Miami Beach is a haven for watersports of all descriptions, but before you take the plunge, it’s natural to ask if there are any sharks in the local waters.
Yes, there are sharks in Miami Beach. Sharks are a part of the ocean’s natural ecosystem, and the waters here are no exception.
While this might sound alarming, we’ll look at the facts and learn that Miami Beach sharks are not considered a realistic threat to humans. As long as you don’t provoke them with unreasonable behavior, the chances of being attacked are incredibly small.
Some species of sharks in the waters off Miami Beach are considered potentially dangerous and could all pose a threat to swimmers. So beachgoers should be aware of their presence and the potential danger, however rare.
Miami Beach is known for its watersports and is home to various species of sharks.
Although some species are potentially dangerous to humans, shark attacks in Miami Beach are rare and have not resulted in any fatalities in recent years.
Swimming in Miami Beach is considered safe, but visitors should be aware of potential hazards such as strong currents, stinging jellyfish, and other hazardous marine life.
How Often Do Shark Attacks Happen in Miami Beach?
To answer “How often do sharks attack in Miami Beach?” we headed to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).
Answering the question may depend on an individual’s definition of “shark attack.” Some people might think that any interaction between a human and a shark, regardless of the outcome, is “an attack.” Others, including the ISAF, consider an unprovoked attack only to be a situation in which a shark causes injuries.
There’s an awful lot of data to wade through, so to make things easy, we’ve pulled out the critical shark attack facts for you.
- Since the records began in 1882, up until 2021, there had only ever been a total of 19 unprovoked shark attacks in the whole of Miami-Dade County.
- In 2021, out of a total of 28 unprovoked shark bites in the whole of Florida (with zero fatalities), just two bites occurred in Miami-Dade.
- Compare that to the 24.2 million people who visited Greater Miami in the same year, and we can get some perspective on just how uncommon shark attacks in Miami Beach really are.
Of the two recorded incidents in 2021, the most widely reported happened in March when a nine-year-old boy visiting from Minnesota was bitten while body surfing.
Jay Weiskopf was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital and needed surgery to repair wounds to his right shoulder, arm, and side.
“A shark tried to eat me at the ocean,” Jay said on his release two days after the incident.
Fortunately, the incident didn’t put the boy off the ocean altogether. He later visited the Miami Seaquarium to check out the sharks and dolphins there.
When Do Shark Attacks Take Place in Miami Beach?
The ISAF doesn’t publically separate individual attacks down to the area they occurred in. However, it has some interesting data for Florida as a whole.
- Between 2010 and 2019, 164 of the unprovoked shark attacks in the whole of Florida involved “surface recreationists” (activities including surfing, water skiing, windsurfing, boogie boarding, rafting, or floating on inflatables.)
- 55 involved swimmers and waders
- 15 involved scuba divers and freedivers
Time of Year
Using data from between 1926 and the present day, September has the highest total number of attacks, with 109 recorded in all of Florida. This was followed by August (88), July (77), October (73), June and April (64), May (51), November and March (44), February (14), December (12), and finally, January (6).
What Sharks Are There in Miami Beach, and Do They Bite?
The waters of the Atlantic Ocean that surround Miami Beach are home to at least 18 different larger shark species.
Most of these Miami sharks pose little threat to humans, and none attack people deliberately. However, if provoked or by accident, some may bite in self-defense or in a case of mistaken identity.
You might imagine that sharks would be scared away by human activity and the bright lights and loud noises of urban areas.
However, when researchers at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science tracked the movements of three shark species, they found that they remained close to the busy shorelines as they have always done naturally.
Indeed, activities, particularly the dumping of fish carcasses by fishermen and businesses in marinas, may attract sharks closer to the busy city than they might typically be.
Many of the Miami Beach sharks are migratory and are only found during particular times of the year. Others can be found year-round.
1. Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)
Blacktip sharks are one of the most commonly found. They’re mainly seen during the winter when the ocean is cooler and will migrate north towards the Carolinas in the summer.
They are aggressive hunters, and incidents involving surfers can occur when the sharks are hunting schools of baitfish in surf zones.
The ISAF records the species involved with unprovoked shark attacks in Florida and provides information about which sharks appear to be the most potentially dangerous.
However, the exact species often can’t be identified accurately and is listed as an unknown Requiem shark species.
The experts at the ISAF suspect that blacktip sharks account for the majority of these “unknown” bites in Florida. However, “these cases lack enough evidence to be conclusive.”
36% of all unprovoked bites in Florida are recorded as being caused by an undetermined Requiem species, while 15% of bites have been attributed explicitly to blacktip sharks.
2. Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
Blue sharks are considered peaceful and no threat to swimmers and snorkelers. They’re often inquisitive and may approach snorkelers and divers just to see what they’re up to.
In Florida, the shark represents just 1% of all recorded unprovoked bites, so this isn’t a species that should cause any concern.
3. Bonnethead Shark (Sphyrna tiburo)
The bonnethead shark is a small hammerhead species with the unusual distinction of being the only shark that can eat plants.
Bonnetheads are shy and have never been recorded in any bite incidents.
4. Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
Bull sharks are, along with great white sharks and tiger sharks, one of the three shark species that can be most dangerous to humans.
In Florida, bull sharks have been responsible for 16% of the bites that have ever taken place. It is undoubtedly a shark to be respected.
5. Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi)
The Caribbean reef shark is a common sight in South Florida and has a reputation as one of the least dangerous sharks.
Indeed, there has never been an unprovoked shark bite involving this species in Florida.
6. Dusky Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus)
Dusky sharks are an uncommon sight around Miami Beach when they visit from more southerly waters during the summer months.
The dusky shark is generally shy, and although they have the teeth to cause an injury, there has never been a shark bite from one recorded in Florida.
7. Great Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
Hammerhead sharks as a group are regarded as being responsible for 8% of the unprovoked bites in Florida, and the great hammerhead has probably been involved in many of these.
The largest of these distinctively shaped sharks is known for being completely unafraid of human activity and will approach quite close to the shore as it searches for its favorite food.
8. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini)
The scalloped hammerhead often lives in large groups and likes to be close to deep water. This makes it a rare sighting close to the beach.
This hammerhead is generally shy, and any shark bites that have occurred have typically involved inappropriate behavior toward the shark.
9. Smooth Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna zygaena)
The final hammerhead found in Florida is the second-largest hammerhead shark. This particular shark prefers cooler waters and is typically only seen during winter.
While this is a sizable shark, it tends to stay away from human activity, and although it could inflict a bite, none have been recorded in Florida.
10. Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris)
Lemon sharks are one of the most common in Florida and are responsible for 3% of all unprovoked bites.
The shark is happy in shallow waters, and careless swimmers have been known to suffer a defensive bite when they accidentally tread on one.
11. Mako Shark (family Lamnidae)
Mako sharks, including the shortfin mako, are often called the fastest shark in the world.
They typically stay away from the shore, and although worldwide, they are considered among the more dangerous sharks, in Florida, they have only been responsible for 1% of known bites.
12. Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
The nurse shark is a sedentary species usually found at rest on the seabed.
For this reason, most bites take place when a swimmer stands on the shark, and it responds, perhaps understandably, with a defensive bite.
Nurse sharks are noted in the International Shark Attack File as responsible for 2% of bites in Florida’s waters.
13. Sandbar Shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)
Sandbar sharks are found reasonably close to the shore and will even enter the harbors and waterways looking for food.
The sandbar is generally unthreatening. However, as a reasonably common shark, they have been responsible for 7% of the area’s bites which have often involved surfers.
14. Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)
The Atlantic sharpnose is rarely seen in Miami Beach as the adults stay in deep water and only enter shallow areas to give birth.
Accordingly, no bite incidents have ever been recorded in Florida or anywhere else.
15. Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
Silky sharks are another species that likes deep water, so you’re unlikely ever to encounter one near the beach.
There are no recorded bites involving a silky shark in Florida.
16. Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
Spinner sharks have been involved in 9% of the unprovoked bites in Florida.
Like many incidents, bites involving spinner sharks often occur in surf zones when the predator is hunting bait fish and mistakenly comes into contact with a surfer.
17. Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Tiger sharks are rare around Miami Beach and responsible for just 2% of all recorded bites.
The tiger is a shark that will eat almost anything and is regarded as one of the most dangerous species. However, in terms of incidents, any bites have likely involved baited encounters or shark fishing.
18. Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus)
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world and is a rare visitor to Miami Beach.
However, as this giant likes to eat plankton, you can be assured that it presents no bite risk whatsoever.
Are There Great White Sharks in Miami Beach?
Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) aren’t usually thought of as living in the waters off Miami Beach. We couldn’t identify any bites in the area that were conclusively attributed to this giant predator.
Occasionally, great whites have been seen in Florida, but they reportedly never come near the shoreline.
If you’re concerned about this famous giant, it’s helpful to understand that almost every single one of the bites that have ever taken place in the area has involved small coastal shark species.
Marine biologists studying the great white have observed specimens traveling through Florida waters as the shark migrates between its winter and summer grounds.
For example, in 2020, a female great white estimated to weigh around 900 kg (2,000 lbs) was detected in waters south of Miami as she traveled from the coast of Canada en route to the Gulf of Mexico.
The shark, named Unama’ki by the OCEARCH research program, had been tagged by the scientists so they could track her location and learn more about her life.
So, while it is strictly true to say that there have been great white sharks off Miami beach, they don’t live there year-round and are only very rarely seen, usually at significant distances from the coast.
Is It Safe To Swim Around Miami Beach?
As we’ve seen, you don’t need to worry about herds of sharks in Miami Beach picking off swimmers. However, there are other potential problems to be aware of before entering the water.
Miami Beach is generally considered safe for swimming and snorkeling, and the local authorities provide regularly updated information on current beach conditions.
The most common accidents at the beach involve visitors getting into conditions beyond their personal limits. Strong currents, including rip currents and undertows, can quickly cause swimmers to become exhausted and can be potentially fatal.
The best way to stay safe is to only swim in designated areas with lifeguards on duty. You should always take careful note of any beach warning flags on display. These give you information on surf height, currents, and potentially dangerous marine life in the area.
Rather than sharks, it’s more common to see warnings displayed about hazardous stinging jellyfish that can be irritating and even deadly.
You should also be careful to avoid cuts and stings from sea urchins, crabs, venomous fish, coral, and rocks. Remember that it’s best not to touch anything living in the ocean in case it can sting you, and it’s always a good idea to wear “reef shoes” to protect your feet as you wade in and out. Sunburn and dehydration are also significant risks for visitors.
Beach water quality is monitored by the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM). They test the waters for bacteria levels, algae blooms, and other pollutants and will post warning signs if they exceed the state’s acceptable level. Irrespective, it’s always a good idea to shower after swimming.
While incidents involving sharks and swimmers are extremely rare at Miami Beach, you can reduce your risk by following these recommendations:
- Always swim where there is a lifeguard
- Avoid excessive splashing
- Stay in shallow water close to the shore
- Don’t swim where there are large schools of fish
- Don’t take food or bait into the water
- Stay away from anglers and anyone spearfishing
- Do not swim immediately before or after dawn or dusk
- Always check the blue beach safety warning flags warning of dangerous marine life
Where Can You See Sharks in Miami?
The Miami Seaquarium offers a variety of shark-viewing experiences, including guided tours, interactive displays, and even a Shark Encounter experience that allows you to observe sharks up close.
Visitors who want to experience the thrill of seeing sharks in the wild can take a tour of Biscayne Bay. This boat tour will take you through the bay’s shallow waters and allow you to spot various species of sharks. You may even be able to go snorkeling or cage diving and observe the sharks up close.
Yes, there are sharks in Miami Beach. However, fortunately, shark bites are extremely rare.
Every year millions of tourists flock to the area to enjoy the beautiful waters without incident.
Unfortunate accidents can happen, but in Miami-Dade County, they are incredibly uncommon, with, for example, just two non-fatal bites occurring in 2021.
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.