Fort Lauderdale is known for fun and adventure on, or in the ocean.
If you’re planning a trip to this part of Florida, you might be wondering about safety in the ocean and, in particular, if there are sharks in Fort Lauderdale.
Sharks live naturally in the Atlantic Ocean, including in the waters of Fort Lauderdale.
However, if you’re concerned about Fort Lauderdale shark attacks, we’ll see that they are incredibly uncommon. In fact, only 16 unprovoked attacks (all non-fatal) have ever been recorded in the area since records began.
14 million people visit the area annually, so the chances of being bitten by a shark are incredibly low – essentially non-existent.
However, it’s a good idea to have all the information. So, we’ll tell you all about the different sharks found in Fort Lauderdale and give you the low down on some of the incidents.
How Often Do Shark Attacks Happen in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida?
Fort Lauderdale, on the southeastern coast of Florida, is the capital of Broward County.
The ocean is one of the city’s star attractions, with over 24 miles (38.6 km) of gorgeous beaches. Fort Lauderdale is also often called “the Venice of America” because of its 300 miles (482 km) of inland waterways.
To investigate shark attacks in Fort Lauderdale, we consulted the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).
The headline is that since the records began in 1882, there have only been 16 unprovoked shark attacks in Broward County, Florida. So until 2022, that’s just one incident every 8.75 years – none of which were fatal.
In 2021, there was only one bite in Broward County from a total of 28 in all Florida.
As a comparison, the so-called shark attack capital of the world, New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, has a record total of 337 shark attacks ever – 21 times as many – quite a difference! Seventeen happened in 2021.
Closer to Fort Lauderdale, to the south, Miami Beach in Miami-Dade County has a total of 19 attacks ever, with two in 2021.
So, while there have been shark attacks, Fort Lauderdale definitely isn’t among the places they happen the most.
Where Do Shark Attacks Take Place in Fort Lauderdale?
In researching the shark attacks in Fort Lauderdale, we found some reports that give a representation of the bites that can occur and when and where they happen.
The most recently recorded incident in the Global Shark Attack File (GSAF) happened on the 25th of March, 2021, when a young swimmer visiting Fort Lauderdale Beach was bitten on the hand. Witnesses saw a large school of fish being chased by a large fish just before the victim was bitten.
Locally some people thought that a blacktip shark was the likely cause, although Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue believed it may have been a barracuda.
In August 2019, an 11-year-old boy was bitten on the foot while wading at the beach. Christian Mariani received 17 stitches to repair the puncture wounds that were believed to have been made by a small shark.
A 17-year-old woman received a minor bite to the finger while attempting to rescue a beached nurse shark in June 2015.
In October 2015, a surfer was bitten on the foot at Deerfield Beach north of Fort Lauderdale. Peter Kirn received medical attention at the beach after being bitten near the Fishing Pier by what was believed to be a five-foot-long spinner shark.
On the 1st of June 2014, a lady was swimming with friends in the Intercoastal Waterway (the network of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, and canals) when she suffered lacerations to her right lower leg after being bitten by what was thought to have been a bull shark.
Fortunately, the victim was quickly released from the hospital after surgery and fully recovered.
Two of the bites recorded in the GSAF as unprovoked involved spearfishing, which is accepted as a reasonable recreation but can attract the attention of sharks.
Two other incidents in the file are marked as provoked as they involved shark fishing, and the bite took place when the shark was either netted or hooked.
The 16 all non-fatal shark bites ever recorded in Fort Lauderdale have happened across a wide range of activities. Ultimately, so long as you’re not taking part in any unreasonable, provocative behavior, there’s no need to worry.
What Sharks Are There in Fort Lauderdale, and Do They Bite?
Sharks have swum the waters off the Florida coast for millions of years. In fact, some of Florida’s beaches are among the best in the world for finding fossilized shark teeth.
There are at least 18 larger shark species, and their threat to humans is extremely low. Indeed the sharks in Fort Lauderdale Beach have far more to fear from us.
Although some sharks may come quite close to the shore, they’re just getting on with their lives and will usually only come in contact with people by accident.
Several smaller shark species are also found in the area, including various dogfishes. These are not considered a bite risk due to their diminutive size.
1. Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)
Blacktip sharks are common on the east coast of Florida and are directly identified as responsible for 15% of all bites. They are also the prime suspect in the 36% of all unprovoked bites where the shark isn’t definitively known.
Blacktips aggressively hunt schools of baitfish close to the shore, often in surf zones which is why many accidental bites involve surfers.
2. Bonnethead Shark (Sphyrna tiburo)
The bonnethead shark is a small species of hammerhead shark that’s timid and, accordingly, rarely seen by people at the beach. They’ve never been involved in a shark bite incident.
To have the best chance to see one, you should look in estuaries and secluded bays. Although they eat small fish and crustaceans, they’re also the only shark that eats plants and will happily munch on seagrass.
3. Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
Blue sharks are involved in only 1% of all recorded unprovoked bites in Florida.
Although the shark can reach as big as 10’ 8” (3.3 m), it isn’t a threat to swimmers. Blue sharks will stick to deeper waters to hunt their favorite squid food.
4. Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi)
Despite being common, Caribbean reef sharks have never been involved in a shark bite in Florida.
The Caribbean is known as one of the least dangerous sharks and can be spotted by scuba divers on local reefs.
5. Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
The bull shark is probably the most potentially dangerous of the sharks seen in Fort Lauderdale, and they have been responsible for 16% of the bites that have ever taken place in Florida.
Because this shark can tolerate freshwater and has a rather brave nature, it is known to enter the Fort Lauderdale waterways, often attracted by waste dumped by anglers or seafood restaurants.
6. Dusky Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus)
Dusky sharks stick to the quieter waters offshore and rarely visit the shallows.
This predatory shark can reach an impressive 14 feet (4.2 m) in length. However, their generally shy nature means that this shark has no bites on record in Florida.
7. Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
Hammerhead sharks are recorded as being involved in 8% of the unprovoked bites in Florida, and the great hammerhead was likely responsible for most of them.
Stingrays are the favorite food of the largest of the hammerhead sharks, and hunting for them is the reason the giant will come into relatively shallow water.
8. and 9. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini) and Smooth Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna zygaena)
The remaining hammerheads are only rarely seen as they prefer to stick to deeper water. Neither species has been known to have bitten anyone in Florida.
10. Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)
Lemon sharks are responsible for 3% of Florida’s unprovoked bites.
The shark likes to swim in shallower waters. Their yellow-colored skin, which camouflages against the sandy bottom, makes them easy to accidentally tread on and get bitten defensively in return.
11. Mako Shark (family Lamnidae)
Mako sharks are responsible for only 1% of known bites in Florida.
Most likely, this is because they stay in deep water and will only venture to the shallows in unusual circumstances, such as if they are injured and have difficulty feeding.
12. Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
The nurse shark is the most commonly seen in Florida but is responsible for only 2% of unprovoked bites.
They’re probably associated with more bites that are classed as provoked. Unfortunately, some swimmers will try and touch these sharks as they seem quite docile sitting on the bottom.
They’re also more innocently accidentally trodden on. Whatever the circumstances, the nurse shark will defensively bite if they feel under threat.
13. Sandbar Shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)
The sandbar lives year-round in the waters around Fort Lauderdale and is responsible for 7% of the area’s bites.
The coastal predator looks quite similar to the bull shark, although it is nowhere near as aggressive. Many unprovoked bites happen in surf zones and are presumably a case of mistaken identity while the shark is hunting for baitfish.
14. Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)
Atlantic sharpnose sharks are a reasonably small (maximum about 3 feet / 90 cm) species that has never been recorded as involved in an attack on humans.
The shark is frequently caught by anglers fishing for other species, such as yellowtail snapper.
15. Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
Silky sharks like to stay in the open ocean, where they can hunt for larger boney fish and squid.
Although it is a skillful predator, and known for being curious and even aggressive toward scuba divers, no bites have ever been recorded in Florida.
16. Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
Spinner sharks get their name for their habit of spinning through the water’s surface as they hunt baitfish in the shallows.
Their favored feeding waters are in surf zones, so several bites have taken place involving surfers, particularly when they’re paddling at the surface.
Spinner sharks have been responsible for 9% of the unprovoked bites in Florida.
17. Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Tiger sharks are the cause of just 2% of all recorded bites in the whole of Florida.
However, the tiger should be taken very seriously if seen as, after the great white and the bull shark, it is considered one of the most dangerous sharks in the ocean.
Thankfully, in the Fort Lauderdale area, the shark is rarely seen near the shore and is typically spotted by anglers far out at sea.
18. Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
The largest fish in the world, the whale shark, is occasionally seen in waters off Fort Lauderdale.
The only danger this plankton-eating giant presents to anyone lucky enough to see one is if they get too close and the shark accidentally wacks them with its massive tail.
Are There Great White Sharks in Fort Lauderdale?
Many people asking, “are there sharks in Fort Lauderdale” are really wondering if there are great white sharks. After all, this giant predator is the most famous and feared of all shark species.
The great white isn’t seen close to the coast, so it is unlikely that a regular visitor will ever see one. There has never been a great white shark attack recorded in Fort Lauderdale.
However, scientists know that great white sharks pass through the deep water in the area as they migrate.
In January 2021, David Greco and Dominic Miller managed to catch a rare great white while fishing from their boat far off Fort Lauderdale.
It took them an hour and a half to reel in the shark, and it was estimated to weigh over 1,000 pounds (450 kg) and was at least 16 feet (4.8m) long.
Is It Safe To Swim Around Fort Lauderdale?
Fort Lauderdale’s beaches are safe to swim in as long as common sense precautions are followed.
When it comes to hazardous marine life, you’re more likely to have a problem with the jellyfish in Florida. However, to reduce your risk of a shark attack, you can follow these rules:
- Always swim with a buddy, never alone
- Stay close to the shore
- Don’t splash excessively at the surface
- Don’t swim where people are swimming, including spearfishing
- Don’t swim where you see large schools of fish
- Don’t take any food or bait into the water
- Don’t wear jewelry, as this may look like a fishes scales to a shark
- Don’t go in the water at dawn or dusk or for an hour after or before
- Follow the instructions of lifeguards and take note of warning flags
Many shark species live naturally in the waters off Fort Lauderdale, and incidents involving people are extremely rare.
For example, only one bite took place in all of 2021, and rest assured, it was non-fatal and was not even definitely attributed to a shark.
Fort Lauderdale shark attacks are not something that should cause visitors concern. So if you are visiting, put on your sunscreen and enjoy the beaches as many millions of others do each year safely.
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.