Two men, two shark bites, 36 hours in Florida: Everything on the 'shark bite capital of the world'

Beyond the surf, sand and sunshine, there's another factor many Floridians might think about while enjoying their beach day: sharks. And for good reason.

Within 36 hours, two men were bitten by sharks in separate incidents in Key West two weeks ago, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office has confirmed.

A 35-year-old man was reportedly bitten in the foot by a shark while fishing off a dock in Summerland Key. One day earlier, a 20-year-old Miami-Dade County man was reportedly bitten in the leg by a shark while spearfishing in Marathon.

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Both men were flown to a hospital for treatment.

With its 825 miles of beaches lining the state, it's a given that sharks would be patrolling the Florida waters within their natural habitat. Yet, what makes the state stick out like a sore thumb when it comes to shark attacks?

Here's what you need to know about all things shark attacks in Florida:

Is Florida still the shark bite capital of the world?

Despite fewer bites reported in recent years, the sunshine state still holds onto its title as the "shark bite capital of the world." The Florida Museum of Natural History’s Florida Program for Shark Research declared that Florida again led the world with 16 unprovoked bites, according to the program’s International Shark Attack File.

Why are sharks so common in Florida?

Florida has one of the largest year-round concentrations of sharks.

Scientific data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission shows that many shark species migrate in and out of Florida's waters each year. These migrations are often linked to temperature and the presence of prey such as mullet, sardines, menhaden and other species of baitfish.

Meet great white shark “Rose,” named after Rose Bay, Nova Scotia. She’s a 10-foot, 5-inch 600-pound juvenile #whiteshark, and the seventh animal the OCEARCH team was able to tag, sample and release during #ExpeditionNovaScotia.
Meet great white shark “Rose,” named after Rose Bay, Nova Scotia. She’s a 10-foot, 5-inch 600-pound juvenile #whiteshark, and the seventh animal the OCEARCH team was able to tag, sample and release during #ExpeditionNovaScotia.

For example, it's not rare to see this many white sharks head to the Gulf for the winter, with Dr. Bob Hueter, chief scientist at OCEARCH, explaining to the News-Press back in March why they leave to leave their homes up North.

"As winter approaches, that availability of food gets lessened and it gets too cold for them, so they start moving south," Hueter said. "A lot of these white sharks, most of them actually, tend to kind of come down; they don't really hug the coast in the sense that they're right on the beach, but they stay in the continental shelf waters, most of them, and they come south."

How many people are usually bitten in Florida each year?

According to the International Shark Attack File, the state typically sees an average of 22 bites yearly.

Where are you more likely to be bitten in Florida?

New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County topped the list of America's 10 "deadliest" beaches to visit, according to online travel publication Travel Lens, which used data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Shark Institute.

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From 2010 to Jan. 13, 2023, the Atlantic Coast town just south of Daytona Beach has seen 32 shark attacks, twice as many as on any other beach.

How many shark bites have been fatal?

Of Florida’s 16 unprovoked bites last year, none was fatal. However, two required medical treatments that resulted in amputations.

The last fatal shark attack in Florida was in 2010 when 38-year-old kiteboarder Stephen Howard Schafer died from massive blood loss following an attack by at least one shark in the ocean off Stuart Beach.

Researchers do stress that fatal shark bites are extremely rare. In a USA TODAY article, it was revealed that the odds of dying as a result of a shark attack in the USA is 1 in 3,748,067.

What month are sharks most active?

According to the International Shark Attack File, September has the most frequent unprovoked attacks by sharks on Florida beaches. Since 1926, roughly 17% of unprovoked shark attacks in Florida have happened in September.

How close do sharks swim to shore?

Sharks usually stay within a range of 60-100 feet from shore; however, Florida Museum of Natural History research has found that most shark attacks occur within 6 to 10 feet of land.

What breed of sharks mostly bite humans?

According to the University of Florida, the shark species responsible for most unprovoked bites on humans are the white sharks (more commonly known as great white), tiger sharks and bull sharks. They do note that all sharks regardless of size are predators and could be capable of inflicting wounds if provoked.

How can you avoid being bitten by a shark?

While the chances of being bitten by a shark are very rare, the FWC offers some tips on how to avoid being attacked while out in the ocean:

  • Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to bite a solitary individual.

  • Do not wander too far from shore; this isolates an individual and places him or her far away from assistance.

  • Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active.

  • Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating — a shark's ability to smell blood is acute.

  • Wearing shiny jewelry is discouraged. When light reflects off shiny jewelry, it resembles the sheen of fish scales.

  • Avoid waters with known discharges or sewage and waters used for any type of fishing — especially if there are signs of baitfishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds, which frequently feed on baitfishes, are good indicators of such activity.

  • While there are myths and anecdotes about dolphins saving humans from shark bites, the presence of dolphins does not indicate the absence of sharks — both often eat the same foods.

  • Use extra caution when the waters are murky.

  • Remember that sharks see contrast particularly well. Uneven tans and bright-colored clothing may draw a shark's attention.

  • Refrain from excess splashing, as this may draw a shark's attention.

  • Do not allow pets in the water; their erratic movements may draw a shark’s attention.

  • Be careful when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs — these are favorite hangouts for sharks.

  • Swim only in areas tended by lifeguards.

  • Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present, and get out of the water if sharks are sighted.

  • Never harass a shark.

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Two Florida shark bites in 36 hours: All about the shark bite capital