University of Florida

Shark Attacks

Reducing the Risks

Shark attacks are rare, but they are most likely to occur under the conditions described here. Most attacks occur near the shore around sandbars or near steep drop-offs where sharks’ prey congregate.

Types of Unprovoked Attacks

According to the International Shark Attack File, 26 unprovoked shark attacks were reported in the United States in 2011 (out of 29 overall). White, tiger, and bull sharks are responsible for most unprovoked attacks.

Unprovoked attacks happen in the following situations:

  • Hit and run. These are the most common, usually occurring in the surf zone with swimmers and surfers as targets. These seem to be cases in which the shark mistakes the human for prey. Injuries are a single bite or wound and the shark does not return.
  • Bump and bite. These attacks are less common, normally occurring in deeper waters and involving swimmers or divers. The shark circles and often bumps prior to the attack. Repeat attacks and multiple bites and injuries occur. Injuries are often severe and fatal in these attacks.
  • Sneak. Like the "bump-and-bite" attacks, they occur in deeper waters, but differ in that the shark attacks without warning. Repeat attacks and multiple bites and injuries occur. Injuries are often severe and fatal in these attacks.

How to Avoid Sharks

The relative risk of a shark attack is very small, but you should still be aware of ways to decrease this risk. Here some tips to keep in mind on your next beach visit:

  • Avoid being in the water at night from sunset to sunrise. This is when sharks are most active.
  • Stay in a group. Sharks are more likely to attack solitary individuals.
  • Do not wander too far from shore. Being farther out puts you further from help.
  • Avoid bright or patterned clothing. Sharks see contrast well.
  • Avoid swimming near commercial or sport fishermen. Sharks can smell the bait and be attracted from long distances.
  • Stay out of the water if you are bleeding or near storm drain and sewage outputs. These smells can attract sharks.
  • Know the facts and myths about sharks. For example, seeing porpoises does not mean sharks are not around.
  • Avoid erratic movements. Examples are excessive splashing or swimming pets.
  • Be careful between sandbars and near drop offs--these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
  • Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and leave the water if sharks are seen.
  • Do not harass a shark if you see one! Stay calm and keep your position as quietly as possible.
Adapted and excerpted from:

George Burgess, "Reducing the Risk of a Shark Encounter: 12 Tips for Avoiding a Shark Attack," Florida Museum of Natural History (accessed 08/2012).

George Burgess, "How, When & Where Sharks Attack," Florida Museum of Natural History (accessed 08/2012).