Brandon Cole Marine Photography/Alamy
North America is home to dozens of beaches where swimmers and sharks intermix, even though the humans may never know it. According to George Burgess, an ichthyologist at the University of Florida who maintains a database called the International Shark Attack File. When the rare attack happens it's usually a predatory mistake. "In the surf zone, where many attacks happen, sharks need to make quick decisions," he said. "Humans on surfboardshands splashing, feet kicking can trigger a shark to think there's trouble or a wounded animal, and it looks like an easy meal."
But according to Laleh Mohajerani, executive director of the shark conservation organization Iemanya Oceanica, sharks are not looking to interfere with humans in the water. Our shark-attack fears are irrational, she said. "You are more likely to be hit by lightning."
Indeed, there's no arguing the numbers. Of the millions of people who enter the ocean each year, almost none are touched.
But for most people, fiery emotions override even the coldest numbers. A single scary story be it on the news or in an effects-heavy Hollywood production will destroy the efforts of hundreds of scientists trying to communicate on research and logic.
Take a dip if you dare.
New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Due to its thousands of annual as well as its toothy inhabitants that hunt offshore New Smyrna is the shark attack capital of the world. That's according to the International Shark Attack File, which cites 210 attacks in the beach's home county of Volusia, Fla. But miles of white sand and consistent surf breaks continue to draw vacationers and locals alike into New Smyrna's waters.
North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
No. 2 on the International Shark Attack File for unprovoked attacks is Oahu, where tiger sharks, Galapagos sharks and sandbar sharks congregate in high numbers, especially near beaches on the island's north shore. This doesn't stop surfers, who flock to Velzyland Beach, the Leftovers Break and dozens of additional wave-beaten beaches where sharks search and swim.
Long Beach Island, N.J.
Source material for "Jaws," a 1974 novel by Peter Benchley and later a movie by Steven Spielberg came from incidents at this New Jersey beach in 1916. In an unprecedented 11 days, five major shark attacks took place along the Jersey Shore, four of which were fatal. Reports cited blood turning the water red and sharks following victims toward the beach. Today, sharks are rare, but the legend lives on in the surf and swells of these tepid Atlantic waters.
Stinson Beach, Calif.
In the shadow of Marin County's Mt. Tamalpais, Stinson Beach is a spot where great white sharks swim into the shallows. Patric Douglas, owner of Shark Diver, an ocean guiding outfit in San Francisco, said he has sighted them at Stinson which is a neighboring stretch of sand east from Bolinas Beach (No. 3 on the list) in less than 20 feet of water. "They're coming to feed on seals, though it's not uncommon for surfers to see them," he said.
Beaches of Brevard County, Fla.
In the past 100 years, there have been 90 reported shark confrontations on beaches in this county on Florida's east coast. Visitors head east from Orlando to the ocean to dip toes in the tepid waters at Cocoa Beach, Jetty Park and Klondike Beach, a 24-mile-long wilderness beach accessible only by foot in Canaveral National Seashore preserve.
Horry County, S.C.
South Carolina has seen more than 50 total shark attacks over the past century, according to the International Shark Attack File. Of those, 16 attacks are recorded off the beaches of Horry County, where the town of Myrtle Beach is famous as a tourist destination. The good news: The International Shark Attack File cites no fatal shark attacks in South Carolina since 1852.
Solana Beach, Calif.
A freak great-white attack in 2008 at Solana Beach in San Diego County, Calif., killed a 66-year-old swimmer. He was on a morning swim, training with a group when the attack occurred. Solana Beach, home to a population of seals, is at the periphery of the corridor where great sharks commonly roam.