The Terrifying Reason You Might Want To Avoid Panama City Beach During Summer 2024

Does the thought of "Jaws" coming to life still haunt you? It's probably best to stay away from certain Florida beaches — or at least exercise some added caution during your trip. According to recent reports by local authorities and news channels in Walton County — located in northwest Florida, off the Gulf of Mexico — an alarming presence of bull sharks has been spotted just off the coast, causing concern among locals and tourists who were simply hoping to enjoy some well-deserved fun under the Florida sunshine.

Per local news sources, three people — two teenagers and one woman — sustained injuries just last week along a single 4-mile stretch between popular Florida beach destinations Panama City Beach and Miramar Beach, with two of the victims rushed to the hospital in critical condition after the attack.

And although both beaches have since reopened to the public, local authorities remain on high alert by encouraging beachgoers to exercise additional safety precautions. In additional to more monitoring, officials are also flying a single red and single purple flag — which represent high hazard conditions, as well as the presence of dangerous marine life, respectively.

Why do shark attacks typically happen?

In spite of what Hollywood might have you thinking, the reality is that shark attacks are actually quite rare — especially fatal ones. In fact, according to the Florida Museum's "2023 Yearly Worldwide Shark Attack Summary," out of 36 unprovoked shark attacks in the United States, only two of them turned out to be fatal — which comes up to less than 6%. And while these statistics aren't an invitation to throw caution to the wind and hop in the water at some of the world's most shark-infested beaches, they are a good way to calm your nerves before you embark on a beach getaway.

So, why do shark attacks typically occur? For one, sharks are curious creatures. That, combined with the fact that they're one of the most dominant predators in the water, means that sharks aren't really that scared to get a little closer and investigate what all the splashing and waddling that swimmers typically do is all about. Furthermore, sharks' mouths also have very sensitive sensory receptors that help them determine the quality of their food. Hence the occasional "attack" on humans — they're really just trying to decide whether or not we're seal-y enough to suffice at mealtime. Spoiler alert: We usually aren't. Other factors that might lead sharks to bite include territoriality, self-defense, and being mistaken for food — especially near the shore, where their prey typically hangs out.

How to stay safe during your beach vacation

All in all, however, the reality is that we're a much bigger threat to sharks than they are to us. While hunting, harassing, or trapping sharks is illegal in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act, humans are still to blame for the sharp decline in shark population. It's estimated that nearly 100 million sharks are killed each year, and there are plenty of species out there that are either endangered or near threatened — like the bull shark.

And while knowing this might not be reason enough to calm your nerves, there are tips you can adopt to protect yourself from an unpleasant encounter with a shark. For starters, it's important to stay on top of any local reports or warnings of shark sightings — including high-risk seasons and locations. From there, it's all about knowing how to behave when you're in the water.

A couple of handy tips from the experts at the Florida Museum include not wearing any shiny jewelry that can be mistaken for fish scales, avoiding the water during low light hours when sharks are most active, swimming with a buddy or in a group, not wearing any bright-colored or high-contrast clothing, and refraining from splashing around in a single spot, as sharks might see this as a sign of potential prey in distress. If you're visiting Panama City Beach or the surrounding area, make sure you stay vigilant and listen to authorities to have a great — and safe — vacation.