There are many reasons to visit Laguna Beach in Orange County, and almost all of them are centered on the stunning coastline.
There are no less than seven miles (11.2 km) of gorgeous sandy beaches and picturesque coves to explore, and they can cater to every possible watersport.
Naturally, beachgoers may wonder if sharks are present in the waters off of Laguna Beach and if it is safe to enter the ocean there.
The truth is that sharks live naturally in all oceans, including those of southern California.
However, while the presence of sharks might be concerning, it is essential to remember that shark attacks on humans are extremely rare. In fact, the chances of being killed by a shark are much lower than the chances of dying in a car accident, drowning, or even being killed by lightning.
There has never been a shark attack in Laguna Beach.
That being said, there are some species of sharks living in the waters off of southern California that have the potential to be dangerous. These include the infamous great white shark.
In this article, we will sort the facts from the fiction about the presence of sharks in Laguna Beach, examine shark attacks that have occurred in the surrounding area, and see that there’s really nothing to be reasonably concerned about.
The Presence of Sharks in Laguna Beach
Are there any sharks in Laguna Beach? Well, yes, factually, there will be.
But before you worry about it being unsafe to swim, it’s essential to understand that larger sharks are not common and that sightings in the area, even by scuba divers, are scarce.
You might be surprised to learn that at least 34 species live off the western coast of North America, many of which have been recorded in the Pacific Ocean surrounding Southern California, including Orange County, where Laguna Beach is.
Straight off, you should know that many of these shark species are rather small, like the cat sharks that, even at their angriest, couldn’t give a human more than a nibble.
We can also forget about rare, deepwater sharks like the frilled, prickly, bluntnose sixgill, and Pacific sleeper, which are only found hundreds or even thousands of feet below the surface.
It’s natural to be mainly interested in the larger sharks that may swim near Laguna Beach, which could be potentially dangerous.
In general, we should never forget that shark attacks are extremely rare. Most species, even the ones that could be dangerous to humans, are not interested in interacting with us. However, some, such as great white sharks, are potentially more dangerous due to their size and predatory behavior.
The likelihood of encountering a shark while swimming at any beach can vary greatly. Some beaches, such as those in Florida, have a far higher chance of shark encounters due to factors such as being on shark migration routes or a high concentration of prey species.
Other beaches, like those at Laguna Beach, have a low likelihood of sharks due to factors such as water depth or beach characteristics.
So, what sharks are there at Laguna Beach? Let’s start by looking at the one that everyone is generally concerned about, the world-renowned great white shark. We’ll then consider some other interesting species that may be found in the nearby ocean.
Are There Great White Sharks in Laguna Beach?
However, the likelihood of meeting one as you take a relaxing swim at Laguna Beach is incredibly low.
The population of white sharks in Southern California is known to be quite small, so accordingly, sightings are rare.
Studies have shown that it mainly consists of juveniles rather than the largest adults, and even these tend to stay away from the shallow waters of the beach.
The sharks are so endangered that they have been protected in California since 1994, and hunting, catching, or killing them is illegal.
Areas like Crescent Bay can have visiting harbor seals and sea lions that may attract great whites. However, incidents are almost unheard of as the sharks prefer to hunt around the quieter offshore islands away from development, where seal populations are much larger.
Shortfin Mako Sharks
The shortfin mako is famous for being the fastest shark in the ocean. Although it can potentially be dangerous to humans, their natural, open-water habitat means appearances at the beach are almost unknown.
Marine biologists believe the Southern California Bight region is a pupping and nursery ground for the Mako. However, the juveniles quickly depart the coastal area to search for food in the wider ocean, where scuba divers occasionally see them on baited cage dives.
While you won’t find them in the shallows, the blue shark was responsible for one of the best-known shark encounters in recent years off Laguna Beach. Keeping with the shark’s docile reputation, it was utterly peaceful.
In January 2022, a group of paddle boarders noticed birds feeding near Seal Rock off Laguna Beach. As they got closer and the birds scattered, they saw a dorsal and tail fin at the surface, and they realized it didn’t belong to a dolphin.
Feeding amongst the baitfish was a blue shark which quickly became fascinated by the new visitors.
The shark remained friendly and stayed with the boarders for an hour “like he was looking for company.”
Broadnose Sevengill Sharks
These sharks are one of the most commonly found in the area, although it’s the marine reserve of La Jolla Cove in San Diego, where they are most prevalent rather than Laguna Beach.
The sevengill can grow up to three meters (9.8 feet) in length, which might sound frightening. However, they are generally only (rarely) seen as aggressive towards spearfishers and not towards people enjoying more conventional watersports.
The waters of Laguna Beach are often a little warm for the salmon shark, so it’s usually found further north. However, in the winter, this shark, which many think resembles a small great white, can be spotted in Orange County.
Whatever the season, the salmon shark is only seen by offshore fishing vessels far away from the beaches.
At least three species of thresher shark (pelagic, bigeye, and common) are found off Southern California, and they’re popular amongst sports anglers hunting in deep, open water.
The threshers have a unique, extra-long tail fin that they use to stun smaller fish before eating them. However, you don’t need to worry about them, as although young specimens may visit shallow water, they have never been involved in an attack on humans.
The odd-looking hammerhead sharks do live in waters around Laguna Beach. However, you shouldn’t expect to see one while you wade in the shallows.
The water is a bit chilly for the massive great hammerhead, but the smaller scalloped and smooth species live here. Neither is considered dangerous unless severely provoked and typically the sharks are too timid to be around much human activity.
Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)
We can happily report that the third most dangerous shark in the world has only been very rarely spotted in Southern California. The water is typically too cold for the striped sharks’ tastes.
However, as tiger sharks have been implicated in a few attacks south of San Diego, they’re a shark to be aware of.
These odd-looking guys are one of the most commonly seen underwater in the Laguna Beach area, but they’re a small shark and are considered harmless.
They can even be approached underwater by scuba divers and usually stay still for close-up photographs.
They have sharp spines in their fins, so rather than experiencing a shark bite, there is a risk of treading on one in the shallows and being injured. So take care wading on sandy flats.
Leopard sharks are another common species, and they can often be found in reasonably shallow water, looking for food on sandy, muddy or rocky areas around kelp beds and reefs.
Luckily they are no risk to people and will usually avoid areas where there’s a lot of activity.
These guys are also known as school sharks, snapper sharks, and soupfin sharks. Whatever you refer to them as, they grow to nearly 2 meters (6 feet 7 inches) long and are relatively common in the Laguna Beach area.
Female tope sharks give birth in sheltered bays and estuaries, so youngsters may be seen while snorkeling.
The shark has only been recorded in one unprovoked attack worldwide since records began, so it shouldn’t be thought of as a threat.
Other sharks that might be expected in Southern California include copper, smooth-hound, blacktip, dusky, smalltooth sand tiger, and pacific anger sharks.
These are rarer here than most of the species we’ve already mentioned, and none are considered especially dangerous locally.
Giant Plankton Feeding Sharks
It’s worth mentioning that huge basking sharks frequent these waters and can occasionally be seen feeding at the surface with their mouths wide open.
Less common is the biggest fish in the ocean, the whale shark, as it generally stays in warmer waters.
Even rarer, although known, is the megamouth shark.
However, as all of these giants only eat plankton, they can be considered entirely safe.
Shark Attacks in Laguna Beach
So, if you’re still wondering, “Is it safe to swim at Laguna Beach?,” let’s find out if any shark attacks have occurred.
Simply put, there are no records of a shark attack ever taking place in Laguna Beach.
The broader area of Orange County also fares well, with just four unprovoked attacks being listed in the International Shark Attack File since records began in 1926.
However, to the south, in San Diego, the highest number of attacks in California is found (20 attacks total). It is important to remember that this is over nearly one hundred years, and almost all were non-fatal.
The state of California is third on the list of total unprovoked attacks in the United States after Hawaii and Florida. However, with nearly seven times fewer incidents than Florida, California can still be considered pretty safe, especially considering the large number of watersports that take place.
If you’re wondering what beach in California has the highest shark attack rate, the answer is Solana Beach in San Diego, where 124 incidents have been reported since 1837.
Measures Taken To Protect Beachgoers From Sharks
Although the chances of a shark attack in the waters of Laguna Beach are extremely low, the local authorities take beach safety seriously and monitor the main beaches daily for any signs of dangerous sharks.
If an unthreatening sighting of a potentially dangerous species is reported, lifeguards will monitor the area, and warning signs will be posted.
If any shark is seen acting aggressively, the beach will be closed for one mile in either direction. Professionals then evaluate the situation before the waters are reopened.
We should never forget that sharks occur naturally in the ocean and play a vital role in the ecosystem and its delicate balance.
While shark attacks are unheard of in Laguna Beach, there are still some common sense things that all beachgoers can do to protect themselves and reduce the risk, even if it’s already minimal.
Some of the best ways to stay safe from sharks include:
- Don’t swim at night, or just before or after dawn or dusk
- Avoid swimming in murky water
- Don’t harass or feed marine life
- Avoid swimming near seals or sea lions, even those resting on land
- Follow shark advisories or warnings issued by local authorities.
- Never swim alone
- Don’t swim where fishing is taking place
- Avoid wearing shiny jewelry and brightly colored clothing while swimming, as they may attract sharks.
Hundreds or even thousands of people enjoy swimming, snorkeling, and boarding at Laguna Beach daily. People even travel long distances to try and see sharks for themselves.
While there are sharks in the waters of Laguna Beach, we’ve seen that there has never been a shark attack recorded here.
The surrounding area also has an excellent record. Just four unprovoked attacks have ever (since 1926) occurred in the whole of Orange County.
Laguna Beach is one of the most picturesque areas in Southern California, and the opportunities available for enjoying watersports and seeing wildlife in its natural habitat are unbeatable.
So, if you’re visiting, you don’t need to worry about sharks, especially if you follow some simple, common-sense precautions and note any information the local authorities provide.
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.