Stab Magazine | Florida Is The World Capital Of Non-Fatal Shark Attacks

Florida Is The World Capital Of Non-Fatal Shark Attacks

Yet, it doesn’t receive the Peter Benchley treatment.

news // Mar 29, 2017
Words by James Royce
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Earlier this week, a 58-year-old Floridan gent was bitten on the foot while surfing off New Smyrna Beach. He was about 30m offshore, and injuries were minor. He was able to make it back to the beach on his own, opting out of a hospital visit to treat the injuries.

It seems like stories like this occur throughout the Sunshine State on a weekly basis. Because, they do. In fact, according to the University of Florida (possibly bias, but with credible academic backing), 32 recorded shark attacks occurred (zero fatal) in 2016 – an average of about .6 nibbles a week.

Compared to the number of attacks in other locations — 15 in Australia, 10 in Hawaii, and one in South Africa — in the same year, this is quite a substantial figure. By the numbers, this’d kinda make Florida the shark attack capital of the world, right?

That’s the thing, though. When asked about sharkiest waters on Earth, most surfers will point to Reunion Island, Australia, South Africa, Northern California, or even Madagascar before glancing at Kelly Slater’s homeland. Those that direct their fingers towards America’s most south-eastern state are either residents, or educated outsiders. Why is this?

California Florida Australia

Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. 

Well, after a little research, the answer becomes clear. While standing on top of the podium in regards to the quantity of attacks, they are “lacking” in one specific area: Number of fatal, or serious, attacks.

Let’s roll out the numbers. Over the past decade; there have been 21 attacks total in Reunion Island, six of which were fatal; 33 attacks in California, three of which were fatal; 41 attacks in South Africa, 13 of which were fatal; and 139 attacks in Australia, 15 of which were fatal. Compare that to the 244 bites in Florida, only one of which resulted in a death, and we see a break in the pattern.

Reunion Hawaii South Africa

Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the culprits themselves. The most common shark species found in the warm Florida waters are blacktips (common, and kinda scary), bonnetheads (small, not that scary), bulls (extremely scary), hammerheads (should be scary, but look goofy), lemons (similar to car models in terms of doing mostly psychological damage), nurses (relatively tame), and tigers (remember Quint’s narrative in Jaws?). All sharks, so all scary, but largely balanced in terms of naturally aggressive and non-aggressive species.

Juxtaposed to other regions, which are heavy in regards to hostile bull sharks, tiger sharks and great whites, and we can see a clearer picture as to why something like three attacks happening in two hours can fly largely under the radar. Or, as a more targeted example: Why Eric Geiselman can do flips cooly over fin-shaped speed bumps, without so much as a noticeable concern.

See those black spots during the flyover shot at 2:12?

It’s an odd dynamic, and doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon. So, consider this your lesson in the relationship between saltwater ecosystems, media relations, and unfortunate aquatic encounters. The more you know.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent


More Dane Reynolds Than You Can Stomach In One Serving

Chapter 11 TV is everything surf media needs.

Feb 6, 2023

Kanoa Igarashi On Concussions, Goose Chases, Title Visions, The Three Types Of Surfers CT’ers Encounter In The Water, And More

A candid and wide-ranging conversation with 2022 World #5.

Feb 5, 2023

Can Small-Scale Investors Buy Into Wave Pools?

Say you got $10k and a dream — what can you do?

Feb 4, 2023

An Early Pipeline Exit For Stephanie Gilmore Amidst GenZ Glory

Day Two of the 2023 CT season was a clear notice that the kids are…

Feb 3, 2023

Hand-Shaping, Glassing, And Finishing ’70s-Inspired Displacement Hulls Will Not Make You Rich

Profile: Tristan Mausse of Fantastic Acid is in it for all the right reasons.

Feb 3, 2023

Hassling, Head-Dips, and Broken Apple Watches

The 2023 CT is underway. Here's what happened on Day One of the Billabong Pro…

Feb 2, 2023

Stephanie Gilmore And Filipe Toledo Are The 2022 Stab Surfers Of The Year 

Caity and Hughie take Best Juniors, “NOZ VID” wins best film, and Ho and Pringle…

Feb 2, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: The Stab Premium Vote

Day Ten: You voted, we counted.

Feb 1, 2023

Red Bulls, Crypto Bears, Former’s Six-Figure Fish, Tyler’s Multi-Millions And More

A brief catalog of the latest surf industry news and whispers.

Jan 31, 2023


“Definitely The First Time I’ve Gone Surfing Via Plane”

Parker Coffin, Harrison Roach, and friends tear through NZ on Roark's most well-rounded surf trip…

Jan 30, 2023

Pipe Preview: This Year Feels Different

With John and Gabs healthy — and the arrival of the femme next-gen — here’s…

Jan 29, 2023

WSL Tells Competitors: ‘You Better Like Them Apples’

Will mandating competitors to wear Apple Watches make the 2023 tour more or less engaging?

Jan 29, 2023

Stab Surfer of the Year: John John Florence, Italo Ferreira, Balaram Stack, Rolo Montes, and Shaun Manners

Day 9: "You can't do better than his year last year." - John John Florence

Jan 28, 2023

Full Moon Surfs, Impassable Puddles, And A Few Nights Spent Sleeping In A WSL Commentary Booth

A reader-submitted collection of nonconformist surf stories.

Jan 27, 2023

Kael Walsh Now Owns A Bitcoin, And Watched One Crypto Video

He’s officially your Stab Edit Of The Year champion.

Jan 27, 2023

Carissa Moore And Finn McGill Are Your 2023 Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Champions 

They both pocket $50k and tickets to this year’s Vans Pipe Masters.

Jan 27, 2023


The Pick-Up, Presented By Vans, Episode 5

Mason Ho helps us ring in our final week on the North Shore.

Jan 27, 2023

Goofyfoot Brazilian World Champion Stars In Stab’s Biggest Board-Testing Franchise

Can you guess who?

Jan 26, 2023