Staying Safe in the Water

Background on our islands: 

On Sanibel and Captiva, there have only been eight documented incidents between humans and sharks on Sanibel, none of which were fatal. In half of those instances, the shark was stepped on or bumped into accidentally. On Captiva, there has never been a documented shark incident.

Documented shark incidents on Sanibel:

1958 – 59-yr-old male from Sanibel stepped into mouth of shark and bit on foot – treated at hospital. Read more.

1986 – 6-yr-old female from Pembroke Pines stepped on shark then bit from knee to hip -- required 16 surgeries, recovered 80-90% use of leg. Read more.

1988 – 23-yr-old female from Beaverton, OR, stepped on shark then bit on leg – required 35 stitches. Read more.

2004 – 61-yr-old male from Germany said a shark grabbed his arm -- minor lacerations. Read more.

2008 – 47-yr-old male from Cape Coral swimming bit on forearm -- minor lacerations. Read more.

2009 – 15-yr-old from Denver playing in waves bumped into shark and it bit his foot and ankle -- required 28 stitches. Read more.

2012 – Highschool freshman from Maine swimming bit on shin -- required 8 stitches. Read more.

2013 – 17-yr-old from New Jersey fishing on sandbar with bait in pocket bit on shin & ankle -- minor lacerations. Read more.

Broadening the scope to the coastal region of Southwest Florida, there has never been a documented fatality from a shark. Based on records going back to the late 1800s, only 11 other incidents with sharks have ever been recorded in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier Counties. Several documented encounters involved risky shark fishing methods.

Other documented shark incidents in Lee County:

1983  39-yr-old female from Fort Myers windsurfing in the Caloosahatchee River was bit on foot -- three puncture wounds. Read more.

2000  73-yr-old male from Great Britain swimming off beach in Bonita Springs bit on leg -- required 100 stitches. Read more.

2005  19-yr-old male from Austria standing in chest-deep water at Boca Grande bit on ankle -- required surgery. Read more.

2006  Man fishing from Fort Myers Beach fishing pier pulled in water by shark he hooked -- no injuries. Read more.

2019  Fisherman with tarpon on line pulled overboard in Boca Grande Pass and bit by shark -- required five stitches. Read more.

Documented shark incidents in Collier County:

2002  31-yr-old male from LaBelle fishing from boat in Ten Thousand Islands bit on arm -- required stitches. Read more.

2002  66-yr-old male fishing from pier on Marco Island dropped shark and was bit on calf -- treated at hospital. Read more.

2006  11-yr-old male from Michigan walked into water on Marco Island beach among baitfish and was bit -- required a few stitches. Read more.

2006  35-yr-old male fishing from boat off Naples pulled shark on board and was bit on foot -- treated at hospital. Read more.

2007  68-yr-old male from Germany swimming off Naples bit on thigh -- treated at hospital. Read more.

Documented shark incidents in Charlotte County:

1920  13-yr-old male swimming alone at Englewood Beach was bit by shark on thigh -- required 21 stitches. Read more.

Source for provoked and unprovoked incidents listed aboveGlobal Shark Accident File, which is compiled by the Shark Research Institute, The purpose of the Global Shark Attack File is to use forensic analysis to demonstrate and emphasize the likelihood of shark/human interactions in comparison to the myriad dangers that we face in our daily lives. With a better understanding of these interactions, we can minimize the possibility of being injured by a shark, and shift the discussion from fear to conservation of all shark species worldwide. 

For a comprehensive analysis of unprovoked shark attacks in Florida by species and human activity, visit the Florida Museum's International Shark Attack File. You can also see how death by drownings compare to shark attacks as well as the time of year and day that shark attacks most often occur. The International Shark Attack File is a compilation of all known shark attacks that is administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History and the American Elasmobranch Society, a professional organization comprised of international workers studying sharks, skates, and rays. After decades of data collection, there are now more than 6,000 individual investigations in the File spanning from the mid-16th century to today.

Against the odds:

In Florida, you are 30 times more likely to be the victim of a lightning strike than of being attacked by any kind of shark. To give some perspective, 55 unprovoked encounters between sharks and people swimming or wading were documented in Florida during the entire last decade (2010-2019). Meanwhile, 810 million people visited Florida’s beaches in just the year 2012! 

To reduce your risk even more, follow some sensible precautions:

  • Stick to clear water. In cloudy water, Black Tip Sharks may confuse paddling hands with the fish they're hunting.
  • Stay clear of areas where people are fishing or birds are diving. If anglers think fish are around, then so do the sharks.
  • Swim, snorkel, or surf with a group; sharks tend to attack single targets.
  • Avoid swimwear with bold, bright patterns and remove jewelry before going into the water. Shiny or high-contrast objects may attract sharks. 
  • Stay out of the water during early dawn, late dusk, and at night, when sharks are most active.
  • Be mindful of wading in schools of baitfish.