Summer in South Florida means two things: hordes of people are going to head to the beach to work on their tan and cool off in the ocean. And as a result, that means sharks are more likely to wander near the shore, creating potentially hazardous situations.
In the past month, two people in Palm Beach County were bitten by sharks, when last year’s total was one. And about two weeks ago, a shark bit another person in the Florida Keys.
So as the peak beach season approaches, should people be concerned by those attacks?
Shark experts say ‘no,’ but add it’s important to be cautious during the summer, when sharks are more likely to swim inland and potentially clash with swimmers. Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said there’s no reason to be concerned and that they usually see shark bites scattered around Florida’s 1,350 miles of coastline this time of year.
Last year, Florida had 28 unprovoked shark bites, accounting for 38% of cases worldwide and 60% in the United States, according to the University of Florida’s annual International Shark Attack File. In South Florida, Miami-Dade had two unprovoked shark bites, while Broward and Palm Beach each had one.
Naylor said the numbers usually increase in June and July because more people are in the water.
“Most bites are when visibility is poor,” Naylor said. “They don’t target people, because if they did we’d have thousands of shark bites every day.
“They try to avoid people, but when the conditions are poor, they can make a mistake. When there’s bait fish and murky water, they’re all excited, because they’re trying to get something to eat and then with the people in the water, they can’t see someone well. They see someone’s leg or hand dangling and they look like scales on a fish and they turn around and bite them.”
On March 31, a fisherman was bitten in the knee by a shark in Lake Worth Beach and taken to the hospital, WPTV reported.
Two weeks later, an adolescent boy in Highland Beach was standing in below-knee-deep water when a shark about 4 feet long quickly swam toward him, bit his foot and swam off.
Delray Beach Fire rescue bandaged the “small but deep” cut underneath his big toe before taking the child in good condition to Bethesda Hospital.
And on April 17, a shark bit a man in the Florida Keys, the Miami Herald reported.
The University of Florida’s annual International Shark Attack File showed that 51% of the cases globally involved surfers or people participating in board sports, which put humans further from shore, where sharks are more likely to congregate. Swimmers and waders represented 39% of the cases.
For people heading into the ocean, Naylor says there a few things they can do to help stay protected.
Swimmers should avoid wearing jewelry in the water because there are “sharks that feed on bait fish and jewelry or a ring can get into the sun and look like scales on a fish and that can attract attention.”
Swimming in groups is also helpful because of the additional eyes to scope out the water and “if something happens, someone can help you.”
“Most predators often try to narrow down on one individual,” Naylor said. “When you’re in a group and legs dangling down, sharks can get a little more confused. With a single individual, it’s much easier to target.”
Naylor also notes that if “you see lots of little fish swimming out of the water, it’s because something’s chasing them and the thing that’s probably chasing them is larger than they are.
“If you see little bursts of fish coming out of the water and I was swimming, I would get out.”