Are there sharks in Destin, Florida?
Yes, there are sharks in Destin, Florida, as the Gulf of Mexico is home to various species of sharks. However, the chances of encountering them while swimming are low.
Numerous shark species live naturally in the Gulf of Mexico, making Destin a top-rated shark-fishing destination.
However, before you get nervous and cancel your visit to the Emerald Coast, we’re here with all the information you need.
The fact is that while there are sharks, beachgoers are not likely to see one.
In addition, you’ll be pleased to hear that Okaloosa County, along with Walton and Santa Rosa counties on either side, has some of the lowest historical rates of incidents involving sharks in the whole state.
So, as we tell you more about the sharks in Destin, Florida, you can already be assured that there’s nothing realistic to worry about.
Remember, if you’re asking about sharks at Miramar Beach, we’re talking about the same area (Miramar is just next door to Destin), so all the information here is applicable.
Key Points You Will learn from this article:
Destin, Florida has different species of sharks, but the chances of encountering them while swimming are low, as sharks avoid areas with heavy human activity.
The area has a low historical rate of shark incidents, with only a few unprovoked shark attacks ever recorded.
Safety tips for swimming in Destin, such as following beach advisories, swimming near a lifeguard station, and avoiding swimming at night or in areas with large schools of fish.
How Likely Is It to Encounter a Shark in Destin?
You’ll find Destin on a stunning peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from Choctawhatchee Bay.
The city, in Okaloosa County, started life as a busy fishing village and is now one of the region’s top tourist destinations. Over 3.5 million people visit annually, mostly for the ocean.
In common with the entire Gulf of Mexico, sharks are seen in the Destin area. But the typical visitor’s chances of encountering a shark are very low.
It’s essential to remember that sharks aren’t interested in humans. Simply put, we’re not on their menu, so sharks don’t come looking for us, no matter what the media and movies may suggest.
In addition, sharks usually like a peaceful life, so avoid anywhere there’s lots of human activity in the water, which perfectly describes Destin.
A good indicator of how likely you are to see a shark is to check the records to see what incidents have happened in the past.
Fortunately, the waters of Okaloosa County are some of the safest, and in Destin, Florida, shark attacks are incredibly rare.
Since records began way back in 1882, experts at the Florida Museum International Shark Attack File have recorded only four unprovoked shark attacks EVER in Okaloosa, with just one each in the two adjacent counties.
Compare those figures with the so-called shark bite capital of the world in Volusia County (343 unprovoked attacks ever).
What Types of Sharks Are Found in Destin?
So, what kind of sharks are around Destin, Florida?
The many sharks living in the Gulf of Mexico range from the smaller and completely safe ones you’re more likely to see to the potentially dangerous but much rarer species occasionally found way offshore.
As we look at the types of sharks in Destin, Florida, it’s worth remembering that the ocean is their home, and all species play a vital part in maintaining the correct balance of the marine ecosystem.
Bonnethead Shark (Sphyrna tiburo)
The cute bonnethead is a miniature hammerhead with the unique ability amongst sharks to eat plants in addition to small fish and crustaceans.
Bonnetheads tend to be shy and are not considered dangerous to people in any way.
You might see them during the spring, summer, and fall, feeding in the shallows of Choctawhatchee Bay or around Crab Island. They’re also occasionally caught by surf anglers.
Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
The largest fish in the world, the whale shark, occasionally swims off Destin, Florida.
While these guys can grow to 60 feet long, just like the small bonnethead, they’re not dangerous to people.
Whale sharks eat plankton, so you can enjoy the experience if you spot one. Just keep a respectful distance if you get the chance to swim with a whale shark, as their vast tails could give you a solid wack.
Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Nurse sharks are not as common in Destin as in south Florida and the Florida Keys, but snorkelers and divers can still see them.
These sharks reach up to 10ft long and are known for their lazy behavior when resting on the seabed.
While not aggressive, the International Shark Attack File notes that nurse sharks are responsible for 2% of bites in Florida’s waters.
In fairness to the shark, most of these happen when a swimmer stands on them or otherwise provokes them, and they respond with a defensive bite. So, watching where you’re walking is a good idea.
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)
The Atlantic sharpnose stays in deep water most of the year, so it isn’t commonly seen. However, they’re caught reasonably often by boat anglers.
A regular tourist might spot one in the surf zones or harbor during the late spring and early summer when they may come closer inshore.
The shark isn’t considered especially dangerous; no bite incidents involving this species have ever been recorded in Florida.
Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)
Lemon sharks get their name from their yellow coloring, which acts as camouflage against the sandy seafloor.
They’re happy in shallow waters and may occasionally be found inside Choctawhatchee Bay. You might even spot them in groups as they’re a social species.
Lemon sharks aren’t considered aggressive, although they can give a nasty bite if provoked.
Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)
Blacktip sharks are a commonly found species in the Destin area during the winter when the ocean is cooler.
The shark likes to hunt amongst baitfish schools found in surf zones and may come close to the shore to catch its meal. So if you happen to see a shark fin break the surface, the chances are it’s attached to a blacktip.
Blacktips are not generally aggressive toward humans. However, it’s wise to stay away from baitfish schools in case you get mistakenly nibbled.
Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
Spinner sharks get their name from the impressive corkscrew leaps they make out of the water while hunting.
Like the blacktip, the spinner hunts amongst the surf zones, and similarly, in Florida, it has been responsible for an occasional accidental bite to an unfortunate surfer.
Hammerhead sharks, including the scalloped (Sphyrna lewini) and great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), are all found around Destin.
The scalloped tends to stick to deeper waters, so it is only usually seen when one is caught from a boat. However, the larger great hammerhead occasionally cruises in shallow waters, including around Crab Island.
The great hammerhead can inflict a strong bite, but they’re generally docile. If you do spot one, it’s wise to be respectful and keep out of the way.
Mako Shark (family Lamnidae)
Mako sharks, often called the fastest shark in the world, live in the deep water off the shore of Destin.
The shark is potentially dangerous. However, as they don’t enter the shallows, it’s doubtful that you’ll ever encounter one.
Makos are a prized target for shark anglers and are known to put up an incredible fight.
Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
Bull sharks are probably the species found around Destin that are most potentially dangerous to humans.
This is because, unlike other species, the bull shark will enter reasonably shallow water and, if feeling cornered, can be pretty aggressive.
Of the three known shark attack incidents in Destin itself, the Global Shark Attack File notes that all have involved bull sharks.
The most recent was in April 2017, when a swimmer suffered non-fatal lacerations to their thighs.
In October 2013, a boy was bitten on the forearm while wading behind the Silver Beach Towers in Destin.
Finally, and tragically, the only known fatality from a shark attack in Destin happened in June 2005, when a bull shark killed a girl while she swam with friends in front of a campground near the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.
However, while these events are serious, it’s important to remember that bull shark sightings in Destin are uncommon. These three incidents are the only unprovoked attacks ever recorded in the city.
Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Tiger sharks are a potentially dangerous species. However, there’s never been an attack in Destin, and they’re rarely seen.
The tiger prefers warm water, so it is likely only to visit during the summer.
If a tiger is seen, lifeguards will usually post warnings, so beachgoers know to be cautious and perhaps stay out of the water in that spot.
Are There Great White Sharks in Destin?
Great white sharks are not common in Destin and have not been recorded close to the shore.
However, the most famous of all sharks swim in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and scientists studying their movements occasionally track them there.
For example, in December 2022, a 341-pound sub-adult female named Andromache was detected 14.2 miles offshore of Destin as she made her migratory journey.
So, while great white sharks are known to swim off Destin, they don’t live there year-round and are only seen at significant distances from the coast.
Is It Safe To Swim in Destin, Florida?
There isn’t a high risk from sharks for swimmers to be concerned about. So far as marine life goes, it’s more likely you’ll get stung by one of the jellyfish that inhabit the local area.
Additionally, beachgoers can be confident that during the busiest times of the year, from March to September, lifeguards from the Destin Beach Safety Service are on duty seven days a week and keep a careful lookout for any dangers.
There are some common-sense precautions to take to ensure your safety while swimming:
Always follow beach advisories – Local authorities will post warning signs if there are any potential hazards.
Swim near a lifeguard station – Swim in designated areas and follow lifeguard instructions.
Be aware of the weather and currents – Strong winds and currents can create dangerous conditions for swimmers.
Avoid swimming at night or immediately after dawn and dusk – Visibility is poor, and sharks may be more active.
Be aware of your limits – Stay close to the shore.
Don’t swim where there are large schools of fish – sharks may be hunting there.
Don’t take food or bait into the water. Stay away from anglers and anyone spearfishing – this may attract predatory sharks.
Is It Safe To Go Shark Fishing in Destin?
Fishing for sharks is extremely popular in Destin and, when done correctly, can be pretty safe.
Shark fishing in Destin and the surrounding areas, like Okaloosa Island, can be done from the shore, pier, bridge, or charter boat.
Whichever interests you, ensure you have the correct permits, so you don’t get into trouble.
Sharks are powerful and potentially dangerous animals; handling them with care is essential. Keep in mind to:
- Use appropriate proactive gear.
- Be aware of regulations and follow them.
- Use circle hooks that are safer and earlier to remove.
- Handle sharks carefully and release them back into the water as quickly as possible.
- Be aware of your surroundings and changing conditions.
Destin Fishing Rodeo and Shark Saturday in October each year provides a fun, competitive opportunity for anglers to try and outdo each other by landing a giant shark. Thousands of people flock to HarborWalk Village to watch the day’s weigh-ins.
There are sharks in Destin, Florida, but fortunately, the area is considered safe for swimmers.
Unprovoked shark attacks in Destin are extremely rare, with only four occurrences in Okaloosa County since records began in 1882.
While some famous predatory sharks, like the great white, visit the Gulf of Mexico, they stay far out at sea and won’t bother you while you’re at the beach.
Rather than a problem caused by a shark, it’s far more common for swimmers to get into trouble by getting out of their depth or caught by a current.
Swimming near lifeguard stations and following beach advisories can help to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.
If you plan on shark fishing in the area, remember that you’ll need a fishing license, and you should use appropriate gear and handle the sharks with extreme care.
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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.