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When it comes to scary animals, nothing beats a shark. They’re the wild creature Americans are most afraid of, according to 2017 survey by Chapman University. You can blame Jaws. While shark attacks on humans are relatively rare – bee stings and dog bites kill more people every year, according to research – the 1975 blockbuster cemented the shark’s reputation as a bloodthirsty killer.
There are about 54 unprovoked shark attacks in the United States every year, according to the International Shark Attack File. Fatal attacks are relatively rare – five people were killed by sharks worldwide in 2017, none in the United States. You’re at far greater risk of being caught in a rip current during your next trip to the beach than of being caught in a shark’s jaws.
Where shark attacks happen in the U.S.
Great white shark | Peter_Nile/iStock
While shark attacks are unusual, they’re not unheard of, and the majority of unprovoked attacks take place in the U.S. Attacks tend to occur within 100 feet of the shore, according to National Geographic, but not all beaches are shark-infested. These 10 states have experienced the most unprovoked shark attacks since 1837, according to data from the ISAF.
10. New York
- Number of attacks: 10
In July 2018, two children were bitten in suspected shark attacks off of Fire Island. Neither of the children, a 12-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy, experienced life-threatening injuries.
- Number of attacks: 13
Between 2007 and 2016, there were four non-fatal shark attacks in Georgia. In 2014, a boy was reportedly attacked by a shark while surfing off of Tybee Island.
8. New Jersey
- Number of attacks: 15
Shark attacks in New Jersey are relatively rare, but a notorious string of attacks 100 years ago helped make sharks one of the most feared animals in the sea. Four people were killed by a shark along the New Jersey coast in the first weeks of July 1916. Before the attacks, many people believed sharks wouldn’t prey on humans, according to National Geographic.
- Number of attacks: 27
Since 2007, Oregon has seen just a handful of shark attacks. The most recent was in 2016, when a 29-year-old surfer was bitten at Indian Beach in Ecola State Park.
- Number of attacks: 43
Since 1911, there have been 43 shark attacks in Texas, with most incidents occurring in Galveston County. Between 2007 and 2016, there have been 11 shark attacks in the Lone Star State, and no fatalities.
5. North Carolina
- Number of attacks: 63
Between 2007 and 2017, there were 33 shark attacks in North Carolina, none of them fatal. One reason there’s been a relatively high number of shark attacks in North Carolina in recent years? Climate change. Sharks might be moving further northward as waters grow warmer, Salon reported.
4. South Carolina
- Number of attacks: 102
Shark attacks in South Carolina have occurred most frequently in Charleston, Horry, and Beaufort counties. In May 2018, a 10-year-old was bitten by a shark off the coast of Hilton Head Island. In July 2018, a girl was injured by a shark at Myrtle Beach.
- Number of attacks: 122
Shark attacks happen up and down the California coast. San Diego County has experienced the most recorded attacks, at 18. The last fatal shark attack in California was in 2012, when a surfer in Santa Barbara County was attacked by a great white.
- Number of attacks: 159
Hawaii has the second-highest number of shark attacks in the U.S. Tiger sharks are responsible for many of the incidents, including an April 2018 attack where a bodyboarder was injured. In 2015, a shark killed a snorkeler off the coast of Maui, the last fatal attack in the state.
- Number of attacks: 812
Florida is the undisputed shark attack capital of the U.S. The highest number of attacks – 299 – have occurred in Volusia County on the state’s Atlantic coast, and attack numbers are up significantly since the 1980s. That’s not because sharks are getting hungrier for humans, but rather that more people are visiting beaches, which means an increase in shark attacks, according to the ISAF.
Other shark attack hot spots
A sign on the closed Avalon Beach is seen after a shark attack on a surfer on March 1, 2009, in Sydney, Australia. | Ian Waldie/Getty Images
After the U.S., shark attacks occur most frequently in Australia, South Africa, Brazil and New Zealand, according to ISAF data. In 2017, 53 of the 88 unprovoked shark attacks happened in the United States, followed by:
- Australia: 14 attacks, 1 fatal
- Reunion Island: 3 attacks, 2 fatal
- Ascension Island: 2 attacks
- Bahamas: 2 attacks
- Costa Rica: 2 attacks, 1 fatal
- Indonesia: 2 attacks
- South Africa: 2 attacks
- Cuba: 1 fatal attack
Brazil, the Canary Islands, Egypt, England, Japan, the Maldives, and New Zealand each had one non-fatal attack in 2017.
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