These 11 US States Have Most Shark Attacks: Beware the Jaws

sharks - 11 states with sharks in US

Imagine dipping your toes into the azure ocean, the sun warming your skin, a gentle breeze ruffling your hair, then suddenly – your heart skips a beat! A fin cuts through the water’s surface. This is the image that often comes to mind when we think of shark attacks. The United States, with its extensive coastline, is no stranger to these marine encounters, but some states see more shark activity than others.

Our objective is to demystify attacks by diving into the statistics of the 11 states that report the highest number of attacks. By doing so, we hope to promote understanding and caution over fear and misinformation, keeping both humans and our fascinating finned friends safe.


To determine the states with the highest shark activity, we relied heavily on data from the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) database, maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History. This database is hailed as the most comprehensive and authoritative source of information on attacks globally.

We specifically focused on unprovoked attacks, where they engage humans without any human provocation. This choice was deliberate as these types of attacks offer the most meaningful insights into behavior and tendencies in their natural habitats. Shark attacks, while headline-grabbing, are relatively rare. But the frequency of incidents rises in certain areas where conditions are conducive to interactions.

The analysis of data was a complex process. We sifted through decades of recorded incidents, examining them from different angles – geographical locations, time of the year, and activities involved. This meticulous process allowed us to identify clear patterns and trends that underpin the conclusions presented here.

State Number of Unprovoked  Attacks
California Over 120
Florida Over 800
Hawaii Over 160
North Carolina Over 70
South Carolina Over 90
Texas Over 40
Massachusetts Over 10
Oregon Not specified
New York Over 10
New Jersey Over 20
Virginia Over 5

1. California

California Sharks

The beautiful Californian coast, a haven for surfers and beachgoers, has experienced over 120 unprovoked  attacks. This number may seem alarming, but considering the state’s extensive coastline and marine activities, the relative risk remains low.

Especially Great White Sharks, are attracted to areas with abundant prey. California’s coastline provides such an environment with its large populations of seals and sea lions, which form a primary part of a Great White’s diet. Therefore, places where these marine mammals congregate, like the Farallon Islands, tend to experience more activity.

Notably, many of these incidents involve surfers and kayakers, whose silhouettes when viewed from below can resemble seals – a phenomenon that can lead to mistaken identity bites. These insights underline the importance of understanding behavior and implementing safety measures in high-risk areas.

2. Florida

Florida, with its miles of sandy beaches and warm waters, tops the list with over 800 recorded unprovoked attacks. Though this number is high, it’s important to remember that millions of people visit Florida’s beaches each year. As such, while the absolute number of incidents is high, the risk per individual beachgoer remains quite low.

The warm, shallow waters of Florida’s coasts, abundant with marine life, are attractive to many species of them. The highest concentration of attacks occurs in the region between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach. This area, often dubbed the Attack Capital of the World, reports a high number of incidents due to a combination of abundant populations and heavy human usage.

However, most of these incidents involve small sharks and result in minor injuries. This pattern underlines the fact that most  are not man-eaters and that serious injuries due to attacks are, in fact, rare.

3. Hawaii


Hawaii, an archipelago surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, has seen over 160 unprovoked attacks. Being an island state, a large part of Hawaii’s culture and lifestyle revolves around the ocean. This increased interaction with the marine environment naturally leads to an increased risk of encounters.

Hawaii’s geographical location, coupled with its diverse marine ecosystems, attracts various species. Tiger sharks are especially common in Hawaiian waters and are known to venture closer to shorelines where humans usually swim and surf.

Furthermore, certain Hawaiian cultural practices, such as cleaning fish catch in the ocean, can unintentionally attract closer to shore. Understanding these behaviors and adjusting human practices accordingly is critical for mitigating risks.

4. North Carolina

North Carolina, with over 70 recorded unprovoked attacks, illustrates how diverse factors can influence shark-human interactions. The warm, food-rich waters and the popularity of the beaches combine to increase the chances of encounters between them and humans.

Notable among North Carolina’s hotspots is the Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands renowned for their natural beauty. These islands attract numerous tourists who engage in swimming, surfing, and fishing, thereby increasing the probability of encounters.

Interestingly, the majority of attacks in North Carolina occur between June and August. This period coincides with the peak tourist season and also corresponds with certain species migrating through the area. This underlines the importance of understanding local conditions and behavior when planning water activities.

5. South Carolina

Shark in south carolina

In South Carolina, over 90 unprovoked attacks have been reported. Several factors play into these encounters, including warm water temperatures, heavy recreational use of coastal waters, and an abundance of prey such as fish and rays.

The Grand Strand, a popular stretch of coastline in northeastern South Carolina, experiences a fair share of activity. This area is particularly busy during the summer months, a time when both humans and sharks are more likely to frequent these waters.

Most of the encounters involve species such as Blacktip and Spinner, which come close to shore during their summer migration. These species are generally not aggressive towards humans, and most incidents result in minor injuries. Nevertheless, public education about sharks and their behaviors remains crucial for maintaining safety.

6. Texas

Sharks in texas

Texas, with its extensive coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, has logged over 40 unprovoked attacks. The state’s coastal areas are frequented for various water activities like swimming, surfing, and particularly fishing, which can sometimes lead to encounters.

Galveston Island and Padre Island are known for their recreational fishing, which may inadvertently attract sharks due to the presence of bait and caught fish. These areas, hence, report a relatively higher likelihood of encounters.

It’s worth noting that while encounters are possible, they remain extremely rare relative to the number of people using the water. Additionally, most incidents involve small species of sharks and result in minor injuries, emphasizing the fact that deadly encounters are exceedingly uncommon.

7. Massachusetts

Massachusetts has recorded over 10 unprovoked attacks, with an increasing number of incidents in recent years. This uptick is tied closely to the recovery of the local seal population, a favorite food source for the Great White.

Cape Cod, a popular destination known for its beautiful beaches and now burgeoning seal colonies, has become a hotspot for sightings and encounters. It’s not uncommon to see Great Whites breaching the surface in pursuit of seals, particularly during the summer months.

While the sight of a Great White can be alarming, it’s important to remember that they are not inherently interested in humans. Proper awareness and beach safety measures can significantly mitigate the risks associated with sharing the waters with these magnificent creatures.

8. Oregon

Despite its cold waters, Oregon has recorded a number of shark attacks, primarily involving Great White. These incidents can be attributed to surfing and other water sports, which lead to more interactions.

Specific areas, like Tillamook Bay and Clatsop Spit, have reported several incidents. These usually involve surfers or anglers coming into contact with them. The rugged, natural beauty of these areas attracts many outdoor enthusiasts, but it’s always essential to be aware of the potential risks involved with any wilderness, including marine environments.

Great White Sharks, despite their reputation, generally don’t seek encounters with humans. Most incidents are believed to be cases of mistaken identity, with surfers being bitten after being mistaken for seals or sea lions.

9. New York

New York, not typically associated with attacks, has nonetheless recorded over 10 incidents. This is partly due to the extensive recreational use of its coastal waters and the presence of prey species that attract sharks.

Fire Island and Long Island, popular summer destinations, have seen a few incidents. These are often linked to fishing activities or the presence of baitfish close to the shore, underscoring the influence of human behavior on interactions.

While such encounters can be alarming, it’s important to remember that they are quite rare. Public education about their behavior and safety measures can go a long way toward reducing these incidents.

10. New Jersey

new jersey sharks

New Jersey has a fascinating history with attacks, with the 1916 incidents that reportedly inspired the novel Jaws. With over 20 unprovoked attacks recorded, New Jersey’s coast can at times be a hotspot for activity.

The Jersey Shore, known for its bustling seaside activity, has seen sporadic incidents. These usually coincide with the presence of baitfish or schools of rays, demonstrating the interconnectedness of marine ecosystems.

Despite the history, it’s important to note that attacks in New Jersey, as in other locations, are extremely rare. Observing safety protocols and understanding behaviors can significantly minimize the risk of encounters.

11. Virginia

Virginia completes our list with over 5 recorded unprovoked attacks. While encounters are infrequent, certain conditions such as fishing activity and the presence of prey species can increase the likelihood of incidents.

Virginia Beach, a popular coastal area, has been the site of a few shark incidents. This area attracts a large number of tourists annually, especially during the summer months, which increases the interaction between humans and marine life.

As with other states, the relative risk remains low, and most encounters result in minor injuries. Awareness and understanding of their behavior are essential in mitigating risks and ensuring safe enjoyment of the beautiful coastal waters of Virginia.

Why is Florida the Top Spot for Shark Attacks?

Florida, a state celebrated for its gorgeous beaches and thrilling water sports, holds the record for the greatest number of attacks in the US. An estimated 19 million tourists, drawn to Florida’s coastal allure, frequent the state annually.

Likewise, Hawaii and California, states that follow Florida in terms of attack numbers, harbor substantial shark populations and are favored for their inviting beaches and exciting water activities.

What Activities Increase the Risk of Attacks?

Certain seaside activities like diving, surfing, and rafting that push participants further offshore and into deeper waters considerably augment the risk of interactions. As per one study, 46% of shark attack victims on the Pacific coast were divers and 38% were surfers.

Nonetheless, it’s crucial to underscore that the likelihood of a lethal attack is extraordinarily rare, even less than the odds of death by lightning strikes.

Human Encroachment into Habitats

As James Sulikowski, the leader of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, puts it, humans often venture into the habitats of sharks. When contact occurs, it’s usually a case of mistaken identity. Similarly, Peter Sorensen, a professor in the Department of Fisheries at the University of Minnesota, notes that the prevalence of attacks is highest in regions with both large human and shark populations.

When are Shark Attacks Most Frequent?

Incidents in the US generally rise during summer months, corresponding with increased beach visitation. This timing also aligns with the typical migration patterns of sharks. Gavin Naylor, director at the Florida Program for Research, confirms that the frequency of attacks intensifies from May through October, peaking in August.

The Impact of Human Activities on Populations

On the flip side, humans pose a far greater threat than vice versa. An astonishing 100 million sharks are killed each year for various products, including fin soup, meat, cosmetics, oil, and fertilizers. This relentless overfishing has led to a decline in populations by over 70% in the past half-century.

Sorensen, referring to the rarity of attacks, says, “Most attacks are simply instances in which people startle sharks.”


What are some common species of sharks involved in attacks?

While any species can potentially be involved in an attack, certain species are more commonly implicated due to their size, diet, and behavior. These include the Great White Shark, Tiger, and Bull. Other species like the Blacktip and Spinner are also involved in incidents, but these usually result in minor injuries.

How can we reduce the risk of attacks?

There are several measures individuals can take to reduce the risk of attacks. These include avoiding swimming at dawn or dusk when sharks are most active, staying in groups as sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual, avoiding areas where they feed or breed, and refraining from wearing shiny jewelry or brightly colored clothing that could attract them.

What is the global distribution of attacks?

While the United States reports the highest number of attacks, other regions also experience significant activity. These include Australia, South Africa, Brazil, and the Bahamas. The distribution of attacks globally is influenced by factors such as shark populations, human activity, and environmental conditions.

How are shark populations being protected?

Various measures are being taken to protect populations globally. These include the establishment of marine protected areas, restrictions on fishing and trade, and public education campaigns to raise awareness about the importance to marine ecosystems. Some countries have also implemented shark finning bans to combat the practice of removing a shark’s fins and discarding the rest of the animal.

What is the impact of climate change on behavior and attacks?

Climate change can influence behavior and potentially the frequency of shark attacks. Rising sea temperatures may alter migration patterns, potentially leading to increased encounters with humans. Additionally, changes in ocean conditions could affect the distribution of prey, which could also influence where sharks are found.

What is the role of sharks in the ecosystem?

They play a crucial role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. As apex predators, they help control the populations of other marine species, ensuring a balanced ecosystem. They also influence the behavior of prey species, which can have cascading effects on the structure and function of marine communities.

What are the misconceptions about them?

There are many misconceptions about them and attacks. For instance, not all are dangerous to humans – out of more than 400 species, only a handful are involved in attacks on humans. Another misconception is that sharks are mindless man-eaters. In reality, most are not interested in humans as prey, and many attacks are cases of mistaken identity.

Summary and Conclusion

The vast and diverse coastlines of the United States play host to a multitude of marine life, including several species of sharks. By analyzing data, we’ve identified the 11 states with the most unprovoked shark attacks: California, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia.

Remember, while these states have recorded the highest number of incidents, shark attacks are still exceedingly rare, and our fear often outweighs the actual risk. Understanding the patterns and reasons behind these incidents helps promote a more informed and respectful coexistence with these remarkable creatures, contributing to safer seas for all of us to enjoy.

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