New Smyrna Beach in Florida has been an epicenter for shark attacks

By Colleen Cronin
August 09, 2019 04:48 PM
Martin Schwartz

Since Jan. 1, there have been 30 confirmed sharks attacks, including one fatality, in the United States, according to multiple outlets citing local officials.

Florida and Hawaii have had the greatest number of incidents, with 15 and seven attacks, respectively.

Numbers include both provoked and unprovoked shark attacks. A provoked attack occurs when a human initiates interaction with a shark (like when spearfishing), leading to an attack, while an unprovoked attack occurs without human provocation of a shark.

The Sunshine State often has some of the highest reported shark attack numbers, even compared to places outside of the U.S.

In 2018, Florida had the highest number of U.S. attacks, making up 24 percent of the world’s unprovoked attack, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File.

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This year, New Smyrna Beach has been an epicenter for shark attacks, with three people injured by sharks in a 24-hour period last weekend and seven attacks there total.

Known as the “shark attack capital of the world,” by the International Shark Attack File, swimmers at New Smyrna Beach have likely been within 10 feet of a shark at some point while they’ve been in the water, National Geographic reports.

“The only thing that’s peculiar is that people think it’s peculiar,” Gavin Naylor, program director for the Florida Program at the Florida Museum of Natural History, tells PEOPLE about the recent string of attacks at the beach. 

RELATED: Shark Bites Teen Surfer, Marking Second Attack on the Same Florida Beach in 3 Days

New Smyrna Beach, Florida
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What draws the 5 to 7-foot sharks — including blacktip, spinner sharks and juvenile sandbar varieties — so close to shore? Naylor points to the “way that the topography and the beaches are arranged” and how “tides play with the underlying geography.”

“On an outgoing tide, there is lots of murky water and lots of nutrients, and the baitfish come in there,” he explains. 

The geography of the beach also draws great waves, according to Naylor, which attracts many surfers. But for the most part, he says, the humans and wildlife coexist.

Often the bites that sharks take there are exploratory and happen when a shark mistakes an appendage for a school of fish, Naylor says. In the aftermath, “The surfer’s got a nasty cut on his foot,” he adds. “Sometimes he gets stitched up, sometimes just bandages, and sometimes these teens will get stitched up and the next day go back again. It’s almost like a badge of honor for many of them — they are quite used to it.”

Although New Smyrna Beach sees more bites than anywhere else, there are rarely fatalities, Naylor points out. And while headlines about the attacks cause alarm each summer, he notes that 2019 attack numbers are on par with past years, both internationally and within the U.S.

“We are completely standard this year, we’re right on target. Usually, we have 80 to 85 unprovoked bites around the world, and this year is an average year,” he says.

RELATED: Are Humans to Blame in Shark Attacks? A Shark Expert Weighs In

Other attacks stateside have taken place in California, Oregon, North Carolina and Georgia.

The only fatal attack in the U.S. this year took place on the island of Maui, when 65-year-old Thomas Smiley was killed by a shark while on vacation in May, according to the Los Angeles Times and Hawaii News Now. Hawaii had not experienced a fatal attack since 2015.

However, the U.S. totals don’t include the death of California college student Jordan Lindsey, 21, who was attacked and killed by a group of sharks while snorkeling with her family in the Bahamas in June.

So far 2019 is following last year’s numbers, which included one shark attack death after Arthur Medici, 26, was killed by a great white shark off the coast of Cape Cod. Despite his death, 2018 saw a decrease in the number of unprovoked shark attacks, with 32 confirmed case in total, down from 53 in 2017, according to International Shark Attack File.

Stay tuned to PEOPLE.com for continuing shark coverage heading into August and September, when the shark population is highest in some waters.

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