Here are the numbers of unprovoked bites along the Treasure Coast and surrounding coastal counties since 1882.
Palm Beach: 81
St. Johns: 45
St. Lucie: 40
Indian River: 22
Florida is known as the shark bite capital of the world. But is it really? The numbers can be misleading because the state is surrounded by ocean (yes sharks live there) and just about every mile of its 825 miles of sandy beaches are visited by millions of people, every day, all year round. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) is administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History and the American Elasmobranch Society, and is the world’s only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks since the early 1500’s. Recorded interactions in Florida date back to 1882.
The database uses two general classifications to define human-shark interactions: provoked and unprovoked. Unprovoked bites are defined as incidents in which a bite on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark. Examples include swimming, surfing, snorkeling, etc.
Provoked bites occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances of people harassing or trying to touch sharks, unhooking, or removing a shark from a fishing net, and so forth. In these encounters, the shark is responding with defensive behavior. Bites on spearfishers and people attempting to feed sharks are also classified as provoked bites.
Volusia County sees an unusually high number of shark bites compared to the rest of the state, accounting for an average of 63 percent of all recorded attacks in Florida. Most of these attacks occur at New Smyrna Beach. Gavin Naylor, ISAF’s director, explained that the county experiences more shark attacks than anywhere else in the world and that “the chances of getting bit by a shark in New Smyrna Beach are ten times higher than anywhere else nationwide.”
There are a couple of reasons for this. According to Naylor, the strong tidal flow in the Ponce de Leon Inlet attracts huge bait fish populations, increasing shark numbers in the area. Additionally, New Smyrna Beach is a surfing hotspot with scores of surfers and other board recreationalists creating surface vibration which attracts sharks. The waters are murky there so sharks can’t rely on vision to identify potential prey. Instead, they use their mouths to investigate the source of the noise.
Treasure Coast beaches are pretty safe considering the sheer number of people in the water engaged in various activities at any given time. Sparkling beaches with frolicking waves are nearly irresistible on a hot summer day, presenting a conundrum for those who do worry about sharks.
The ISAF offers the following safety tips:
Swim with a buddy
Stay close to shore
Don’t swim at dawn or dusk
Don’t swim around schools of fish or where people are fishing
Avoid wearing jewelry
Avoid excess splashing
If a shark does get near or approach you:
Maintain eye contact with the shark
Slowly move away, and if possible, exit the water
If the shark tries to bite you:
Hit shark in the eyes and gills
Hit the shark on the snout and push away
Many beaches along the Treasure Coast are monitored daily by well-trained and qualified lifeguards. If you’re a bit phobic about sharks, swimming at a guarded beach can offer an extra sense of security. Area guards are always on the lookout for any beach hazards including sharks. If a shark is spotted, the normal protocol is sound whistles and/or horns and call people out of the water with hand signals. "Double Red" flags will be put up until the hazard has passed. When the flags are taken down, it is safe to re-enter the water.
Sharks are apex predators critical to the stability and health of ecological systems. Because they have few natural predators sharks play an essential role in the ocean’s food chain, regulating and maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems. It’s natural to be a little nervous about sharks but we should be more afraid of an ocean without sharks.
Interested in researching shark data from the most credible source in the world? Find maps, statistics, species information, and much more at: www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks