How close to the shore do sharks come? As terrified as most people are of sharks, they spend a lot more time close to the ocean’s apex predator than they might expect or feel comfortable with.
Sharks typically come close to the shore to hunt for food and sometimes enter shallow waters.
A couple of years ago, drone footage shot off Capistrano Beach in California’s Dana Point highlighted just how close we unwittingly come to these creatures.
Hydrofoils were videoed skimming along the surface of the water just meters from a great white shark.
Although some will find this footage disconcerting it should offer reassurance. Despite being so close to people, the shark showed no interest in them.
According to Chris Lowe, professor of marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University, “when there are a lot of people and sharks in shallow water together, most of the time nothing happens.”
Sharks can come close to shore and are sometimes found in shallow waters, but they generally do not pose a threat to humans.
The presence of sharks close to shore is influenced by factors such as warmer waters, abundance of food, and safety for their young.
Sharks are more likely to be active at dawn and dusk and are most commonly found in nearshore waters during the summer months.
How Close do Sharks Come to Shore?
Armed with their drones, increasing numbers of amateur filmmakers are capturing footage that proves just how close sharks come to the shore.
Images like these may seem disturbing but show that, in most cases, humans and sharks can share the shallow waters along the beachfront peacefully.
Bull sharks, in particular, like to frequent the shallow, more temperate waters close to shore and can be found in waters as shallow as 3 feet deep. As bull sharks commonly enter bays, estuaries, and river mouths, these sharks are just a stone’s throw from land.
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Tiger sharks off the coast of Hawaii have also “been observed in depths as shallow as 3.05 m (10.0 ft) and regularly observed in coastal waters at depths of 6 to 12 m (20 to 40 ft).”
Again, this draws them close to the shore and into what we tend to consider as human territory. Not one drop of the ocean belongs to us. Every time we enter it, we go into a world we aren’t designed to inhabit.
Do Sharks Live Near the Shore?
Sharks live in the ocean and utilize all that it has to offer. It’s believed the great white traverses around 50 miles a day, so can easily appear close to the shore at dawn and be spotted far out to sea later the same day.
Although the great white can dive to depths of 3,900 feet, they prefer warmer waters with a temperature of around 50 to 75℉.
It’s believed that the warmer waters and abundance of potential food sources attract some shark species to the shore. Several great white sharks, for instance, have been observed swimming close to shore in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts.
Greg Skomal, the senior fisheries scientist for the state Department of Fish and Game, says this is entirely the fault of the seal.
During the summer, grey seals, in particular, spend their time in the shallow waters close to the shoreline. “As a result,” Skomal explains, “the sharks are moving closer to the shoreline in order to feed on the seals.”
Other shark species rely on nearshore areas to provide safety for their young. According to a study published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series in 2010, “nearshore areas may function as critical nursery and pupping habitat” for some species, including the lemon shark.
How Shallow Can Sharks Swim?
What many people don’t know is that not all sharks are found in deep waters. Some species of sharks are capable of swimming in relatively shallow waters close to the shore.
So, how shallow can sharks swim? That will depend on the species of shark, its size, and its environment.
Some species of shark, such as the bull shark, are known to swim in shallow waters and are even capable of swimming up rivers and into freshwater.
These types of shark are well adapted to life in shallow waters, with a flat, broad body that allows them to maneuver in tight spaces.
However, other species of shark, such as the great white shark, are generally found in deeper waters, away from the shore. While they are capable of swimming in shallow waters, they prefer to hunt in deeper waters where they can take advantage of their speed and power.
Size of the Sharks
Another factor that affects the depth at which a shark can swim is its size. Smaller species of shark, such as the blacktip shark, are more nimble and capable of swimming in shallower waters, while larger species, such as the tiger shark, are generally found in deeper waters.
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Do Sharks Come Closer to Shore Every Year?
Shark sightings are increasing, experts say, but not because sharks are coming closer to shore each year. Sightings always increase over summer months simply because that’s when humans choose to spend time enjoying the sea and sand and are therefore more conscious of the presence of sharks.
Marine Levine, the founder of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, believes the sudden surge in shark sightings last summer was primarily due to more people being in the water after the COVID-19 lockdowns.
According to Levine, the sharks are following their food, and if their prey moves closer to shore, they won’t hesitate to do the same. Assistant professor at the University of California in San Diego, Andrew Nosal, agrees.
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“I think what we’re seeing now in terms of more shark encounters is mostly due to there being more people outside and in the water,” Nosal said.
The popularity of drones has also led to more people capturing footage of sharks close to shore, which fuels the impression that sharks move closer each year.
Conservation efforts aimed at protecting marine mammals, like the sea lion and seal, have also had an impact. As those populations increase so, more sharks will move into the area looking for food.
Do Sharks Come Near the Beach?
Sharks will come as close to shore as they can if it means they get a good meal out of it. As Skomal explains, “If there’s deep water close to shore, the sharks can get into that area.”
This footage shows a hammerhead hunting migratory blacktip sharks in knee-deep water off the coast of South Florida. As Joshua Jorgensen, who shot the footage, notes, it’s “incredible to see how shallow a 1,000-pound shark will go to try and eat another shark.”
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Interestingly, the blacktips also appear to use the shallower waters to elude their attacker.
Certain beaches appear more attractive to specific shark species than others, perhaps because the topography enables the shark to remain in deep water while getting closer to the shoreline.
Off the coast of South Africa, bronze whaler sharks have been spotted swimming close to the shore in Gordon’s Bay, while great whites frequent the waters just off the Strandfontein, Muizenberg, and Fish Hoek beaches in Cape Town.
In Florida, blacktips and spinner sharks congregate close to the beaches in Sebastian Inlet State Park.
Little Ship Cay in the Bahamas attracts blacktip, nurse, lemon, and Caribbean reef sharks that swim in “ankle-deep water” just off the area’s sandy beaches.
How Far from Shore do Most Shark Attacks Occur?
The chance of a shark attacking you in shallow water is much greater than in the deeper areas further out to sea.
Statistics show that “most shark attacks occur less than 100 feet from the shore,” and data from the Florida Museum of Natural History seems to corroborate this, saying that “Attacks on surfers and swimmers are most common in 6 to 10 feet of water.”
Shark attacks also occur in very shallow waters less than 5-foot deep. In this video, a blacktip shark bumps a six-year-old girl in water that can be no more than a couple of feet deep.
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Although divers are in some danger if utilizing waters of 31 to 40 feet deep, “most shark attacks occur close to shore or near sandbars or areas with nearby deep drop-offs.”
So-called “hit-and-run” attacks are most common in the surf zone. In this type of attack, the shark approaches its victim stealthily and inflicts a single bite before swimming off. It’s thought that these occur when poor visibility or harsh conditions cause the shark to mistake a human for a seal or fish.
Why Are Sharks Swimming Close to Shore?
Although sharks are adept at swimming in deep oceans, if the waters close to the shore are warmer, they’ll gravitate towards them. They also find an abundance and diversity of food in those nearshore areas.
For larger shark species, nearshore waters provide a safe place for their young, which are born in nursery areas close to the shore and remain there until they reach sexual maturity.
Studies suggest that female sharks of the blacktip, sandbar, and scalloped hammerhead species move into nearshore areas “during the summer months when ready to give birth.”
Nearshore nursery areas give the young of these species increased protection against predators while enabling them to exist in higher densities and grow faster.
Other shark species target the shallow species for very different reasons. In the documentary, Dive to Shark Volcano, a film crew witnesses silvertip sharks performing some unusual behavior.
These sharks usually occupy waters of up to 800m and yet, in the documentary, are filmed cruising around in the shallow seas off Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean.
It appears these sharks are targeting the area because of its dense population of wrasse and angelfish. As the sharks coast slowly by, the fish set to work, removing external parasites from their skin and giving them, in effect, thorough grooming.
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When Do Sharks Come Close To Shore?
Last year, the state Division of Marine Fisheries teamed up with Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and Arizona State University to study the behavior of sharks around Cape Cod.
Their findings indicate that these great whites “were less likely to be in shallow waters in twilight hours than during the day, but frequented shallow waters the most at night, especially during the new moon.”
It’s thought that the lack of moonlight gives sharks an advantage over their prey, who don’t have the same ability to see at night.
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To get their data, researchers attached satellite tags to eight great whites. These tags record water depth and temperature, as well as location. From the information they gathered, researchers discovered that the sharks spend nearly half their time in water “less than 15 feet deep” and prefer water temperatures of 48-69℉.
Other research indicates that sharks are drawn to the area in June and hang around the shallow waters of Cape Cod for about half the year, usually departing in mid-December.
Do Sharks Come to Shore at Night?
Sharks are more active at dawn and dusk, choosing these times to hunt their nearshore prey. Due to an ingenious adaptation, sharks can maximize the available light to get an even greater advantage over their prey. They, therefore, choose to hunt when visibility is poor.
If you want to avoid contact with sharks, it’s best you also “avoid murkier water with low visibility” and enter the sea only during daylight hours.
Do Sharks Have Night Vision?
Not only do sharks have superior underwater vision, but they can also see in the dark.
With their eyes positioned on either side of the head, sharks have almost 360° vision and have adapted other mechanisms that maximize the amount of light available.
A special tissue, called the tapetum lucidum, lies behind the shark’s retina. Made up of mirrored crystals, it reflects light back to the retina.
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This biologic reflector system provides “light-sensitive retinal cells with a second opportunity for photon-photoreceptor stimulation, thereby enhancing visual sensitivity at low light levels.”
It is this mechanism that gives sharks their superior night vision. It also enhances their ability to see underwater, where their vision is “about 10 times better than that of human beings.”
What Species of Shark Come Close to the Shore?
The shark species that most commonly hang out in nearshore waters in members of the carcharhinid and sphyrnid families.
Carcharhinid species, also known as requiem sharks, include the bull, blue, spinner, and blacktip, while the hammerhead is the most notable of the sphyrnids. Both these families occur in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
The leopard and hound shark are more commonly found close to the coast in temperate regions while the lemon shark enjoys the natural camouflage offered by the coastal inshore waters between New Jersey and Southern Brazil.
White sharks are commonly seen off the Southern Californian coast, and South Africans enjoy regular sightings of bronze whalers and great whites off the beaches of Cape Town.
How Close are Sharks to You in the Ocean?
Closer than you think! The more drone footage we see, the more obvious it is that we unwittingly share the oceans with sharks almost every time we enter them.
Sharks are found everywhere in the ocean, traversing vast distances and often moving from deep water into more temperate, near-coast zones within a matter of hours.
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Most of the time, humans are unaware of the shark’s presence and unharmed by it. It appears that although sharks can see and smell us quite clearly, they generally choose to ignore us.
It’s only when visibility is particularly poor that a shark might mistake a human for a tasty piece of prey and attack.
Videos like this one probably send a shiver up your spine. The thought of being in the water with one of the world’s most efficient predators is unnerving for all but a handful of people. Knowing that sharks’ can both swim and attack in ankle-deep water is also disconcerting.
Although sharks can and do come close to the shore, it’s not because they’re blood-thirsty killers hankering for a human meal. Studies indicate that it’s the warmer waters, chances of a good cleaning session, and abundance of food that draw them in.
Anytime we enter the ocean, we’re sharing it with sharks, regardless of how deep the water is. Most of the time, sharks and humans can coexist in the nearshore seas harmoniously.
When murky water and darkening skies cloud their vision, however, sharks sometimes do mistake a human for prey, so staying out of the water at that time is the best way to avoid the unlikely possibility of a shark attack.
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Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.