Florida Number One in the World for Shark Bites

Florida Number One in the World for Shark Bites
Bull sharks swim in the Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. (Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock)

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–With more than 13,500 miles of coastline, Florida ranks Number One for shark bites, overtaking Australia in 2021, a study shows.

Spring break is rapidly approaching with “record numbers” expected to arrive at Florida beaches, as shark researchers warn they may be “sharing the water” with other creatures that could mistake them for food.

Gavin Naylor, Program Director for the International Shark Attack File, cautions swimmers to be vigilant, and offers guidelines for dress and behavior in the water to avoid a shark “leaving their mark on you.”

“If you wear shiny objects such as jewelry in the water, the shark can mistake you for a school of fish,” Naylor told the Epoch Times in a telephone interview. “Also, we recommend that you don’t splash unnecessarily, because it can seem like a struggling fish to the shark.”

In 2021, there were 28 unprovoked shark bites reported.  Florida accounted for 38 percent of cases–worldwide–and 60 percent nationwide.  The University of Florida’s annual International Shark Attack File report says the cases in Florida more than doubled the number in Australia, which ranked second, with 16 bites that were unprovoked.

When compared with worldwide totals in 2021, there were 73 confirmed unprovoked cases in Florida--“in line with the most recent five-year (2016-2020) average,”--which is 72 annually, the reort says.  A drop in unprovoked cases in 2020 is attributed to beach closures and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report also said there were 11 shark-related fatalities in 2020, nine of which were assigned an unprovoked status.  There were six fatalities recorded for 2021 in Australian waters and three in the United States--one each in California, Hawaii and Maine, a first for these states.  The other death was attributed to St. Martin’s in the Caribbean Sea). The global average is five unprovoked fatalities annually. Out of the 137 alleged shark-human interactions worldwide, the Shark Attack File was able to confirm the 73 unprovoked bites and 39 provoked bites.

The “big three” species involved in most attacks include the Great White, Tiger and Bull sharks. However, Naylor said the Black Tipped Shark is the one species that is prevalent in Florida and the most studied at The University of Florida.  They are large, ranging six feet or greater in length, and capable of inflicting serious injury, and are found mostly  in areas where humans are in the water. Their teeth are designed to shear their prey rather than hold. And even though humans aren’t typically on a shark’s menu, the power of the jaw and “tooth morphology” can lead to injury, Naylor added.
Visitors to Aquarium Encounters in Marathon, Florida, carefully feed the sharks. (Courtesy of Victor Block)Unprovoked and Provoked Bites

The difference between unprovoked bites and provoked bites is human behaviors, Naylor said.

“Unprovoked bites are those when the sharks are minding their own business and encounter a person and mistake them for food based on their behaviors, such as wearing jewelry or clothing that may sparkle and attract them,” he said. “Provoked attacks are where a human feeds the sharks or attempts to grab a fin or attempts to take selfies with them.”

The unprovoked bites are the ones that Naylor and his team are interested in due to the shark being in their natural environment and “being themselves.”

“They’re not rushing around they’re just following schools of fish, and then out of nowhere, some sort of shark comes in contact with a human and then they bite them. Those are the ones we are interested in studying,” he said.

About half--51 percent-- of total cases were surfers and those “participating in board sports, the study found.

“This group spends a large amount of time in the surf zone, an area commonly frequented by sharks, and may unintentionally attract sharks by splashing, paddling and wiping out,’” Naylor said. “Swimmers and waders accounted for 39 percent of incidents, with the remaining incidents divided among snorkelers/free divers at four percent, and body-surfers at six percent.”

When collecting data for his research, Naylor and his team will interview the victims of shark bites, often moments after the incident has occurred.

“Sometimes their recollection of the incident is a little cloudy because of the shock they are in,” he said. “We need other data like water temperature and a physical description of the shark; sometimes the victim will be so traumatized they might tell you the shark is 500 feet long.”

In addition to eye-witness accounts from victims and emergency medical personnel, the team will take measurements of bite radius and swab the affected (bite) area for DNA.

“We can take a swab of the bite area and collect DNA and actually profile the shark,” he said. “This helps us find out what kinds of sharks are in our area. People need to know this.”

Movies depicting sharks as higher order thinkers seeking out humans to eat couldn’t be further from the truth Naylor said.

“Sharks do not seek out humans to eat,” he said. “They take a bite of the human, and they immediately know this is not their usual food source, and many times will just let go and swim away.”

The International Shark Attack File is based out of the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida.

“We are the only global scientifically verified database of shark attacks,” Naylor said.

Naylor offers advice to those who partake in all the water sports that Florida has to offer as to not become a victim of a shark bite.

“Try to avoid swimming at dusk or at dawn, as these are prime feeding times for sharks,” he said. “Avoid splashing around, swim in groups, do not wear jewelry or anything shiny in the water because Black Tipped Sharks look for schools of fish, unlike the Great White that looks for seals.”