Why this small Florida county became the ‘shark bite capital of the world’

Smyrna Beach, Florida and a Tiger shark.

Walt Harden / 500px/Getty Images and Gregory Sweeney/Getty Images

Florida’s Volusia County is known as the “shark bite capital of the world.”
The area is a hot spot for shark attacks, especially on September afternoons, per the ISAF.
The director of The Florida Program of Shark Research told Insider what attracts them to the area.

Florida tourists who make for the Sunshine State’s popular beaches could be entering some of the most dangerous waters in the world.

Data from the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF), which describes itself as “the world’s only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks,” shows that Florida is the global leader in shark attacks, with 259 from 2012 to 2021, well ahead of Australia in second place.

But it is in Volusia County — which includes the renowned Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach — on Florida’s east coast that has been dubbed the “shark bite capital of the world.” It is where swimmers and surfers are most at risk in the state, with 343 recorded shark bites from 1882-2023, more than double that of  neighboring Brevard, the county with the next most reported attacks, according to the ISAF.

Gavin Naylor, the director of The Florida Program of Shark Research, told Insider in an email that this was due to the area off the coast of Volusia having a high density of Mullet and Menhaden baitfish and a lot of good waves for surfing.

“Water flowing out of Ponce Inlet immediately north of where most shark bites occur is usually a haven for high densities of bait fishes,” Naylor said in the email. “It’s also a high energy environment — a lot of wave action. This churns up the water, making the visibility poor and attracts surfers.”

He added that the baitfish attracted the sharks, but the poor visibility in the area made catching them difficult — leading the sharks to go for arms and legs “dangling off” surfboards.

ISAF data suggests that the most likely activity, place, and time for a shark attack would be surfing off the coast of Volusia County between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. in September.

The sharks that hunt the waters of Volusia County and are mostly involved in biting incidents include Blacktip, Bull, and Requiem sharks.

Photo of a Bull shark taken during a diving expedition in Tiger Beach, Bahamas.

Carlos Grillo/Getty Images

There have been seven shark bites in the county so far in 2023, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

A surfer was reportedly bitten in the face in the waters off of New Smyrna Beach on September 12, per the outlet.

Mark Summersett, 38, was attacked while surfing at the beach’s jetty, Ocean Rescue Capt. Alex Miller said, per the News-Journal.

“He did not see what it was, but the assumption was that it was a shark,” Miller added.

Summersett was left with a severe gash to his face that required around 20 stitches, WESH 2 News reported.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve probably ever been through in my life. I’ve been in bad car accidents. Nothing like this,” Sumersett said, reported the outlet.

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