Where are the world's most shark-infested beaches?
Published Sunday, July 3, 2011 7:58AM EDT
By the time a lifeguard got to him, it was too late. Stephen Schafer was kitesurfing 500 yards off an unguarded part of Stuart Beach, in Martin County, Fla., last February when he was attacked by a swarm of sharks.
"He got bit after he presumably wiped out, a very serious bite," says George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
While rare, shark attacks have been on the rise in the past few years, with 79 attacks confirmed by the ISAF in 2010, making it the most dangerous year for shark attacks in a decade.
But it's important to put those attacks in perspective. "Sharks are chumps," says Jason Clampet, senior online editor at Frommers.com, referring to their relative danger posed to humans. Creatures like the box jellyfish -- prevalent in Australia and the Philippines -- kill more regularly and are harder to predict or look out for, according to Clampet.
Shark attacks account for just a sliver of water-related deaths. Drowning, for example, claims the lives of more than one million people each year, according to the International Life Saving Federation.
Still, there are a few areas that regularly attract sharks that swimmers should be aware of, and we've identified them with the aid of Burgess, travel experts and ISAF data for 2010. It's difficult to pinpoint any one beach that is more likely than others to be the site of a shark attack as sharks tend to avoid humans.
There are certain regions, however, that are known to attract sharks in larger numbers, mostly due to the presence of seals and other animals that sharks prey on.
Florida remains the most likely place in the world to encounter sharks. There were 13 unprovoked attacks in the state in 2010, down from previous years. The most famous beach that attracts sharks, says Burgess, is tourist hot spot New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, also home to Daytona Beach.
Hawaii, the southern and eastern coasts of Australia, and South Africa follow closely behind. There were 14 attacks in Australian waters in 2010, down from 21 the year before.
"In 2009, a wave of panic hit Sydney-siders," says Shawn Low, Asia Pacific editor for Lonely Planet. "First, a shark attacked a navy diver in the Sydney Harbor. A day later, a surfer was attacked at the tourist-laden Bondi beach."
The California coast has also seen its share of attacks, particularly the waters north of San Francisco, where the seals and sea lions that great white sharks feed on congregate in large numbers.
Most attacks don't happen in deeper waters; the vast majority are in six feet of water or less. "The surf zone is a good area to be a shark," says Burgess. "There's food out there, the shark can hide in the turmoil of the breaking surf, and the shark has a real advantage there as a predator."
It's not easy to prevent a shark attack. Experts suggest swimming where there are lifeguards, and bringing along a companion if you're going into unguarded waters for recreational purposes. And keep in mind that shark attacks are more of a phenomenon based on human recreational habits, rather than an innate tendency to feed on people. We're the invading species.
"Our best scientific estimate is that we're killing 75 million sharks per year worldwide," says Burgess. "Sharks kill 4 to 5 humans per year. It's pretty obvious who is the aggressor in this relationship."