Shark Encounter Information

What are the chances of a shark encounter?
The chances of a shark encounter are very small compared to other animal encounter, natural disasters and ocean-side dangers. Most shark attacks are simply due to mistaken identity. Worldwide there is an average of 50-70 shark attacks every year. With a U.S. population of about 300 million, the odds of being attacked by a shark in the United States are roughly 1 in 10 million.

Where do shark encounters usually occur?
Most encounters occur in or near shore waters, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars where sharks feed and can become trapped at low tide. Areas with steep drop-offs are also likely sites for an encounter. Sharks congregate there because their natural food items also congregate in these areas.

How can I avoid a shark encounter?
Although the relative risk of a shark encounter is very small, risks should always be minimized whenever possible in any activity. The chances of having an interaction with a shark can be reduced if one heeds the following advice:

  1. Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
  2. Do not wander too far from shore -- this isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance.
  3. Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
  4. Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating --- a shark's olfactory ability is acute.
  5. Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
  6. Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
  7. Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks --- both often eat the same food items.
  8. Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing --- sharks see contrast particularly well.
  9. Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
  10. Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs --- these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
  11. Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!

Are sharks dangerous?
Of the over 375 different species of sharks found in the world's oceans, only about 30 have been reported to ever attack a human. Of these, only about a dozen should be considered particularly dangerous when encountered. The shark species responsible for most unprovoked attacks on humans are the white, tiger, and bull. However, all sharks, large and small, are predators and could be capable of inflicting wounds if provoked. They should all be treated with respect when encountered.

This information is provided by the Florida Museum of Natural History's shark research. For additional information about Florida shark encounters, visit the Museum of Natural History’s Web site.