Are there sharks in Malibu? Yes, they occur naturally, as they do in practically every ocean worldwide.
However, while marine biologists could potentially find a wide range of species, it is worth noting that larger shark sightings in Malibu are relatively rare.
In addition, the most common species found off the Southern California coast are not considered at all dangerous.
Leopard sharks, horn sharks, and the gray smooth-hound are relatively small and pose no threat to humans.
Other large species, like sevengill, swell, tope, or the rarer blue shark, are also not dangerous unless severely provoked.
Although they are not seen often by swimmers and are not considered a realistic threat, it’s always best to be aware of your surroundings, exercise caution, and take careful note of any local warnings.
The risks of swimming in these shark-populated waters are extremely low. Only one unprovoked incident has happened in Malibu. Indeed, in the whole of Los Angeles County, there have only ever been six unprovoked shark attacks since records began in 1926.
With 21 miles of coastline, Malibu has many beautiful beaches to enjoy. Local beach patrols and lifeguards on public beaches are trained to spot potential hazards and will warn swimmers and surfers of any rare shark sightings.
Drownings are considerably more common than shark injuries, so make sure that you stay within your limits, and you’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful day at the beach safely.
Types of Sharks in Malibu
About 34 species of sharks live off the entire Pacific Coast of the United States. However, many of these are absent from the waters off Malibu.
Other species, like the frilled shark or Pacific sleeper, are only found in deep water.
Let’s look at the sharks that are expected in Malibu, starting with the most frequently seen. They’re similar to those living in other regions of Southern California, like Laguna Beach.
Fortunately, before you worry, the most common sharks are considered harmless to humans.
Are there lots of sharks in Malibu? Well, the most commonly seen of the Malibu sharks is probably the horn shark.
It’s a type of bullhead shark, and as an adult, it measures around 1 meter (3.3 feet) in length.
This funny-looking guy isn’t like a stereotypical shark and spends most of their day sitting alone on the bottom of sandy flats or nestled amongst rocky reefs before hunting for crabs and other food at night.
While this isn’t a shark that’s considered dangerous to people, it’s not one to be played with.
The horn shark has large spines on its dorsal fins, which could cause a nasty injury. They also have amongst the highest known bite force relative to their size.
So, while you can be sure a horn shark isn’t going to suddenly attack you, if you should tread on one or otherwise provoke it, it can give you a wound to remember.
While their big cat name might sound scary, leopard sharks have never been involved in an attack on humans.
These slender sharks have large distinctive spots on their bodies. They usually get to about 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) and have a reputation for avoiding human interaction.
Lucky scuba divers or snorkelers may spot one swimming over sandy flats in relatively shallow water, but more often than not, the leopard shark will exit the scene before anyone gets a good look.
Broadnose Sevengill Shark
The sevengill may look like a frightening predatory shark. However, while they’re relatively common in Southern California, they’ve never been associated with attacks.
The shark is only known to be aggressive when severely provoked, so you should take care if you are spearfishing in areas where they are seen.
Gray Smooth-Hound Shark
This shark is another bottom dweller, and occasionally they’re mistaken for leopard sharks due to their similar behavior and size.
Just like the other smaller sharks, these are not at all dangerous.
The swell shark is a harmless bottom-dwelling catshark with an interesting characteristic.
When they feel threatened, they can fill themselves with huge gulps of water and swell up to more than double their standard size.
They’ll occasionally do this when pulled out of the water by anglers, and as the swallowed air releases, they can let out a sound a bit like a barking dog.
Also known as the school shark, the tope shark is a harmless houndshark that can reach about 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) long.
The shark is becoming less common globally due to overfishing. Even with that said, it has always been a rarer sight around Malibu Beach as it typically prefers deeper waters.
Blue sharks are curious yet usually safe to be around. Indeed, in many areas of the world, people frequently and safely snorkel with them.
They’re probably the most “sharky” looking of all the species we’ve mentioned so far, and they may be encountered away from the shallow waters of the beach by kayakers and paddleboarders.
Incidents involving humans and blue sharks are incredibly uncommon. However, we should still respect them as they have the teeth to deliver a nasty bite if provoked.
Great White Shark
Having spoken chiefly so far about relatively harmless sharks, it’s time to address the elephant in the room.
Yes, great white sharks do appear in the ocean off Malibu.
However, before you get nervous about what is known as the most dangerous shark in the world, it’s essential to know that incidents involving them are extremely rare across Southern California. In Malibu, there has never been a recorded attack ever.
The population locally is relatively small and are generally smaller juveniles that exist quite happily without causing a disturbance to ocean users.
The highest frequency of sightings is usually during April, when numbers are at their highest.
Shortfin Mako Shark
The shortfin mako is another shark that has the potential to be dangerous.
However, this shark likes deep open water, so you shouldn’t expect to see one at the beach.
However, these are rare and only seen very infrequently as they typically like deeper water.
One rare shark that may be seen as it swims at the surface is the giant basking shark.
These colossal fish were spotted off Malibu in 2019 after a thirty-year absence. Remember, if you see one, they only eat plankton.
Shark Sightings and Attacks in Malibu
While sightings of larger sharks at Malibu Beach are not common, it’s reasonable to ask, “Has there ever been a shark attack in Malibu, California?”
Investing shark attacks in Malibu itself, we can only find one recorded incident that could be classified as an attack.
In 1959, near Paradise Cove, a swimmer swam through a group of feeding blue sharks and was bitten on their forearm. The incident was not fatal.
In addition, a few other incidents have also been reported in the Malibu area.
In 2015, a kayak angler was bitten by a shark on their foot. However, the details of this hammerhead shark attack in Malibu led it to be classed as unprovoked.
The angler was fishing for sharks about a mile off the beach and caught a 10-foot hammerhead. As he reeled the shark in, he let his foot dangle over the side of the kayak, and during the action, the shark bit it.
In 2007, a surfer had their board repeatedly bumped as they paddled by a curious great white shark for twenty minutes. However, they suffered no injury apart from probably being a little nervous.
In 1989, a kayaker was found off Latigo Point, west of Malibu, with apparent shark bites.
However, the medical examination showed that the victim had died before the bites and likely suffered a heart attack while at sea well before the shark found them.
In 1955 a diver was bitten on the right arm by a shark while spearfishing. This is regarded as a provoked attack as the diver admitted punching the shark.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife records all shark incidents and notes 209 incidents across the state, totaling 15 fatalities since 1950.
In addition, since records began in 1926, the International Shark Attack File shows just six unprovoked shark attacks as having occurred in Los Angeles County and only one in Ventura. This is not an area with a high shark attack rate.
The highest number of unprovoked attacks in California is in San Diego, with 20 since records began.
Solana Beach in San Diego is known as the beach with the highest number of shark attacks in the state.
Other beaches with higher rates of shark incidents closer to Malibu include Santa Monica Bay, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz.
Where Are the Most Shark Sightings in California?
Most shark sightings in California occur in the waters off of central and northern California, particularly in areas such as the San Francisco Bay Area and the coast north of Santa Cruz.
These areas have a higher population of great white sharks and other species potentially dangerous to humans.
They also have a higher population of marine mammals, such as seals and sea lions, which attract predatory species.
Risks and Safety Measures
The risks of you getting involved in a shark incident in Malibu are extremely low.
Far more people, by many orders of magnitude, get in trouble by getting out of their depth or pulled out to sea by rip currents.
Even bacteria levels in the water at Malibu cause more problems than sharks.
The best way to avoid incidents involving sharks is to ensure you follow the information provided by authorities.
Be aware of warning systems, such as flags, that alert swimmers and surfers of potential shark hazards.
- Don’t swim at dawn or dusk
- Don’t excessively splash while swimming in deeper water
- Always swim with someone else
- Don’t wear shiny jewelry
- Stay close to the shore
- Never feed sharks or other marine life
- Stay away from anyone fishing
There are sharks in Malibu, but you don’t need to be overly concerned.
The sharks commonly seen are harmless to people, and while potentially dangerous sharks may be present offshore, incidents are extremely rare.
There’s only been one recorded unprovoked shark attack in Malibu, and the area has one of the lowest incident rates in the entire state.
We must remember that sharks occur naturally and play a vital role in maintaining the ocean’s natural balance.
By following some common-sense guidelines and paying attention to local information, you can happily enjoy your time at the beach.
Supporting these and other organizations can help ensure sharks continue to live safely for future generations.
British-born Dan has been a scuba instructor and guide in Egypt's Red Sea since 2010.
Dan loves inspiring safe, fun, and environmentally responsible diving and particularly enjoys the opportunity to dive with sharks or investigate local shipwrecks.
When not spending time underwater, Dan can usually be found biking and hiking in Sharm's desert surroundings.