Volusia remains world shark bite capital as Florida attacks skyrocket in 2021

Shark Bite; Bull Shark In its Natural Habitat — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Carlos Grillo

According to the annual update from the International Shark Attack File, Florida remains the shark bite capital of the world as numbers increased globally after three years of declines.

The group released its annual report this month and found a total of 73 documented attacks in 2021, a large contrast from 2020’s total of 52. Numbers don’t appear to be jumping the shark. Experts say the 2021 number aligns with the five-year global average of 72 annual attacks. International fatalities also saw a large increase with 11 deaths reported. 2020 saw 10 deaths, which was high compared to the year’s low shark bite count.

The increase in fatal incidents and attacks is surprising for experts, but not a cause for concern as overall short-term trends of both counts are still going down, the ISAF said.

“The spike in 2020 and 2021 is almost certainly because of the expanding numbers of white sharks, which have been increasing in various localities likely in response to a boom in the seal populations they feed on,” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum’s shark research program based in Gainesville.

The U.S. led the world in 2021 shark attacks, but it only recorded one death, which took place in late December off Morro Bay. A man was surfing when he was attacked by what appeared to be a great white shark. The man later died at the scene.

U.S. attacks in 2021 amounted to nearly double that of the next country listed, Australia, partially because of its enormous shoreline and its high turnout of beachgoers. Florida makes up nearly 60 percent of all attacks in the country. Hawaii is the second on the list, but the Sunshine State holds a whopping total of 896 attacks since 1837 compared to Hawaii’s 182.

While the Sunshine State is the biggest among state shark bites, Volusia County continues to hold the crown of the Shark Bite Capital of the World, accounting for 63 percent of all Florida attacks, the ISAF said. Just last year, Florida reported 28 attacks, 17 of which took place in Volusia. That number is shocking to experts given its departure from Volusia’s five-year average of nine incidents a year, ISAF records show. 

“However, Volusia County experiences considerable variation in the number of bites from one year to the next,” the ISAF said.

Bull sharks seem to be responsible for most Florida attacks, with blacktips trailing close behind. Both sharks swim in shallow coastal waters, but bull sharks are known to be extremely aggressive towards humans. According to the National Wildlife Federation, Blacktips aren’t known to be as aggressive but are found much more in Florida’s waters.

“There’s a lot of them out there. In fact, if you’re walking the beach at sunrise there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see one riding in the waves,” he said. “We don’t have a whole lot of fatalities from sharks in Florida, and you’ll never get a fatality from a blacktip.”

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