Florida has plenty of towns known for surfing. Examples are Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach, and Melbourne Beach. But one Florida town that is considered to be one of the "best" places for surfers, as well as its most "underrated" beach destinations, is also considered its most dangerous.
Shark Encounters: When you think about shark encounters with humans, you might think of the fictional town of Amity Island, the setting of the movie "Jaws" - which was filmed on Martha's Vineyard, or Australia, which made the news recently when a surfer was attacked by a shark.
However, neither of these places is dubbed "the shark bite capital of the world." That honor goes to a county on Florida's northeast coast that is actually known for its sugar ruins, and to a town that has been called the most "underrated" beach destination.
Florida's Hot Spot County and The Most "Underrated" But Most "Dangerous" Beach: While the entirety of Volusia County is dubbed as the shark bite "capital," it is actually New Smyrna Beach that has the most attacks on record.
In July of 2023, Travel + Leisure called New Symna Beach the "most underrated" beach destination in Florida. The publication praised the city's history, beauty, and natural attractions.
Statistics: According to Business Insider reporting on data from the Florida Museum's International Shark Attack File in September of 2023, the state of Florida itself had 259 shark attacks from 2012 to 2021 - putting it well above Australia, which had the second-highest number of shark attacks.
Volusia County, by comparison, had 343 recorded shark bites from 1882-2023, more than double that of Brevard County, which had the second-highest number of attacks.
In July of 2023 alone, New Smyrna saw three shark attacks - with two happening on the same beach over the course of one weekend.
A short time later, in mid-September 2023, a surfer was bit in the face at New Smyrna Beach.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal says that so far this year, there have been seven shark bites in Volusia County. That's down from 16 in 2022.
Still, A-Z Animals calls New Smyrna Beach "Florida's most dangerous beach," in the summer of 2023, since it has an overall danger score of 8.4 out of 10. In addition to the shark issue, the publication said it also suffers from surfing dangers and unpredictable weather.
In addition to Daytona and Smyrna Beaches, Volusia County is home to Deland, Port Orange, Orange City, and Ponce Inlet.
Why Is Volusia County and New Smyrna Beach Such A Hot Spot For Shark Bites?: Gavin Naylor, the director of The Florida Program of Shark Research, told Business Insider in late September of 2023 that Volusia County's coast is attractive to sharks because it has so many fish such as mullet and menhaden baitfish that attract the sharks.
At the same time, the area is attractive to surfers due to its waves. The number of fish in the water can make visibility bad for sharks, who sometimes mistakenly assume that the surfers or swimmers are food.
Naylor told Business Insider in an email, in part:
"Water flowing out of Ponce Inlet immediately north of where most shark bites occur is usually a haven for high densities of bait fishes. It's also a high-energy environment — a lot of wave action. This churns up the water, making the visibility poor and attracts surfers."
What Type of Sharks Are Most Commonly Involved and What is The Most Common Time For Attacks?: Blacktip, bull, and requiem sharks are reportedly the sharks most commonly involved in bites in Volusia County, and September is the most common time.
Naylor told Fox 35 Orlando:
"Usually there are no bites until May or June and then a whole flurry of bites and July and August is steady. Then we get a pulse of bites in late September and October when black tip sharks move up the coast."
How To Say Safe In Florida's Waters: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission offers some tips for enjoying the beach while reducing the odds of a shark bite.
The FFWC suggests that you always swim on beaches with a lifeguard, swim in groups, avoid swimming when wounded, avoid wearing bright jewelry, avoid murky waters, and avoid the twilight period, when sharks are most active.
The Florida Museum says that if you are in the water and you see a shark, you should maintain eye contact with the shark and exit the water slowly.
Richard Peirce, a shark expert, told CNN Travel in August of 2023:
“You must try and keep the animal in sight and very slowly and gently try and swim backward and get into shallow water..."
Even though Volusia County has more shark attacks than other places, Jackson Hooten, a shark expert, told News 4 Jax in the summer of 2022 that it is important to keep in mind that most shark attacks are mistaken identity and not a common occurrence, explaining:
“It’s very, very rare that sharks bite people."