The Terrifying TikTok Causing People To Cancel Their Spring Break Vacation In Key West

Key West, Florida, is a paradise — literally. The island, which marks the southernmost point of the United States, is 4 square miles of sunshine, gorgeous beaches, and vibrant nightlife. It's no wonder millions of people flock to the Florida destination each year, despite the island having a population of only about 26,000.

However, Key West's wildlife population might be a bit more robust, especially when it comes to our finned, sharp-toothed friends (or foes, depending on how you feel about sharks). A viral TikTok clip, posted by @thunderb4lightnin, proves that the waters around Key West are a haven for sharks — and the images are terrifying. The video shows countless sharks swimming near a boat at night, while the videographer looks on in amazement. "There's not a shark problem," he says sarcastically, before getting dangerously close to the predators.

The frightening clip has led some to think twice about their vacation plans to the island. "Too bad my vacation [is] already booked & I'm going," one commenter wrote with a crying emoji. Another added, "This is why I haven't gone into the water in years. I live in Florida."

How bad are the sharks in Key West?

Not everyone was so shocked by the pack of sharks in the viral video. Several TikTok users commented that the animals were likely baited using fish just to capture the clip. Others wondered if the sharks were simply following the fishing boat seen in the background of the footage, which may have been discarding unwanted catch — an attractive snack for the predatory sea creatures.

However, sharks aren't exactly rare near Key West. The waters surrounding the spring break spot are home to several types of sharks, including the nurse shark, the blacknose shark, and the lemon shark. Thankfully, these sharks tend to feed on small fish and crustaceans — not humans.

Still, that doesn't mean Key West tourists are completely safe from sharks when going for a swim or scuba diving away from the shore. While Key West Aquarium claims that there's never been a fatal shark attack near Key West, bites have been reported in the Florida Keys archipelago. Two attacks, in Marathon and Summerland Key, made headlines in 2023 when they took place within just 36 hours of each other. Elsewhere in the state, a total of 16 bites were recorded in 2023, according to the Florida Museum.

How to avoid a shark attack

Shark attacks are rare, and the average vacationer is more likely to die from a car accident than a bite in the water. Therefore, you don't have to scrap your trip to Key West altogether. Instead, come prepared and know what to look out for when splashing around at the beach or partaking in water sports.

First, keep an eye on reports of shark activity before you go. Typically, sharks are most active around Florida between April and October. That means a spring break trip in, say, March, may be a safer choice than a May or June getaway. With that said, the viral video of the sharks swarming around the boat was captured in February 2024, shortly after great white sharks were spotted near the Florida Keys, suggesting earlier activity than usual. Time of day is also a crucial factor. Since sharks are largely nocturnal, you'll want to avoid swimming at night, when they tend to be out looking for prey.

Finally, practice a few common sense strategies to protect yourself from sharks. Never swim or dive alone, steer clear of water that's cloudy and hard to see through, and stick to areas monitored by lifeguards when possible.