There’s nothing quite like a warm, sandy beach in the middle of summer. Jumping in the water, surfing the days away or simply enjoying the water with your children sound like dreams come true. Yet many of us fear that a cunning predator may end up clouding our vacation plans with his mere presence. Spotting sharks at the beach will surely cause vacationers to take extra precautions while venturing in the water (if they choose to do so at all).
Curiously, though, sharks are not the man-eating monsters that the media and movies have pictured them to be. Shark attacks are, in fact, not as common as people think. Even so, the dangers are real and, depending on the beach you choose to visit, shark attacks may vary in frequency. Let’s first look at the beaches where shark sightings are most common.
Sharks at the Beach: Shark Infested Beaches
Whether you want to steer clear of such places or, on the contrary, go shark spotting, there are several beaches that have earned their reputation. Such shark infested beaches are common tourist attractions where the feared giants may be spotted and where groups can even engage in shark diving activities.
Australia and the USA are by far top destinations, as sharks often lurk in these waters. Here are some of the beaches where sharks are commonplace:
- “Shark Alley” in Gansbaai, South Africa: This is a top destination for adventurous tourists keen on shark diving, though daytime swimming is not an activity to look forward to.
- Coffin Bay, Australia: The name is rather befitting, as Coffin Bay is one of the beaches where most shark attacks occur.
- New Smyrna Beach, Florida: As previously stated, the USA has plenty of shark-filled waters, including Florida’s New Smyrna Beach. Granted, it’s hard to resist the alluring waves and that’s why so many still swim and surf here.
- Bolinas, California: Bolinas is another beach that is beloved by many: in part because of its cold, refreshing waters. But despite its appeal, the entire California coast is known for its large white shark population. So even if you brave your way into the waters of Bolinas, do so with great care.
- Surf Beach, Santa Barbara, California: Surf Beach also has a bad reputation because of some violent shark attacks that took place there. One attack in particular seemed to catch the public’s eye in 2010 when a 19-year-old surfer encountered an 18-foot great white.
- Recife, Brazil: Brazil’s waters, seductive as they are, have also been home to over 50 shark attacks.
- Bondi Beach, Australia: Bull sharks are common in Australia, especially at Bondi Beach, where several tourists lost their lives following tragic attacks.
- Topsail Island, North Carolina: In the past decade, shark attacks were moderate in North Carolina. Even so, be cautious when visiting Topsail Island.
- West End, Grand Bahamas: Numerous types of sharks such as tiger, blacktips, bull sharks and hammerheads are common at West End, and while no attacks have been reported in the area, brutal shark attacks have been known to occur in the Bahamas.
- Kosi Bay, South Africa: This is perhaps one of the most shark-infested bodies of water and while the beaches and coastlines may be breath-taking, take a moment to think that aggressive bull- and great white sharks lurk in the clear waters.
You can find detailed information on the number of shark attacks in specific areas by accessing the International Shark Attack Registry.
Protecting Yourself in the Case of a Shark Attack
In 2014, there were a total of 52 reported shark attacks in the US, five more than the previous year. The numbers themselves don’t paint an accurate picture because statistics show that you are 45,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than you are by a shark attack.
Even if they are rare, shark attacks do happen so you should know the basics about how to defend yourself. Avoiding such a situation is your best bet. There are several things you can do to decrease your already slim chances of being attacked by a shark:
- Never swim alone: Ideally, you should swim in groups as sharks tend to only attack lone individuals.
- Stay close to the shore:Tthe farther you swim away from shore, the higher your chances of becoming isolated. When swimming close to the shore, you’re also more likely to be seen by others if something does occur.
- Avoid the water if wounded: As you most certainly already know, sharks are adapt at sensing wounded or bleeding prey. Consequently, if you’ve been cut or wounded, stay out of the water. Even the tiniest amounts of blood may be sensed by sharks, who smell it and trace it back to the source.
- Only enter the water during the day: Many often venture into the waters at dusk, dawn, or worse still, during night time. Yet sharks are especially active at these times and they can spot you more easily.
- Don’t wear jewelry: Shiny jewelry may be mistaken for fish scales so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
- Avoid dirty waters or fish-laden ones: Sharks are drawn by other fish, so avoid swimming in water that is dirty, contains sewage, or fish.
- Never enter the water if sharks are present.
- Avoid steep drop-offs, lagoons and small bays where sharks can end up during low-tides.
In the event of a shark attack, you must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure your survival. This may mean different things depending on the situation. Some choose to be aggressive while others are passive. Yelling underwater or blowing bubbles doesn’t generally do the trick. However, there are certain things you can do.
A shark attack can be provoked or unprovoked. Either way, your best bet is to remain calm. Easier said than done, but even so, keeping your cool is paramount as it allows you to think clearly. Sharks can sense fear so attempt to remain as calm and possible.
Try to avoid any attack by gauging at the eyes of the shark or by moving suddenly if it strikes.
Be ready to use your surfboard as a weapon. Most commonly, it’s the only thing you’re carrying with you. Ideally, you should protect your body by using the surfboard as a shield. If and when it is possible, attempt to strike back at the shark and aim for sensitive areas such as its gills, eyes or nose. Be as aggressive as possible in the case that you are bitten: use your hands to claw at the attacker’s eyes or gills and attempt to get out of the water as quickly as possible. Stop the bleeding and get help.
Tracking Recent Shark Attacks
Every summer serves as a reminder of how unpredictable nature can be. In North Carolina alone, between June and July, as many as eight shark attacks occurred over a 28-day-span. In total, there were 72 unprovoked shark attacks this year, and 52 of those occurred in the US.
California wasn’t exempt this year either. On the 30th of August, a surfer barely escaped an injury after encountering a great white shark in the waters of Morro Strand State Beach. Luckily, the shark only bit off a chunk of the surfer’s board.
16-year-old Hunter Treschl wasn’t so lucky. On June 14th, he lost part of his arm during a shark attack at Oak Island, North Carolina. He and his cousin were playing in waist-deep water when, all of a sudden, a 7-foot shark appeared. Treschl wasn’t the only unlucky tourist that day, as only 60 minutes prior to his attack, another victim suffered serious injuries to her arm and leg. The 12-year-old in question lost a portion of her arm, but, luckily, doctors were able to save the leg.
On the September 4, a 65-year-old man lived moments of horror in New South Wales. The man fell into the water and sustained serious leg injuries as a result of a shark attack. Only two weeks earlier, a younger surfer sustained life-threatening injuries just 60 miles north of Forster, where the 65-year-old was attacked. One week prior to that, a 52-year-old valiantly fought with a shark 140 miles north of Port Macquarie. It was the 11th attack (one of which ended fatally) on this stretch of the New South Wales coast.
Sites such as Shark Attack Survivors track such incidents yearly, though numerous unreported attacks may also occur.
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy events was 10-year-old Kaley Szarmack’s decision to go back into the water after having been attacked by a shark to save her 6-year-old friend. Kayley, who sustained a leg injury, received 90 stiches, but ended up with a once-in-a-lifetime story and a scar to go along with it.
According to scientists, 2015 was a bad year regarding shark attacks, but even so, there are moments when even these feared creatures deserve a helping hand. Numerous beachgoers in Lubec, Maine attempted to rescue a massive, 30-foot-long shark that had been stranded on the beach. Normally, sharks avoid shallow waters. That’s why seeing sharks on the beach is such a rare occurrence. Volunteers poured buckets of water on the stranded predator who, despite their efforts, did not survive.
Remember that sharks are opportunistic creatures and they seek the food sources that ensure the best results with the least amount of effort. They may reign supreme in the waters, but with a bit of consideration, you can ensure that your risk of encountering sharks at the beach is minimal.