Picturesque ocean waves, soft, golden sands, and cool summer breezes are just some of the things you look forward to when planning the ideal beach vacation.
Nevertheless, you must choose your beach wisely, because you never know the dangers lurking under the waves.
Although there are plenty of ocean dwellers to be aware of at the beach – jelly fish, sting rays, some of the crazier fish in existence…there’s also the mother of all feared fish – sharks!
Hundreds of shark species dart through oceans worldwide, with some being the size of your hand and others the size of your car.
Now, we must state at the outset, that just because a body of water is “shark-infested”, that doesn’t equate to there being a lot of shark attacks at that location. It just means there’s a lot of sharks there.
And sure, there may be a number sharks gathered at a certain location, but depending on various factors, the sharks may or may not be interested in you as “prey”. We will get into those various factors in this article.
That said, what beaches are the most shark infested? And why?
Here is what we are going to cover today:
- [ps2id url=’#0′ offset=” class=”]List of Common Sharks[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#1′ offset=” class=”]Shark Facts That May Surprise You[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#2′ offset=” class=”]Top 10 Most Shark Infested Beaches[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#2′ offset=” class=”]Gansbaai, South Africa[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#3′ offset=” class=”]Kosi Bay, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#4′ offset=” class=”]New Smyrna Beach, Florida, USA[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#5′ offset=” class=”]Bolinas, California, USA[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#6′ offset=” class=”]Recife, Brazil[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#7′ offset=” class=”]Lake Nicaragua, Nicaragua[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#8′ offset=” class=”]Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#9′ offset=” class=”]Reunion Island[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#10′ offset=” class=”]West End, Grand Bahamas[/ps2id]
- [ps2id url=’#11′ offset=” class=”]Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa[/ps2id]
Before we move on, let’s explain what the most common species of sharks are and some of their characteristics…[ps2id id=’0′ target=”/]
A List of Common Sharks
Facts about bull sharks:
- Found in warm, shallow waters worldwide
- Can be very aggressive
- Can also be found in rivers and lakes
- Small eyes, triangular teeth, wide snout, stout body
- Can adapt to different types of water (fresh, salt, brackish)
- Can speed up quickly from 4-11 mph when necessary
- They have a big appetite and eat lots of different things (fish, dolphin, bird, crabs…you)
- Less bull sharks than before, but still not endangered
Great White Sharks
- Known as the ultimate sea predator
- Average between 15-20 feet long, and weigh up to 5000 pounds
- They can swim up to 15 mph
- Their colour scheme allows them to blend in and they are hard to see from above and below
- Their hunting technique is the old “bump-bite” where they ram their prey and also bite them
- They eat a variety of things, including sea lions, fish, rays, and even sometimes whales
- Listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list
- Rarely encounter or attack humans, and if they do, the fatality rate is even lower
- Humans catch / hunt Great Whites regularly, so we are, to be fair, exponentially more of a threat to them
Great White Shark Distribution Chart (Global):
Blacktip Reef Sharks
Facts about blacktip reef sharks:
- Prominent black tips on fins (hence the name)
- Commonly found in coral reefs of the Pacific
- Grow to between 5-7′ long
- They’re shy typically and swim away from humans (even snorkellers have trouble getting close to them)
- They don’t go too far, ie. they have a range of 0.2 square miles
- They have been known to hunt cooperatively
- What they enjoy eating are small schools of fish
Facts about Spinner Sharks:
- Fast swimmers
- They like to leap out of the water and spin (like a dolphin)
- Their leaping technique is part of how they catch food, by swimming up quickly with mouth open
- They love to eat fish (ie. sardines and other pack fish)
- Found worldwide, always on the move to somewhere else (migrating)
- They rarely bother with humans
Facts about Tiger Sharks:
- Not all of them have stripes
- Curious and can be aggressive
- Notched teeth
- Excellent sense of smell
- Hunt sea turtles on the regular
- Sometimes share food with whales
- Will eat literally anything they come across, including garbage
- Sea grass somehow benefits from their presence
- They like warm water
- Some tiger sharks migrate south in the winter
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Now that you are somewhat familiar with sharks—sharp teeth, beady eyes, and all—let’s look at a few more general shark facts that may surprise you, followed by… the top 10 most shark infested beaches.
More Shark Facts That May Surprise You
Sharks have excellent eyesight
Most sharks can see extremely well in dark areas. They have amazing night vision, and can see different colors.
The back of sharks’ eyeballs have a reflective layer of tissue which is classed a tapetum. It is this layer that helps sharks see extremely well in dark lighted areas.
Sharks have unique electroreceptor organs
Almost all sharks have small black spots scattered near the nose, eyes and mouth. These spots are known as the Ampullae of Lorenzini.
The Ampullae of Lorenzini are unique electroreceptor organs that allow sharks to sense electromagnetic fields near them and temperature changes in the ocean.
Shark skin feels like sandpaper
Shark skin feels similar to sandpaper because it is made of small teeth-like structures called placoid scales. These scales are also know as dermal denticles.
Their purpose is to reduce friction from surrounding water when the shark swims.
Sharks can be “hypnotized”
When flipped upside down, sharks go into a trance like state called tonic immobility. In this state they are incredibly calm and easy to control.
Scientists often put sharks into this state when working on them in the water.
Not all sharks live in the ocean
While most sharks live in all of the world’s oceans, some species are known to live in freshwater lakes and rivers. For example, bull sharks have evolved to swim between salt and fresh water.
River sharks have also been found in rivers of South Asia, New Guinea, and Australia.
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Next, we look at the top 10 most shark infested beaches…
Gansbaai, South Africa—part of “Shark Alley”
Popularly known as a fishing town and holiday resort, Gansbaai is also home to a very large population of everyone’s favourite super-predator of the oceans, the Great White Shark.
This is why Gansbaai is a part of an area known as “Shark Alley”.
According to sharkbookings.com, “Shark Alley” is “a thin stretch of water between the two Islands of Dyer Island and Geyser Rock near Gansbaai in South Africa” where annually, seals draw in the a congregation of Great Whites to the area, and so the area is host to some of the best shark cage diving in the world.
“Shark cage diving”, you say? Yes, people actually get into a cage and wait for sharks to come around so they can be close to them.
Watch this video and you’ll get the idea of what you too can take part in if you are feeling some love for these primordial predators.
Yes, so while some people hear the word “shark” and they run (or swim) in the opposite direction, there are those who say “Where?” followed by “Please get me closer!”
Companies around Gansbaai take visitors out on boats to experience the Great Whites in all their gnashing glory, even if that means the great white sticks its head and in cage and tries to bite you.
Perplexed? It turns out, some people just love the thrill of being so close to one of these hungry predators.
This little shark-visiting sojourn will typically cost you a few hundred dollars.
But, if this adventure does not appeal so much to you, you can take your spot on the deck of the ship, and watch the sharks feast on bait or the local seas.
Certainly, the deeper waters of Gansbaai may not be a place for a casual swim, but normally if you stick to the shallows, you’ll be ok.
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Next, we move to South Africa…
Kosi Bay, Kwa-Zulu-Natal, South Africa
Kosi Bay is our second most shark infested location.
Famous for its unspoiled beauty, Kosi Bay also harbors Zambezi sharks/bull sharks, which dwell in the freshwater lakes and estuaries.
Bull sharks, aka Zambezi sharks in this region, are known to be outright aggressive if you get to close to them, and this creates fear in people who have a phobia of sharks, which is a large number of people.
Also, bull sharks are known to be able to swim in various types of waters, as we mentioned in the fact sheet about them above, and so this makes people even more afraid of them because they can seemingly show up anywhere there is water.
Estuaries are breeding grounds for sharks and other fish, and by that we mean shark nurseries, so sharks do congregate there because they go there to have their babies and it’s where the life of a shark often starts.
That said, just because there are bull sharks in this region doesn’t mean they’re out to get you. The beach itself is picturesque and many people go there regularly, without having to encounter any bull sharks.
It would seem that most of fear around Kosi Bay being a location of shark attack is due to one shark attack that happened to a woman named Janie Pelser in 1972, where she was sitting in the shallows and suddenly a shark came up and bit her foot.
The attack was non-fatal, but, since then, Kosi Bay was mis-labelled a place where vicious sharks attack innocent people.
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On to the next one…
New Smyrna Beach, Florida, USA
Here at New Smyrna Beach, sharks are known to bump into humans, and “accidentally” bite them.
But, in their defence, that’s probably just because it thinks you’re a fish carcass or something else they mistake for food.
The water isn’t exactly the clearest, so sharks don’t often recognize humans right away either. What sharks do like to do is nibble on things that they detect in the water to see what it is, hence they bite sometimes.
Sharks are not known to particularly like the taste of humans, and, by the way (read this National Geographic report on sharks for more info), the sharks at New Smyrna who do bite typically are smaller, so that should be taken into consideration as well.
Read this TripAdvisor thread about whether locals in New Smyrna worry about the sharks
The waters off New Smyrna Beach in east-central Florida are full of spinner, blacktip, and tiger sharks. If it’s any comfort to you, these aren’t the largest sharks in the water by far.
Frequent holder of the “Shark Bite Capital of the World” title on and off, New Smyrna is still a favorite vacation location for many beach-goers, and particularly surfers as the waves there are awesome and it draws surfers from around the world.
Read our article, “Top 10 Surf Spots in Florida” and New Smyrna is on the list!
It’s also worth noting that in New Smyrna, you are 26% safer when it comes to regular crimes than in other parts of the US, according to the website Area Vibes. Does that make up for the shark attacks that have been reported?
Well, according to locals, it’s surfers who have the most to worry about the shark population, as the best surfing spots at New Smyrna are also the most shark-infested.
Although they are not as aggressive as great white or bull sharks, they randomly approach people, often mistaking them for other things, or just because they’re curious.
To a shark, a surfer is not any different than a turtle, or any other prey. You’re floating in the water, you’re made of meat, it might be time for a nibble.
Because so many people visit New Smyrna, and there are so many sharks, there are often times reported many “attacks”, but the degree of the attacks are sometimes embellished or not specified.
This all leads to the reputation that New Smyrna has for shark attacks. The bottom line is, people still surf there, and sharks still congregate there, and it is no less popular because of the number of sharks there.
I did chat with a local named Courtney recently, and here is her take on the shark “situation” in New Smyrna: “I’ve been in this town for over 15 years, I feel like it’s super misleading to say “shark infested” just because it’s simply their homes that we’re entering at our own risk. In new Smyrna beach I don’t feel like sharks are an issue to beach goers or really people for that matter.”
Courtney continues, “Fun fact: we are the shark bite capital of the world!! Although we have the most shark bites per year on average, the damage is minor and usually only requires stitches if that. The sharks aren’t interested in messing around or eating the people but simply sometimes mistake for food so they quickly realize you’re not what they’re after and leave you with maybe a scrape or a wound that is able to heal via stitches. Our most common breeds of sharks in our area are the more aggressive due to their higher levels of testosterone. Luckily for us, our injuries are very minor as opposed to places like Hawaii and California where people lose whole limbs and sometimes their lives.”
Check out this video featuring manatees and sharks at New Smyrna.
Bolinas is a small beach found in Marin County, Northern California, and part of the so-called “Red Triangle”. It is also a hot spot for surfers, who simply can’t get enough of the waves in this area.
What is the “Red Triangle”, and why does it not sound very inviting? Watch this quick video to get a sense of the location of this shark-infested area.
Other than its utopian seaside vibe and reclusive residents who apparently tear down signs that give directions to the beach (presumably to have the surfing all to themselves?), Bolinas is also known for great white sharks with recorded attacks aplenty, earning Bolinas a certain “reputation”, if you will.
These big sharks swim in large numbers in the waters off Bolinas and Stinson Beach, and are responsible for a number of non-fatal attacks in and around the area.
Here’s a video showing a shark just chillin’ out in the water not far from shore.
In the year 2002 one great white shark, 12-14 foot in length, viciously attacked a 24 year-old surfer.
Although the man survived, he needed over 100 stitches to close up the bite wounds.
These attacks haven’t stopped surfers from going about their business, as surfers are often an earthy type of folk who understand that sharks are an essential part of the overall ecosystem in the area.
Not only that, but the waves are just too darn good to ignore. This means, in Bolinas, there will probably always be sharks, as well as surfers for sharks to mistake for seals and occasionally bite.
Here’s a video of a local fellow who apparently likes to fish for sharks. Clearly, not everyone in Bolinas fears the toothsome fish!
Next, we travel to Brazil…
While the other beaches mentioned so far seem to be living more or less in harmony with their sharks, Recife is a bit different.
Sometimes referred to as “the Venice of South America”, with many bridges and small islands, this fantastic urban beach has perfect sunshine and cool seashore breezes. It is the fourth largest city in Brazil with over 4 million inhabitants.
It was also, historically speaking, the first established slave port in the Americas, founded in 1537, according to Wikipedia’s page on Recife.
But in addition to all this, it’s also a favorite location for lots and lots of bull sharks, so much so that surfing has been banned in Recife since 1995, and swimmers are constantly told to avoid the reefs and the wild and unpredictable currents in the area.
There have been over 63 shark attacks between 1992 and 2003—24 of which were fatal. The fatality rate of these attacks is an astonishing 37%.
Why So Many Sharks in Recife?
If you are wondering why so many sharks are drawn to Recife, here’s a plausible explanation backed up by peer reviewed study.
Back in the 1980’s, a giant port called Port Suape was constructed, in order to facilitate more ships coming and going (ie. cargo vessels), and extending docks far out into the ocean as well.
The construction of Port Suape required a dredging of the estuaries, where the sharks typically breed.
All of this construction interfered with the breeding of the bull sharks, who then were forced to head in closer to the shore line of Recife.
The ships that were now more frequent in the area, had a habit of dumping garbage into the water, beginning in the 1990’s, which drew in more sharks – tiger sharks, who will eat anything.
The sharks were also attracted to the low hum emitted by the giant boats, which only served to bring in more sharks to the area.
Once the influx of sharks was noted by the local science community, the Pernambuco Committee was established in the early 1990’s to keep track of the sharks. At this time, many sharks were captured, tagged, and then released far from shore.
In 2014, Dr. Fabio Hazin, who was a prof at the Universidade Federal Rural De Pernambuco, shared the results of the shark studies in the Animal Conservation periodical.
The culmination of 10 years of research was basically that the “culling” (capturing and killing) of sharks was not needed, but that the bio-ecological study of these sharks (ie. tagging and relocating) ought to continue for the foreseeable future.
Although this is the best solution possible at this time, while the port is still active, the presence of the port itself almost guarantees there to be plenty of sharks in the Recife area.
Don’t Ignore The Warnings
There are plenty of warning signs for tourists who are visiting Recife to avoid the water, but, despite all of the warnings, from both signs and word of mouth, tourists still persist in taking a dip.
Boa Viagem, one particular beach in Recife, is a highly populated area where the locals know to avoid the water, and yet they still see tourists ignoring their signs.
You’d think that in a place where one in every three shark attacks results in death, it is probably safer to concentrate on your tan, than to jump in the water.
A more recent shark attack, in 2013, on an 18-year-old woman named Bruna Gobbi, resulted in death. Here is a video of that attack.
If you were thinking of going in the water here, just keep this video in mind before doing so.
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What do you do if you encounter a tiger shark?
- Stay calm, because they’ll sense your panic
- Make eye contact with the shark and keep it
- Make yourself big, ie. try to inhale a lot of air and puff up
- Do NOT play dead (or you will be dead)
- Keep moving away from them, but don’t ignore them
- BONUS TIP – Punch that shark in the eye or the gill (weak spots) vs the nose (not weak)
- BONUS TIP 2 – They see bright colours like yellow, orange, and red in murky water (so wear black)
- BONUS TIP 3 – Pray to God it isn’t a great white
On to the next beach…
#6 – Lake Nicaragua (Lago Cocibolca), Nicaragua
Lake Nicaragua is the largest lake in Central America, and it is also infested with bull sharks, who can be known to be quite aggressive.
Lake Nicaragua is known to locals as the “Sweet Sea”, which is an apt designation for this body of water, because it is free from salt. But, it is similar to ocean water in that it has characteristics similar to an ocean like waves, archipelagos, and sharks.
For a long time, scientists wondered how this huge freshwater lake could have ended up with so many sharks in it.
The Old Theory
The initial theory on the presence of these sharks in the lake was that since Lake Nicaragua is so large (8 000 square kilometers) and so close to the Pacific Ocean, it was once thought to be a giant bay.
Over a period of thousands of years, the land eroded and the bay became a lake, and the water salinity changed to become fresh water, which the bull sharks then adapted to, after being trapped in the lake.
The Current Theory
The current theory differs from the old theory, in that it states that Lake Nicaragua was always a lake, connected to the Caribbean Sea by the San Juan River.
The San Juan River, a 119-mile river that flows from the lake (San Carlos), to the sea (Grey Town), flowing eastward, was and is the bull sharks’ travel route between the lake and sea.
Remarkably, bull sharks make the great effort to swim upstream, like a salmon spawning, to make their home in the lake. They also return to the ocean once they’ve given birth.
Bull sharks are viviparous, which means that they give birth to a live “pup”, like a dog or even a human. Between 4 and 10 pups are born per litter, and the pregnancy takes 12 months.
Here is a video talking more about shark reproduction if you are interested.
But why would the bull sharks do this? Wouldn’t they prefer the salty ocean water to the shallow, warm, fresh water lake of Lake Nicaragua?
The reason for this is most likely because bull sharks like breeding and feeding in warm, murky shallow water. This type of water is, coincidentally, the type of water that humans like as well. This is where the trouble starts.
Bull Sharks are Territorial and Curious
Bull sharks enjoy eating lots of things – turtles, crustaceans, echinoderms (invertebrates), dolphins, other sharks, your pet dog, sting rays, and of course you – if you bump into one.
Studies show that most bull shark attacks are quite territorial, and quite curious. These are well known and documented facts about bull sharks.
So just imagine that you were in a pen with a bunch of rowdy rottweilers. The dogs are going to come sniff you if you enter their pen, at the very least.
The difference here is that these dogs are actually sharks that are 11-feet long and 700 pounds each. They’re a bit moody, with row after row of sharp teeth.
Bull sharks have 50 rows of teeth, with 7 teeth per row, which is 350 sharp teeth in their mouth at any given time.
That’s what Lake Nicaragua is for bull sharks – one big pen, and they own it, according to them.
They have not been given the memo yet that it is your vacation spot. Rather, it is their home, and they like it that way.
Bull Shark’s magic rectal gland
There is a gland in the rectum of the bull shark that is less active than in other sharks, and so it’s unable to excrete excess salt from its body.
This being the case, bull sharks often opt for fresh water, because they don’t have the ability to manage too much salinity at one time.
At the same time, if more salt is needed, their livers produce something called “urea”, which will allow them to exist in any amount of salt water.
Overall, it makes sense for bull sharks to have their young in a fresh water lake like Lake Nicaragua, because it is more isolated, and their babies can’t handle the salt of the deep ocean.
In any case, you can see why perhaps bull sharks might enjoy living in Lake Nicaragua.
#7 – Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia
Both surfers and sharks are hugely fond of the waters of this world-famous beach, located in New South Wales, Australia. This beach is popular for it’s rocks, warm water, and beautiful sand, among other things.
The types of sharks that you’ll encounter in Australia, generally speaking, include: Bull sharks, bronze whalers, Grey nurse sharks, Oceanic whitetip, pygmies, Blacktip reef sharks, and several others.
Here’s a pygmie shark. Hellooooo handsome!
There are several prime surf spots at Bondi, and seemingly sharks do not deter surfers from going there to surf, as the breaks are so perfect.
There is even a live surf camera of Bondi Beach courtesy of Coastalwatch.com you can check out any time to see what the conditions are like there.
As you might expect in such a prime surfing location, there are surfing schools like Let’s Go Surfing, who teach surfing at Bondi, Byron Bay, and Maroubra.
So how bad can Bondi Beach really be when it comes to sharks when it’s such a popular destination spot for both surfers and beach-goers alike?
Though it is exceptionally rare for a shark to actually attack someone at Bondi beach (but it has happened), there are definitely sightings rather often, since a variety of different types of sharks definitely make their home in the area.
Here is a video captured by a drone flying overhead using Bondi’s latest “shark detection” app.
Bondi Beach seems to get a lot of attention because, it would seem, that it is such a famous beach and it is so popular, so there are always lingering worries of shark attacks, since it has happened, and the sharks reside there.
Bondi’s Shark Detection App – “Clever Buoy”
Rather than let these attacks in New South Wales continue, an app was created in order to monitor the sharks in the area, called the “Clever Buoy”.
Created by Shark Mitigation Systems (ASX:SM8), this revolutionary technology of keeping track of the sharks using something similar to face recognition is obviously not limited to areas around Australia, however the situation in New South Wales has certainly done its part to prompt it into being.
Essentially, Bondi Beach is testing the effectiveness of the app, which uses “new age sonar” to create what is basically a “virtual shark net”, according to Craig Anderson, Shark Mitigation Services’ founder.
Watch this video to hear Craig Anderson talk about Shark Mitigation Systems.
#8 – Reunion Island
Reunion Island is a French-owned island east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and known shark haven.
It has, in recent years, been referred to as the “shark capital of the world”, accounting for 16% of global fatal shark attacks between 2011-2016.
On the more upbeat side of things, Reunion is known for many amazing sights that draw in tourists year round.
These sights include: incredible black or white sand beaches, to impressive coral reefs, inland waterfalls, the dense greenery that is the island’s rainforests, and – of course – the well known landmark that is the climbable, active volcano named Piton de la Fournaise.
If you love the outdoors and you love to travel and you enjoy some serious biodiversity, then Reunion Island is probably on your short list of places to visit.
Tourists go there to raft, to hike, and paraglide, raft, and much more!
But the upsetting shark attack stats remain. As of 2018, there have been 27 documented fatal shark attacks at this location. Bull and tiger sharks are the common sharks in these waters.
The sharks are aggressive, and have terrified visitors and residents alike for many years.
In February of 2017, bodyboarder Alexandre Naussac became Reunion Islands’ 8th fatality, with the tragedy causing a controversy as surfing legend Kelly Slater publicly stated that “if the whole world had these rates of attack, nobody would use the ocean and millions of people would be dying like this”.
Part of the reason he said this is because, if you compare somewhere like South Africa to Reunion Island, South Africa had 7 fatal shark attacks in the same period as Reunion but is also 490 times the size of Reunion.
Meanwhile, Florida had 152 shark attacks between 2011 and 2016 and none were fatal. The reason for this is that the sharks in Florida were not the larger more aggressive sharks seen at Reunion Island, and so this accounts of the lack of fatality, while there are still a large number of attacks.
Despite the number of people who will always want to step forward defend sharks in general, it’s clear that Reunion Island does have a big and quite legitimate shark problem on their hands.
#9 – West End, Grand Bahamas
Unlike other shark infested beaches, there is no documentation of fatal shark attacks in West End, Grand Bahamas.
Just like Gansbaai, shark cage diving is also a popular activity here.Tourists come to West End to watch the hungry sharks.
Nonetheless, be very careful when you visit the Bahamas. It is home to almost all types of sharks: blacktips, bull sharks, hammerheads, you name it.
#10 – Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa
Umhlanga Rocks is situated along the shores of the Indian Ocean. It is the home of great white and bull sharks.
In 1957, several fishing nets were installed, so as to protect swimmers.
Surfers here wear devices that repel sharks: a clear indication that Umhlanga Rocks is one of the most dangerous shark attack spots in the world.
We hope you enjoyed our article about the most shark-infested beaches!