brevard and Palm Beach counties include the popular coastal resorts of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Cocoa Beach and Palm Beach.

Statistically attacks peak during the month of September, with the lowest number of attacks during December/January. To a large extent this mirrors the number of people in the water at any time. Also more attacks take place during daylight which again is not unexpected.

Over the last few years, the number of shark attacks in Florida has decreased from a high of 36 in 2000. One theory for the decline is the reduction in tourist numbers since 2001 and in particular in the last couple of years due to the global recession.

Others think it is more likely a reduction in shark numbers themselves. Despite the best efforts of conservationists, sharks are still persecuted throughout the world and many are hunted commercially.

Most shark attacks are non-fatal; there have only been 4 fatalities since 2000 in Florida. The most recent was in February 2010 when a lone kite-surfer was attacked by a group of what were believed to be bull sharks off the coast at Stuart in Martin county.

In fact the number of people who drown from swimming related incidents is similar to the number attacked by sharks.

Water Activities

Of all the water activities, surfing seems to be the most prone to shark attack. Over half (about 57%) of all shark attacks involve surfers with waders and swimmers making up around one third (36%) and divers the rest. This is to be expected as divers are typically much more aware of their surroundings and are able to see potential threats and react accordingly.

The ocean is like any other environment; it is important to respect it. You should never wade, swim, dive or surf alone. Always have a buddy with you to keep a lookout, assist you or raise the alarm.

Shark Species To Be Found Off The Coast Of Florida

There are many different species of shark you are likely to encounter around the coast of Florida including:

  • Bull shark
  • Tiger shark
  • Great White shark
  • Blacktip shark
  • Spinner shark
  • Sandbar shark
  • Lemon shark
  • Blacknose shark
  • Nurse shark
  • Sharpnose shark
  • Scalloped Hammerhead shark
  • Great Hammerhead shark
  • Bonnerhead shark

Of these, the most likely sharks to attack humans are the larger and more aggressive Blacktip shark, the Bull shark, the Tiger shark and the infamous Great White shark of Jaws fame. Bull sharks are unusual in that they will often enter estuaries and even swim up river into fresh water environments.

Sharks in Florida waters can grow from a couple of feet up to over 40 feet in length. Most attacks tend to be by sharks of six feet and upwards in length.

Florida Shark Attack Statistics

Statistics are courtesy of the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History International Shark Attack File.