Every year, over 300,000 tourists visit New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, Florida — nonchalant of the fact that they are at the ‘Shark Attack Capital of the World’.
According to Florida Museum, this small area in the United States consistently tops the global charts for the most number of shark attacks with a total of 320 cases since 1882. This makes up 48% of the county’s total cases of unprovoked attacks!
What makes this beach in Florida the epicenter of shark attacks, and what can you do to protect yourself in case of a chance encounter? This article contains all you need to know about this place and much more.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
The exact number of shark attack cases around the globe is uncertain, but for the longest time, the United States leads the number of the most shark attacks. At least 16 shark attacks happen in this country every year, with at least 1 fatality every two years.
A possible reason behind this statistic is the nation’s advanced technology that allows its tourism government to document all cases of shark encounters, therefore creating biased results over third-world countries wherein attacks could be unpublicized and undocumented.
That said, we will look at all facts and evidence that have ever been recorded to know more about where and why shark attacks frequently happen in the US — most importantly, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
According to ISAF or the International Shark Attack File’s program director, Gavin Naylor, the probability of you getting attacked by a shark on this beach is ten times higher than any other place in the world. The organization also suggested that anyone who’s been at the beach and swam its waters has been approximately 10 feet away from a shark.
Have you heard of the saying that you have more chances of being struck by lightning than being attacked by a shark? Sad to say, but that’s not the case in Florida, National Geographic says. Since 1959, this state has had more shark attacks (a total of 603) than lightning casualties (459). Fortunately, not all shark attacks end up in death.
The years 2007 and 2008 mark the highest number of shark attack cases in Volusia County’s New Smyrna Beach. In 2016, a total of 15 shark bites took place in this area, and by 2020, 16 attacks were recorded by the tourism government of Florida. Even with the pandemic and restricted travel regulations, a significant number of cases are still being recorded in this famous beach spot.
Contributing Factors of Shark Attacks in NSB
Although Volusia County is known as the ‘Shark Attack Capital of the World’, the sharks who inhabit its waters are not as deadly as great whites, tiger sharks, or bull sharks. The culprits of most attacks in New Smyrna Beach are the blacktips and spinner sharks.
Blacktips are characterized by the black markings on the tips of their fins. They are seen in coastal waters, often feeding on small schools of fish. Since they prefer to hunt in shallow waters, they are more likely to interact with humans, leading to more cases of shark bites.
The abundance of blacktips during migration is also a factor in these attacks. When blacktips migrate due to water temperature changes, feeding, or reproduction purposes, over 100,000 blacktips are expected to head to the shallow waters of Florida, which isn’t quite beneficial to the beachgoers.
These sharks come close to the shoreline from September to November, and from March to April. The peak, on the other hand, is during September when most shark encounters happen.
Experts have concluded a possible reason behind unprovoked cases. New Smyrna Beach is known as a popular surfing spot during the summer season. Due to the influx of the number of tourists coming to the beach, the chances for run-ins and surf-related shark bites also increase, especially in surfing zones.
The percentage of surf and board-related shark attacks is also at an all-time high in this area, with 50.8% of victims being surfers or bodyboarders. Surfers may have accidentally hit the blacktips with their surfboards, or they may have landed on the sharks during wipeouts.
Sharks are apex predators that feed on seals, carcasses of whales, and fishes. Since surfers commonly wear black wetsuits and ride boards when surfing, sharks may have also mistaken them as seals, which is their primary prey. Humans are not part of their diet, which further supports the mistaken identity theory.
According to multiple studies conducted by experts, a shark’s reaction to seeing a surfer from underneath the water surface is the same as when they see and hunt for seals. This also goes for polluted or murky waters. When sharks aren’t able to see their prey clearly, they mistake surfers and swimmers for their food.
Unlike great whites whose attacks often end in fatal incidents, shark bites in New Smyrna Beach aren’t always fatal. It’s because the sharks there only go for test bites — meaning they only bite out of curiosity.
Shark Attacks in Other Places
Aside from Volusia County in Florida, shark attacks are also frequent in other parts of the globe. Here are some of these places you might want to avoid.
Eastern Cape, South Africa
If you’re a fan of Mick Fanning, then you’ll surely remember the video of his shark encounter during the J-Bay Open way back in 2015. Jeffreys Bay, along with Port Saint Johns Beach, are amongst the world’s deadliest and dangerous shark attack beaches in the world. Researches have determined the main cause behind these incidents, and it’s because of the abundance in the seal population in this area.
New South Wales, Australia
Bad news: A lot of animals in Australia can kill you. Nothing comes close to the giant spiders and crocodiles in this continent, and just when you think the water’s your escape, sharks also add to the long list of dangerous animals in Australia you should definitely avoid.
The blacktips of New Smyrna Beach seem tame compared to the sharks here where the bites are a hundred times more deadly. New South Wales in Australia consists of different kinds of sharks, with the most fatal ones being tiger sharks, bull sharks, and great whites.
From 1900 to the present, Australia comes second to the United States when it comes to the number of shark attacks. During winter or spring, 1 out of 16,000 divers is at risk of being attacked by a shark in its waters. If it’s your *unlucky* day, you might get up close and personal with one. Here’s a viral photo of a group of swimmers who was unexpectedly photobombed by a large shark in Bondi Beach.
Maui, Hawaii is also one of the most shark-infested states in the United States. From 1995 to 2021, a total of 40 attacks already took place, with 5 of them being fatal. The reason why this area sees a specific number of attacks is because of the shallow shelf that is abundant with tiger sharks’ prey, therefore luring these predators to the shore.
Recreation is also a contributing factor. Since visitors often come to this island, there’s also an increase in chances of human and shark interaction, leading to more attacks.
Tips to Reduce Risks of Shark Attacks
We might be scared of sharks, but the chances of being attacked by one while you’re at the beach are actually very slim. To further reduce the likelihood of encountering men in grey suits while you’re surfing or swimming, here are some tips you can do.
Wear shark repellents/deterrents
Although multiple studies and evidence are claiming that shark deterrents like magnetic bands as ineffective, a lot of surfers swear by these products. These magnetic bands work by emitting an electronic field that’s a thousand times stronger than what a shark’s prey would normally emit. Because sharks can detect this unfamiliar and strong signal, they would tend to move away from it.
If you’re looking for a good shark repellent, Western Australia’s government recommends the Freedom+ Surf Shark Shield as the most effective way to repel sharks.
Avoid swimming alone
Experts claim that sharks are more afraid of us than we are of them. That said, you are less likely to be attacked by a shark if you’re surfing with a group of friends versus when you’re alone. As an added safety measure, always swim/surf within the eye range of a lifeguard or beach patrol.
Don’t wear bright clothes/jewelry
Bull sharks who inhabit murky waters look for their fish prey by their scales that gleam in the water. That said, you should avoid wearing pieces of jewelry and bright clothes that will reflect light and attract the attention of these predators.
Keeping a level head is the best way to survive a shark attack. Splashing around and frantically paddling when you see a shark will only make you look like prey in their eyes, so try your best to stay still and avoid any sudden movements. If you’re surfing, put your arms and legs up to your board, and if you’re swimming, slowly move away from the shark’s direction. Paddle your way towards the shore.
Know how to defend yourself
Sharks would often avoid interacting with humans, however, in the worst-case scenario that you’re facing an aggressive shark that’s out to get you, you must hit or punch its most sensitive areas such as the nose, gills, and eyes.
Sharks are an integral part of the marine ecosystem, therefore we must learn how to peacefully co-exist with them. Shark attacks may happen more frequently in some places in the world, such as in Florida in the United States and New South Wales in Australia, but you should know that the chance of encountering sharks and being attacked by one in other places is close to zero. Still, it won’t hurt doing preventive measures to keep yourself safe from these ocean predators.
Want to visit shark-free destinations? You can read this article next.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What country has the most shark attacks?
Since 1580, the United States leads the number of the most unprovoked shark attacks with a total of 1516 cases. Florida makes up 48% of the cases in the country and 28% of the cases globally.
Q: Where is the shark attack capital of the world?
The New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, Florida is known as the shark attack capital of the world. It’s estimated that almost every beachgoer in this small area has been in close proximity (10 ft. away) to blacktip sharks that are known to migrate in its shallow waters.