–Kosi Bay, South Africa: Zambezi sharks
–â€œShark Alley,â€ Gansbaai, South Africa: Great white sharks
–Brisbane, Australia: Great whites, bulls, et al
–Bolinas Beach, Northern California: Great whites
–New Smyrna Beach, Florida: Blacktip and spinner sharks
–Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa: Great white and bull sharks
–North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii: Galapagos sharks, sandbar sharks, tigers
–Kahana, West Maui, Hawaii
–West End, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas: Tiger Sharks
Kosi Bay, South Africa: Zambezi sharks
Located in KwaZulu Natal, bordering Mozambique in a dramatically beautiful, unspoiled corner of South African paradise, Kosi Bay is a series of four lakes that eventually connects to the warm Indian Ocean through an estuary abundant in flora and fauna. Zambezi sharks (the South African name for famously aggressive Bull sharks) are known for making forays in search of food deep into freshwater lakes and rivers, and this is certainly evident in the fish-rich waters of Kosi Bay.
â€œShark Alley,â€ Gansbaai, South Africa: Great white sharks
â€œShark Alleyâ€ is a narrow channel between two small islands off the coast of Gansbaai, a charming fishing village and holiday destination east of Cape Town. It is also home to one of the densest populations of great whites in the worldâ€”and so if youâ€™re keen to cage dive with this much-maligned and misunderstood beauty of the deep, hereâ€™s a good place to do it.
Brisbane, Australia: Great whites, bulls, et al
Australiaâ€™s coastal waters are filled with sharks of all kinds, but if youâ€™re traveling Down Under there are a few things you should know. While the highest number of attacks occur on the east coast (in areas of densest population) most fatal attacks occur in the colder southern watersâ€”home of more seals and more great whites (locally known as pointers). A quick scan of shark-related news items over the years will include stories from cities such as Adelaide, Sydney and even Perth on the west coast. And yet the wisdom seems to be that no beach is entirely safe. We decided to put beautiful Brisbane on our list because of a recent local news headline: â€œShark mauls horse in Brisbane River.â€ Enough said.
Bolinas Beach, Northern California: Great whites
This tiny enclave, just north of San Francisco in western Marin County, is notorious for its bohemian ways and its desire to keep the rest of the world at bay (apparently townsfolk frequently remove the turn-off sign on Route One). But that doesnâ€™t keep the sharks away. Like its neighbors Stinson Beach and the Point Reyes Seashore (including the mouth of Tomales Bay), Bolinas is located smack dab in the middle of the Red Triangle (a region marked by its high density of great white sharks). And so it appears on our list as one of the coolest shark spots to put your toes in the water.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida: Blacktip and spinner sharks
What do you get when you mix lovely sub-tropical weather with gorgeous white-sand beaches in a charming central-coastal Florida town that offers everything from shopping to outdoor sports and recreation to history and nightlife? Correct: lots of tourists. And what do you get when you mix tourists with sharksâ€”some of which, young blacktips and spinners in particular, canâ€™t always tell the difference between a human and a fish? Correct again: â€œShark attack capital of the world.â€ A dubious honor.
Umhlanga Rocks, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa: Great white and bull sharks
Swimming at Umhlanga Rocksâ€”a popular beach resort on the KwaZulu Natal coast just north of famously sharky Durban, South Africaâ€”is perfectly safe. All the guides will tell you so. The guides might or might not mention why: nets. Umhlanga Rocks was one of the first shark-infested spots to benefit from protective nets in the 1960s, and to this day serious attacks have been dramatically reduced. However, recent reports, including a National Geographic story, reveal that the Natal Sharks Board (the organization that oversees the nets) is rethinking its policy. The underwater barriers do keep out great whites, bulls, and tiger sharksâ€”but they are indiscriminate, killing a number of harmless creatures, too, including dolphins, rays and turtles.
North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii: Galapagos sharks, sandbar sharks, tigers
According to the ISAF, Oahu boasts the second-highest number of confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks recorded in the Hawaiian island chain since 1882. If Oahuâ€™s infamous North Shore waves arenâ€™t enough to make you think twice before entering the waterâ€”can you say Bonsai Pipeline?â€”hereâ€™s something that might. Just three miles north (a 15-minute boat ride) the shark presence is so consistent that at least one â€œshark encounterâ€ tour guide wonâ€™t ask you to pay if you donâ€™t see any of the beautiful creatures. Tiger sharks are typically rare on these tours, but in 2005 one guide did spend a few hair-raising and thrilling minutes swimming (cage free!) with none other than a great white. Yes, thereâ€™s video to prove it.
Sharks favors reefs and so do surfersâ€”one for the waves, the other for the fish. Recife, a lovely beach town on Brazilâ€™s northeast coast, boasts a coral reef that attracts copious numbers of sharks that come to feed in the area. Which is why, according to the ISAFâ€™s regional map of â€œconfirmed unprovoked shark attacksâ€ (covering 1931â€“2006), the state of Pemambuco (where Recife is located) boasts the highest number of shark attacks by far for all of South America. And why, when you visit the balmy beachside paradise, the locals will tell you to stay close to shore. Very close.
Kahana, West Maui, Hawaii
According to the International Shark Attack File, since 1882 there have been just over 100 reports of unprovoked attacks in the entire Hawaiian island chain (the most, 34, occurring off of Maui). When you compare this to population size (roughly 1.2 million) and the many millions of annual tourists, that total of 100 is happily low. However, Hawaii is home to about 40 different shark species, including the occasionally aggressive tiger shark, and so incidents (including fatalities) do occur. In early May of this year, a swimmer was bitten on the foot by an 18-foot-long tiger shark in about 14 feet of water off of a south Maui beach. The last recorded fatal encounter occurred in 2004 off of Kahana, on Mauiâ€™s west coast, which is why this spot makes our list.
West End, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas: Tiger Sharks
Stories of shark attacks in the Bahamas and Caribbean are as old as the regionâ€™s tales of piracy, walking the plank, and buried treasure. Along with neighboring Gulf of Mexico and the coast of Florida, the region is replete with sharks of all types, including blacktips, hammerheads, and bull sharks. According to the ISAF, Grand Bahama Island has seen only 4 unprovoked attacks since 1749 (none fatal), but thatâ€™s still more than all others in the Bahamas. And besides, West End on Grand Bahama is home to what experienced divers call â€œTiger Beachâ€â€”a spot 20 miles off this coastline that â€œa lot of very big sharks call home.â€ Frankly, any beach destination hosting such a density of tiger sharks that cage diving companies are able to advertise â€œthe biggest of the Bahamas sharks in the shortest amount of timeâ€ should be on a list like ours. Weâ€™re sure you agree.