10 Most Dangerous Places for Shark Attacks

By: Molly Edmonds & Patrick J. Kiger  | 

shark
Where are you most likely to be bitten by a shark? lindsay_imagery/Getty Images

If you've seen the 1975 film "Jaws," then you might think that a little New England town called Amity Island is the most dangerous place for shark attacks. The idyllic and quaint resort town became a place of horror, as screaming filled the air and blood turned the ocean red. It seemed like it would never be safe to go back into the water. Even the boat of movie stars that saved the day in the first film couldn't stop the sharks from returning in the sequels.

While Amity Island isn't a real place, the events of the movie and book were likely based on some real-life attacks that occurred in 1916. In just 12 days, a shark killed four people and mauled seven others along the coast of New Jersey. People were in a panic; just a year earlier, The New York Times had said that sharks didn't seem to be dangerous in U.S. waters [source: McCall]. In the absence of Roy Schneider and Richard Dreyfuss, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had to handle the crisis. Wilson held special meetings with his Cabinet and dispatched the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard to get rid of these menaces of the sea.

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The common theme in both of these stories is the element of the unexpected and the unknown. Part of why shark attacks scare us so badly is that one minute you're minding your own business, swimming along and the next minute, you've lost a leg. But we know a lot more today about where sharks live than we did in 1916, so we can give you an idea of where you might want to be a little more careful about sharks.

So before you load up the car for a beach trip, take a look at this list of places that rank high for shark attacks. That's not to say you shouldn't go. After all, shark attacks are rare, with only 137 attacks and 11 fatalities occurring worldwide in 2021 [source: ISAF]. You should probably worry more about rip tides, jellyfish and car accidents than unexpectedly meeting one of these fearsome fish. But it's definitely worth reviewing the tips to avoid a shark attack before swimming at any of these 10 locations.

10: Papua New Guinea

Manus island, Papua New Guinea
A ship docks on Manus island in Papua, New Guinea. HADI ZAHER/Getty Images

Papua New Guinea is the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, the world's largest tropical island [source: FAO]. Located in the Pacific Ocean, Papua New Guinea has logged 48 shark attacks since 1848 [source: ISAF]. That's more than New Zealand, which has seen 39 attacks since 1852 [source: ISAF]. However, New Zealand has 9,404 miles (15,134 kilometers) of shoreline, while Papua New Guinea has but 3,201 miles (5,152 kilometers) of coast.

The waters of Papua New Guinea contain a wide array of marine environments, so divers from all over the world come to the island to see the immense variety of aquatic life, with shark dives one of the popular options. It's not clear if Papua New Guinea's shark attacks stem from divers and other tourists, or if the attacks stem from the local habit of fishing for sharks.

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More traditional means of fishing still exist here as well, and reflect the fact that sharks have always been a part of the natives' lives. Some residents of Papua New Guinea, particularly in the province of New Ireland, still practice an ancient art called shark calling. Shark callers claim to commune with shark spirits, drawing them near through ritual songs and prayers. When the shark comes to the boat, the caller places a noose on it, clubs it and takes it home for the villagers to eat [source: FAO].

9: South Carolina

Myrtle beach, SC
A balcony view of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Jonathan D. Goforth/Getty Images

Since 1837, 107 shark attacks have occurred in South Carolina [source: ISAF]. Though they occur all along the state's coastline, 37 of the attacks have occurred in Charleston County, where several beach towns are located, and 36 have happened in in Horry County, home to popular Myrtle Beach [source: ISAF]

As this list will reveal, more people in the water generally increases the chance of a shark attack.

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Some 12 species of sharks have been detected in South Carolina's waters [source: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources]. The species are generally mild, including the sandbar and bonnethead sharks, but more aggressive species, including the tiger and the bull shark have been spotted. South Carolina's offshore estuaries provide good birthing and feeding grounds for these sharks.

Several factors keep South Carolina from being as dangerous a place as, say, Florida. At North Myrtle Beach, the continental shelf, where sharks find many fish to feast on, is located 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) out from the coastline. In Florida, that shelf can come within a mile of the shore [source: MyrtleBeach.com]. We'll have much more on Florida later, but as another comparison, the waves are generally milder at beaches such as Myrtle Beach, so fish aren't being thrown inshore with sharks in hot pursuit.

It should be noted that escaping to the other Carolina won't eliminate the threat of sharks. North Carolina is no slouch in the shark attack department either, with 64 attacks [source: ISAF].

8: Brazil

Boa Viagem beach, Brazil
Coconut trees line the Boa Viagem beach at dusk in Recife, Brazil. PHOTOLAO/Getty Images

Most of the shark attacks in South America occur in the waters off Brazil, where there have been 107 shark bites since 1931 [source: ISAF]. What's bringing all these sharks to Brazil? A beach town named Recife, which has had some unfortunate luck in attracting sharks to its coastline.

The trouble started in the 1980s, when Porto Suape was constructed to the south of Recife. The construction sealed off two freshwater estuaries, which had served as the birthing waters for many bull sharks. When the estuaries were closed, the sharks went to the next estuary, which happens to discharge right into Recife's waters. A nearby channel used by surfers became these sharks' new feeding grounds. The sharks may have been driven even closer to Recife's shore by a slaughterhouse, which was disposing of blood in nearby tributaries.

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Since these events, Recife's 12.5-mile (20-kilometer) coastline has become an extremely dangerous place, with a higher proportion of attacks resulting in death. One in three shark attacks that occur in Recife are fatal [source: Kingstone].

7: California

seals, La Jolla Beach
Sharks love seals, like these in La Jolla Beach, California. ShutterRunner.com (Matty Wolin)/Getty Images

In December 2021, a 42-year-old man riding a body board in Morro Bay was killed by a great white shark [source: Branson-Potts]. It was one of 29 shark bites reported along the California coast since 2012, and the third fatal attack in that time period [source: ISAF].

California had three shark bites in 2021, including one fatal attack and 130 since 1926. Shark attacks in California are much more likely to occur along the northern California coast north, in the infamous Red Triangle.

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About 90 miles (145 kilometers) of Northern California coastline between Point Reyes and Monterey Bay form one side of the Red Triangle; from those two points, lines extend to meet just past the Farallon Islands, to the west of San Francisco. These waters are home to lots of seals, which in turn attract lots of great white sharks.

But within the Red Triangle are many beaches that are attract surfers, including Bolinas Beach and Stinson Beach. One tour guide operator deemed Stinson "the granddaddy of all shark beaches" [source: Regenold]. While the Red Triangle is known for the great whites, the rest of the state's coastline also holds the possibility of attack. [source: Shark Research Institute]

6: Brevard County, Florida

baby, board, Brevard County
A baby boy lies on a surfboard at a beach in Brevard County, Florida. Rich Johnson of Spectacle Photo/Getty Images

The state of Florida has so many shark attacks – 895 from 1882 to 2021 — it warrants two spots on this list]. Our first entry is Brevard County, where 155 attacks have occurred since 1882 [source: ISAF].

One reason Florida has a lot of shark attacks is that it has a lot of tourists eager to get into the water, and Brevard County is an easy hourlong drive for those already in the area to see Mickey at Disney World in Orlando. The county is home to the famed "Space Coast," 70 miles (113 kilometers) of coastline named for the space center at Cape Canaveral. In addition to the Canaveral National Seashore, visitors can also enjoy Cocoa Beach and Melbourne Beach.

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While the number of shark attacks is nothing to sneeze at, Brevard County is dangerous for a few other reasons as well. In 2008, Forbes named Brevard County beaches the most dangerous places for rip current drowning. Between 1995 and 2017, 27 people drowned from rip currents in Brevard, a rate that's higher than any other county in the United States but Volusia in Florida (which we'll meet later) [source: Weather.gov]. Parts of this coastline also fall into Florida's "Lightning Alley," an area that has the most lightning in the United States. So when you're not worrying about sharks, worry about the forecast.

5: Hawaii

Hawaii beach
Low tides lure sharks in Hawaii. M Sweet/Getty Images

What's a trip to Hawaii without a stop in Oahu or Maui? Two-thirds of Hawaii's 159 shark attacks since 1828 have occurred off the coasts of these two islands, with 64 attacks occurring in Maui and 42 attacks in Oahu. Other islands aren't safe either, with 28 attacks occurring off Kauai and 19 off the big island of Hawaii [source: ISAF].

This total is fairly low when you consider the millions of tourists who visit each year, but you should still be on the lookout for the approximately 40 species of shark that call Hawaii home [source: Hawaii.gov]. One of these species is the dangerous tiger shark, responsible for the most attacks on humans after the great white.

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Hawaii has a mixed record when it comes to dealing with sharks. On the one hand, a 1959 fatal attack led to a decadeslong shark eradication program sponsored by the government [source: Gaffney]. On the other hand, some Native Hawaiians call the tiger shark aumakua, or guardian spirit.

4: Queensland, Australia

Whiteheaven Beach, Queensland
Surf's up at Whiteheaven Beach, Queensland, Australia. naphakm/Getty Images

In 2006, Sarah Kate Whiley was swimming near Brisbane in water no higher than her waist when she was attacked by three bull sharks, which tore off both of her arms while biting her stomach and legs. Her friends ignored her scream at first, thinking it was a joke. Until they saw blood in the water [source: Chipperfield]. Whiley's death is just one of Queensland's 199 attacks since 1700 [source: ISAF].

Australia is home to 166 shark species [source: Modofsky]. You could run into one of them anywhere on the seaboard, but the eastern coast of this country is particularly prone to attacks because it's so densely populated. Australia's eastern coast is made up of two large states: Queensland and New South Wales. These two states rival each other for the most dangerous coastline in Australia. Between 1917 and 2017, for example, Queensland had 52 shark attack fatalities out of 134 fatalities in Australia [source: Taronga]. Fortunately, In 2021, Queensland did not have any attacks or fatalities [source: Taronga].

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Some of Queensland's beaches are protected by drumlines, or baited hooks meant to catch sharks, as well as some protective netting. Nets are designed to catch sharks more than 6.6 feet (2 meters) in length, so that the more dangerous sharks aren't coming in close to shore [source: Queensland Government]. The government must constantly defend the practice to environmentalists, however. In 2005, in response to outcry about a baby humpback whale killed in the nets, the Queensland government released figures relating to the nets' success. In one year, 630 sharks were caught; 298 of those were greater than 6.6 feet (2 meters), including a 17-foot (5.2-meter) tiger shark [source: Venomous, Poisonous, Dangerous, and Other Wonders].

3: New South Wales, Australia

surfer, New South Wales
Surfers are attracted to beaches in New South Wales, Australia — and so are sharks. Peter G Knott/Getty Images

Like its neighbor to the north, Queensland, New South Wales along Australia's eastern coast is home to some beautiful beaches, which in turn are home to quite a lot of sharks. New South Wales has seen 267 attacks since 1700 [source: ISAF]. That includes five attacks and one fatality in 2021 here have been 47 fatalities [source: Taronga].

Some recent attacks have helped this sunny locale rank so high on our list. In 2015, a surfer died after both his legs were bitten off in a shark attack. It was the third fatal attack in New South Wales in 12 months [source: Safi].

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Still, New South Wales's numbers have likely been kept low by protective measures taken at beaches near Sydney. In 1937, nets and mesh were installed in the waters, and the program was expanded in the early 1960s after a spate of fatal attacks [source: The Conversation]. As of 2017, 51 beaches were protected by these nets or by drumlines, baited hooks intended to attract the sharks. These have proved controversial as they have caught 98 mostly harmless sharks in the course of a year but also 279 other marine animals, including 166 rays and 10 turtles [source: Knaus]. For these reasons, the environmentalists favor building caged enclosures for swimmers instead.

2: South Africa

beach huts, Capetown
Colorful huts line the beach in Capetown, South Africa. Dillemma Photography/Getty Images

You might think that 259 shark attacks since 1905 would keep folks away from the waters of South Africa, but that doesn't seem to be the case [source: ISAF]. More and more people are flocking to South African waters to dive with sharks.

There's plenty of them to find — South Africa was one of the first countries to formally protect great white sharks, so their populations have grown [source: Hamilton]. You can see mako, ragged tooth, tiger, hammerhead, bull and blacktip sharks, just to name a few. Near Kosi Bay you'll find tenacious bull sharks known locally as Zambezi. Dyer Island, near Capetown, has earned the nickname "Shark Alley" for the many species of sharks in the water, particularly a high number of great white sharks. These great whites spend their time stalking Geyser Rock, home to more than 50,000 seals [source: Cahill].

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While shark diving may provide thrills galore, the industry is extremely controversial. Some blame shark diving, a somewhat haphazardly regulated industry, for recent shark attacks, because it encourages sharks to come closer to shore than they normally do [source: Hamilton]. Proponents say it's safe and provides a way to learn more about sharks in their natural environment. One tour guide has claimed that he doesn't even bother with the cage when diving with sharks [source: Shott].

On the flip side, however, another tour guide was injured because his foot was hanging over the side of the boat as he baited the waters to draw the great whites closer [source: Shott]. Chumming the water, or putting a mix of fish blood and guts into the water, could change a shark's natural behavior. With each new attack, some worry that the sight of humans may become linked to the promise of food, increasing the danger for unsuspecting divers who have no food to offer.

At the next spot on the list, you don't need to pay to dive with sharks — they're probably swimming all around you!

1: Volusia County, Florida

kids, New Smyrna Beach
The huge numbers of tourists flocking to New Smyrna Beach is one reason there are a lot of shark attacks here. Lynne Rigby/Getty Images

Volusia County, Florida, has had 337 attacks since 1882. [source: ISAF]. That's not only the highest number of shark attacks recorded in Florida, but it's more than South Africa, whose attacks occurred over 2,798 miles (4,503 kilometers) of coastline, as opposed to a single county.

Indeed, at New Smyrna Beach, located in Volusia, there are more incidents per square mile than on any other beach in the world [source: Luscombe]. If you've been swimming at New Smyrna, you've probably been within 10 feet (3 meters) of a shark [source: Regenold]. These distinctions have earned New Smyrna Beach the nickname "Shark Attack Capital of the World."

Volusia County has been in the top spot for decades. Are the people swimming at New Smyrna Beach particularly delicious? Are the sharks hungrier here? While the area is home to many baitfish, a common prey for these sharks, the real reason for the high number of attacks is simply the number of people in the water. Swimmers and fishermen flock to these waters, and the beaches in this county are some of the most popular in the state for surfing. There can be as many as 300 surfers in the water on a given day [source: Voyles-Pulver].

Being known as the "shark attack capital of the world" doesn't seem to dissuade surfers and swimmers, though. In fact, the deputy beach chief reported back in 2001 that when he closed the beaches following shark sightings and attacks, he received angry voicemail messages [source: Canedy]. That may be because attacks in Volusia County are fairly mild and are usually just minor bites. Some shark attack victims even drive themselves to the hospital [source: Venomous, Poisonous, Dangerous, and Other Wonders].

Originally Published: Jun 13, 2008

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