ORLANDO, Fla. — Volusia County, but more so New Smyrna Beach, is yet again deemed the shark bite capital of the world, according the International Shark Attack File’s 2020 update.
The United States had 33 attacks in 2020, with the majority of course documented in Florida. There were 16 cases reported in the Sunshine State, with 50% of those documented in Volusia County. Most of those took place in New Smyrna Beach, said Captain Tamra Malphurs of Volusia County Beach Safety Ocean Rescue.
Volusia numbers were about average in 2020, and the pandemic may have played a role in that, as well, Malphurs said.
“We had some beach restrictions because of COVID last year, but there were days where we had very large crowds here on the beach and on weekend holidays. When places like the theme parks were closed everyone was coming here,” Malphurs said.
A few injuries required stitches and hospitalizations. None was life-threatening, Malphurs said.
“We’re careful about calling the incidents ‘attacks,’ since so many of them involve a shark taking a quick bite, and then deciding it wants nothing to do with the person,” she said. While Ocean Rescue is ready to help bitten swimmers, rescuers are much more concerned with rip current conditions. Ocean Rescue makes about 2,000 saves a year in Volusia water associated with rip current conditions.
“I’m not saying shark bites aren’t important, but rip tides are far more prevalent,” she said. “We try to educate our visitors on this. We do the same for sharks, too.”
Most shark incidents in Florida involve blacktip sharks, which annually migrate from the Carolina shores to Florida beaches in August and September, Tyler Bowling, of the ISA, said. In the mornings, beachgoers can see tiny black fins pierce the surface of the blue waters. Typically, the blacktips swim closer to shore to hunt in the vicinity of swimmers as to avoid larger predators farther off shore.
“So, they and the humans are right on top of one another,” Bowling said. “The water is murky and churned up in the waves, which hides them from the prey, but also doesn’t allow them to see the prey clearly. So, they react to movement. Sometimes they bite a foot kicking from a board by mistake.”
Most of these incidents involve surfers because of their proximity to a hunting ground, but as stated previously these usually consist of minor injuries.
“I’ve even seen some of the more hardcore surfers jump back in the water rather than go to the hospital. I do not advise this,” Bowling said.
As for staying out of the ISAF documented shark bites, Malphurs recommends swimmers stay out of the water at times of low light such as dawn or sunset.
“If you see bait fish jumping out of the water, or birds diving in, you should get out temporarily,” she said. “If you see that, that means they’re hunting. Clear the water for a few minutes, until it looks like things have calmed down.”