The World's Most Shark-Infested Beaches

There are few things more terrifying than the thought of taking a swim in the ocean and seeing a fin coming straight at you. Sharks have a formidable reputation for being vicious apex predators that can tear a human being to shreds. But what are the odds of encountering a shark on your next day out at the beach? 

Statistically speaking, the chances of being attacked by a shark are very low. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) by the Florida Museum of Natural History, there are an average of 63 documented unprovoked shark attacks worldwide per year. That's not a lot, considering how many people get in the oceans every day. However, it's important to know that there are some coastal areas where sharks tend to gather more than other places. In addition, some species of sharks thrive in shallow water.

These are the world's most shark-infested beaches. We've included places where you're most likely to be attacked by a shark, as well as some spots where you can swim with sharks in relatively safe and controlled environments. Just remember that sharks may be majestic, but they are also wild, unpredictable animals. Stay alert and remember that while these marine animals are magnificent creatures, they can also potentially be murderous.

New Smyrna Beach, Florida, U.S.

Surfers flock to New Smyrna Beach for the excellent swells, but dangers lurk underneath the waves. This Florida beach was named the most dangerous for swimming in the U.S. because of the record-high number of shark attacks that happen in the area. The ISAF reported 94 shark attacks in Volusia County between 2012 and 2021. According to the ISAF, Florida was the site of 23% of the world's unprovoked shark attacks in 2023, and Volusia County accounted for 50% of the attacks in Florida. On average, there are about nine shark attacks a year in the area. 

There are several reasons that New Smyrna Beach has become the "shark bite capital of the world." Director of The Florida Program of Shark Research, Gavin Naylor, told Business Insider that the main reason is that the Ponce de Leon inlet just north of the beach brings bait fish down the Halifax River into the ocean. This attracts sharks like blacktips, lemons, tigers, and bull sharks. Secondly, the high number of surfers in the water increases the likelihood of an attack. In addition, the waves create poor visibility for both sharks and humans. 

Byron Bay, Australia

Florida may have the highest number of documented shark bites in the world, but Australia has the most deadly attacks. The beaches of Byron Bay on Australia's southeastern coast are particularly dangerous. Shark sightings are common, and there have been numerous attacks over the past 30 years, some of which have been fatal. Even scarier, shark attacks seem to be on the rise. Many believe this is because there are more people in the water, and warmer waters are causing sharks to stay in coastal areas longer.

In 2018, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) estimated that there were 750 adult white sharks and 5460 juveniles in Australia's eastern waters. The area around Byron Bay also teems with bull and tiger sharks, which can be just as deadly, if not more so, than great whites. In fact, researchers who analyzed data from the Australian Shark Incident Database published a report in Nature's Science Data that stated tiger sharks cause the most fatalities in Australia, followed by bull sharks and then white sharks.

Makena Beach, Maui, U.S.

Maui has some of the most shark-filled waters in the world, with multiple species cruising the coastlines. These include Galapagos, grey reef sharks, and blacktip reef sharks. The most dangerous of all is the tiger shark, and they can be found in abundance off Makena Beach. Out of all other places where tiger sharks are monitored in Hawaii, Makena Bay has the highest number of days per year where they are detected, shark expert Kim Holland told The Maui News in 2021.

Tiger sharks are especially dangerous for humans because they like to hunt in shallow waters and can be incredibly aggressive. They will eat nearly anything they can sink their teeth into, and that includes humans. They're also very curious, which can lead to chance encounters with surfers and swimmers. Despite the high numbers of tiger sharks around Maui, the chances of being attacked by one are low. That being said, you may want to think twice before swimming at Makena Beach.

Saint-Leu, Réunion Island, France

Located on the west coast of Réunion Island, Saint-Leu is a well-known surfing destination. Its gorgeous waters and challenging breaks make that obvious, but it's also known for being the site of numerous shark attacks. Réunion Island sits in the Indian Ocean smack dab in the middle of what some call a "shark highway." Bull and tiger sharks have always prowled the waters around the island, but in 2011, there was a significant increase in shark attacks. By 2013, the spate of attacks was so bad that it prompted the government to impose swimming and surfing bans around the island.

According to a paper published in Marine Policy, there were 24 shark attacks on Réunion Island between 2011 and 2017. That may not seem like a lot when you look at the number of attacks in other areas around the world during the same period (here's looking at you, Florida). However, nine of those attacks were fatal, which isn't the best survival rate. The good news is shark attacks around Réunion Island have declined in recent years thanks to the implementation of shark nets and shark patrols. The last documented attack was in 2019.

Gansbaai, South Africa

The beaches of Gansbaai are considered some of the most dangerous in the world due to wild waves, strong currents, and great white sharks. In fact, the fishing village is often called the "great white capital of the world." The sharks frequent the coastline to hunt the Cape fur seals that congregate on nearby Geyser Rock and Dyer Island. In a paper published in the European Zoological Journal, researchers reported sighting 423 white sharks in Gansbaai between 2009 and 2019. Other sharks in the area include bronze whalers, shortfin makos, and blue sharks.

There was a brief period in 2017 when great white sightings were few and far between around Gansbaai. Scientists now know this was because killer whales had moved in and were attacking the sharks, causing the sharks to flee. However, the great whites have returned, and brave souls can see these massive monsters up close on shark cage diving tours. The best time to go is between June and September when the waters are clear and the sharks are very active.

Sea Pines Beach, South Carolina, U.S.

Sea Pines Beach is a gorgeous strip of sand on the south coast of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Looks perfect for a dip, right? You aren't wrong, but be wary of swimming there because the waters are teeming with sharks. Blacknose, tiger, and bull sharks are common in the area, and attacks do happen on occasion. In 2023, a man was bit in the foot by a shark while standing in waist-deep water. Two years earlier, a lifeguard suffered chest lacerations after a shark attack.

While the odds of being attacked by a shark at Sea Pines Beach are quite low, the chances of seeing one in the waters are quite high, as the waters are breeding grounds for many species. Anglers can catch a wide variety of sharks off the coast, but if you're thinking of doing some shark fishing, be aware that South Carolina has strict fishing regulations. You'll need a permit to fish sharks, and there are many species you will have to release. Some exceptions include Atlantic sharpnose and bonnethead sharks. Other species, like blacktips, lemons, and spinners, can only be kept if they are over 54 inches.

Playa Bancón, Lake Nicaragua, Nicaragua

Playa Bancón looks like a pleasant place to take a dip, but you might want to give it a hard pass. The black sand beach is located on the island of Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, the biggest lake in Central America. It's also one of the only shark-infested lakes in the world. The waters are home to aggressive bull sharks that scientists believe got there via the San Juan River from the Caribbean Sea. According to Shark Utopia, there have only been three confirmed shark attacks in the lake, but all were fatal.

While its shark-infested waters make Lake Nicaragua one of the most dangerous vacation spots in Central America, it is a beautiful spot to visit, provided you stay cautious while swimming. Ometepe Island is particularly scenic, as it has two volcanic peaks, verdant jungles, and sparkling black sand beaches. Stunning Playa Bancón is located on the southern shore of the north section of the island. It's part of the Charco Verde nature reserve, which also has a picturesque lagoon. There are several hotels and lodges on Ometepe Island for those who want to spend a few days exploring the island.

Tiger Beach, The Bahamas

Blink, and you might miss Tiger Beach, about an hour's boat ride from West End on Grand Bahama. This tiny sand bank is barely big enough to register on many maps, but it attracts plenty of divers who come to swim with sharks. The beach was named for the fearsome tiger sharks that prowl the waters nearby. The waters are also home to hammerheads, lemon, and reef sharks. Along with West End Beach, it is considered one of the most dangerous beaches in the Caribbean.

According to Jim Abernathy of Jim Abernathy's Scuba Adventures, he was the first to discover and name Tiger Beach in 2001. Abernathy runs shark diving expeditions to Tiger Beach year-round on his vessel "Shear Water." Divers can get up close and personal with the sharks in their natural environment. A word of warning, however: There are no cages, so there is nothing to stop the sharks from attacking you if they feel inclined. In 2008, a diver on one of the shark dives was attacked by a shark and later died from his injuries.

Robberg Marine Protected Area, Plettenberg, South Africa

At the very southern tip of the town of Plettenberg in South Africa lies the Robberg Marine Protected Area, a gorgeous peninsula with sandy beaches, cliffs, and rock pools. The peninsula was named after the fur seals that gather here (the Afrikaans word for seal is "rob"). Great white sharks also gather here to hunt the seals, and you can often see sharks in the water from the hiking trails that wind around the peninsula. 

The Robberg Marine Protected Area spans just over 16 square miles, making it easy to explore on foot. There are three trails ranging from 1 mile to just under 8 miles, all offering stellar views of Plettenberg Bay and the Indian Ocean. On any given day, you could see white sharks, hammerheads, seals, and whales cavorting in the water. White sharks can be found year-round at Robberg, although they are most active during the winter months. If you're feeling brave, you can kayak around the peninsula to see the marine life from a closer vantage point.

Mount Maunganui Beach, New Zealand

Mount Maunganui Beach is a lengthy white sand beach on the shores of the magnificent Bay of Plenty on New Zealand's North Island. The beach is a popular bucket list destination, but nearly every day, lifeguards receive reports of shark sightings close to the beach and around the bay. The most common sightings are bronze whaler sharks, which don't usually pose a threat to humans. However, great whites and white pointer sharks have also been spotted in the area.

In 2022, shark scientists began tagging and tracking great whites off the North Island. One of the first sharks tagged was Daisy, a 9-foot juvenile that was seen cruising the waters around Mount Maunganui. The Sustainable Oceans Society created the Great White App so that people could monitor the tagged sharks' movements and locations in real time. However, some reviewers have complained that the app is slow to track movements and that there are only a few sharks to follow, so you might not want to depend solely on the app to tell you how shark-free the waters are.

Emerald Isle Beach, North Carolina, U.S.

Several species of sharks can be found along the North Carolina coast, including hammerheads, tigers, spinner sharks, and blacktips. Emerald Isle Beach is a prime shark spotting destination, as the coastal waters are a major migration route for the sharks. Most sharks tend to stay farther out in the ocean, although some occasionally come close to the shore. In 2020, a surfer was attacked by a shark just off Emerald Isle. The shark bit his surfboard and then bit the man's knee. Fortunately, the man was able to scare off the shark and got away with only minor injuries.

While shark attacks at Emerald Isle Beach are rare, there is always the possibility of running into a rogue shark. Sunset is a particularly dangerous time to get in the water because this is when the sharks often feed. North Carolina Sea Grant produced a shark safety brochure that advises against swimming alone, heading into waters too far from the shore, and wearing brightly colored clothing or jewelry that could attract sharks. They also recommend avoiding waters between sandbars and steep drop-offs where sharks like to gather.

Boa Viagem Beach, Recife, Brazil

Praia de Boa Viagem is an attractive stretch of sand fronting the city of Recife in Brazil. It looks like a lovely place to cool off on a hot day, but you'll need to watch for sharks when swimming at this South American beach. Since the 1990s, there have been numerous reports of shark attacks off Boa Viagem beach, many of which have been fatal. The BBC reported that there were 47 shark attacks along the coast between 1992 and 2004, and 16 of them resulted in death. Bull and tiger sharks are responsible for the bulk of the attacks.

Some researchers believe that the increase in shark activity at Boa Viagem and other beaches along Recife could be due to the construction of Porto Suape, a port built south of the city in the 1980s. They hypothesize that the construction may have disrupted the migratory patterns of the sharks, causing them to head into the waters closer to Boa Viagem. Some also believe pollution draws the sharks closer to shore. Whatever the reason for the uptick in shark attacks, this is one beach where you swim at your own risk.

Surf Beach, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S.

Just like the name suggests, Surf Beach is a popular surfing spot. Located on the Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, California, the beach has been the site of multiple shark attacks since 2008, some of which were fatal. According to the Santa Maria Times, officials stated that one of the deadly attacks was likely from a shark that weighed roughly 4,000 pounds. On one day in 2014, two kayakers were attacked within an hour of one another in the area. Luckily, both survived.

Nobody knows whether the attacks at Surf Beach were from one or multiple sharks. The Marine Conservation Science Institute tags great whites along the coast, and in 2021, they tracked a 12-foot male named Tough Guy in the waters close to the beach. However, it's unknown whether Tough Guy was responsible for any of the attacks. If you're planning on getting in the water at Surf Beach, you may want to check out the MSCI's Expedition Great White App to see if any of the tagged predators are nearby.

Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, Indonesia

Not all sharks are dangerous predators to be avoided at all costs. Whale sharks are filter-feeder sharks that are often called gentle giants. They are the biggest species of shark on the planet, with some growing up to 60 feet in length. They have a unique speckled pattern and giant mouths that can suck up plankton and small fish. At Cenderawasih Bay in West Papua, Indonesia, you can swim with these beautiful animals in their natural habitat.

Many people visit Cenderawasih Bay on liveaboard cruises that include diving excursions with the whale sharks. You may have to fly to Jakarta or Bali first and then make your way to departure points around the bay, such as Manokwari, Nabire, or Biak. It can be a bit of a trek, but it's worth it to see these amazing animals gracefully maneuvering through the waters. You may also be able to see whitetips, blacktips, and scalloped hammerheads in the bay, along with other tropical fish and corals.