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Do Sharks Attack Kayaks? Statistics & Safety Guide

Mark Armstrong
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If you’re heading out for a sea kayaking adventure, the presence of sharks may have crossed your mind. And you’ve probably wondered if sharks attack kayaks. 

Well, the truth is, they can and they have. But how likely is it to happen to you? If you kayak in the ocean, there is always a chance of a shark attack, even if it is a very small chance.

But there are certain locations around the world where the risk is greater. But out of all shark attacks on humans, kayaking is not the most at-risk activity compared to surfing and swimming.

Do Sharks Attack Kayaks? Statistics & Safety Guide - Pinterest ImagePin

Do Sharks Attack Kayaks?

The quick answer is: yes, sharks attack kayaks. But sharks attacking kayaks is not something that occurs very frequently anywhere in the world.

In fact, kayakers make up a very small percentage of the overall number of shark attacks. And how likely you are to be attacked by a shark while kayaking depends on where in the world you plan to paddle.

More shark attacks happen in the United States than anywhere else in the world. And if Florida was a country, it would also have more shark attacks by far than any other country in the world.

However, while you might be more likely to be attacked by a shark in Florida than anywhere else in the world, Australia has the highest number of shark attack fatalities in the world.

Australia has had 20 deaths from shark attacks since 2012 (out of 143 shark attacks). Florida has had zero deaths from shark attacks over the same period (out of 259 shark attacks). Florida has had two shark attack fatalities since 1992.

By comparison, California has had only 130 shark attacks since its records began in 1923.

Remember, these statistics are based on global shark attacks in general, not specifically shark attacks on kayakers. However, the majority of shark attacks happen to people who are participating in surface recreation. This could be any activity on top of the water, such as surfing or paddle boarding.

Surface recreation may also include kayaking.

It’s also worth noting that many shark attacks or encounters go unreported. So the statistics may not reflect real life experiences.

But out of a total of 137 shark attacks globally in 2021, 4 of those were boat bites. Kayaks are considered boats for the statistics. It’s not known how many of these were attacks on kayaks and how many were unprovoked.

However, some records show that there has been only one death of a kayaker worldwide from a shark attack. This happened in 1989 in Malibu, California. Along the Pacific Coast, there have been 22 shark attacks on kayakers since 2000.

2021 Unprovoked Shark Attacks Worldwide
Table: 2021 Unprovoked Shark Attacks WorldwidePin
2021 Unprovoked Shark Attacks USA
Table: 2021 Unprovoked Shark Attacks USAPin

As you can see, Florida has a much higher rate of shark attacks than any other state or country. The majority of Florida shark attacks happen on the Atlantic coast, with Volusia County (the Shark Bite Capital of the World) having the highest number of shark attacks in the state.

More shark attacks happen in Volusia County, Florida than any US state. 

Types Of Sharks To Worry About When Kayaking

1: Great White Sharks

Great white shark attacking a boatPin
Courtesy: bellamy.andrew on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Great White or white shark is probably the most famous of all the sharks, thanks to movies like Jaws. These are also the most dangerous sharks in the ocean in terms of fatalities. Great white sharks have killed more people than any other type of shark.

White sharks are very powerful, very large, and feed during the day.

These large sharks tend to be found close to the shore and the surface. They generally feed in areas around archipelagos where there are shoals and offshore reefs. White sharks hunt seals, sea lions and walruses and can often be found around the surfline in waters between 10 and 30 feet deep.

White sharks are commonly found in the waters off the coast of California, South Africa and Australia. But they can be found around the world, as far north as Alaska and as far south as the southern tip of Argentina.

It’s thought that great whites attack humans unintentionally as they may think the human is one of their food sources. For example, surfers can often resemble the shape of a seal when viewed by a shark swimming below.

However, these sharks are known to attack objects of various shapes and sizes so mistaken identity may not always be the case.

  • Where they are found: Just about everywhere
  • Are they dangerous? Yes

2: Bull Sharks

Bull SharksPin

Bull sharks are notoriously dangerous and aggressive. Along with tiger sharks and white sharks, they’re part of the “Big Three” due to their attacks on humans.

They account for many unprovoked attacks on humans, particularly around the Florida coast. This shark is often considered the most dangerous shark in the world.

These sharks tend to be found in shallow waters close to the shore, even as shallow as three feet deep.

They are found in warm waters around the coast of Florida and the Caribbean. They also migrate up the eastern coast of the United States in the summer, as far as Massachusetts.

They can also be found around the Gulf Coast of the USA and Mexico, as well as the coasts of Central and South America.

Additionally, they are known to frequent freshwater environments and can be found in rivers, including the Amazon and the Mississippi. They are commonly found in harbors, lagoons and estuaries.

  • Where they are found: Tropical/Subtropical waters, eastern USA
  • Are they dangerous? Yes

3: Blacktip Sharks

Blacktip Shark swimming near surface of the seaPin

Another one of the world’s most dangerous sharks in terms of unprovoked attacks, the blacktip shark accounts for a large percentage of shark attacks on humans.

It’s thought that the blacktip shark may be responsible for more attacks, as they are part of the Carcharhinidae family of species from which the Requiem spp. belongs.

The Requiem spp. includes blacktip, sandbar, and spinner sharks. However, it’s believed that most of the attacks by requiem spp. in Florida are by blacktips.

These sharks tend to hunt in shallow waters, which is why they often come into contact with humans. They eat small fish and will target schools of fish, such as sardines and herring.

In most cases, when blacktip sharks attack humans it’s thought that it’s a case of mistaken identity. These sharks tend to target arms and legs as these limbs may more closely resemble their prey.

While blacktip sharks account for a relatively high number of bites on people, there have not been any confirmed deaths from a blacktip shark anywhere in the world.

These sharks can be found in tropical and subtropical coastal waters. They are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico and around the Caribbean. But they can also be found in the Mediterranean and from the South Pacific to the northern coast of Australia.  

  • Where they are found: Tropical/subtropical coastal waters (mainly Gulf of Mexico)
  • Are they dangerous? Yes

4: Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks are responsible for more attacks and deaths than any other species of shark except great whites.

Tiger sharks are extremely large animals and can grow up to 18 feet long. They’re generally not aggressive but they have been responsible for 138 recorded shark attacks worldwide, including 36 fatalities.

These sharks are known for eating just about any type of marine animal and almost anything else, including garbage. This could be why they pose a threat to humans. They tend to hunt at night but can bite people at all times of the day.

They can be found in shallow waters near islands or around harbors and bays.

These large predators can be found in tropical and temperate waters around the world, except the Mediterranean. Large numbers can be found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

They are also found around Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, and northern coasts of Australia.

  • Where they are found: Tropical and temperate waters
  • Are they dangerous? Yes

5: Basking Sharks

Basking Shark with mouth wide openPin

Basking sharks are enormous sharks that swim close to the surface where they eat zooplankton through a large open mouth. Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, after whale sharks, and can grow up to 40 feet long.

hese are generally harmless sharks that are not known to attack humans.

They can be found in temperate waters around the world and can often be seen in the waters around the British Isles, both the east and west coasts of the USA, and the Mediterranean.

Basking sharks can also be found off the coast of South Africa, South America, New Zealand and the southern coast of Australia.

  • Where they are found: Temperate and arctic waters
  • Are they dangerous? No

How To Stay Safe If Kayaking Near Sharks

Don’t Kayak Alone

This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kayaking alone in the ocean is probably not a great idea at the best of times. But if you’re paddling in shark-infested waters, then it’s even more important that you don’t kayak alone.

Take a paddling buddy with you any time you kayak in the sea. This means if you do have a shark encounter, you have someone to raise the alarm or try to come to your rescue.

Remember, when you’re kayaking in the oceans and coastal waters at night in the US, you will need to carry Visual Distress Signals (VDS) by law.

However, it’s recommended that you also carry day signals if you plan to kayak in areas where there are sharks. In places like Florida and Hawaii, dangerous sharks can be found in all coastal waters. And white sharks can be found all along the California coast. So in these locations, it’s advisable to carry day signals as a precaution. 

Avoid Splashing

Sharks are attracted to splashes in the water, so it’s best to avoid splashing your paddle or yourself in the water. Splashing can attract sharks as the sound, vibrations, and movement can resemble an injured animal. And sharks love to eat easy prey such as an injured animal.

This means that if you know there is a shark nearby, try not to use your paddle, as this could cause splashing and cause the shark to become more interested in you.

If a shark comes close to your kayak, try to stay calm until it loses interest. If it does try to attack, hit it hard on the nose with your paddle. 

Be Careful When Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing in the ocean where there are sharks can be very dangerous. Sharks often want to eat the fish you’re trying to catch.

Once you hook the fish and it tries to swim away in a panic, these vibrations can alert sharks. A shark can then take your catch as you’re reeling it in, as you’ve just provided the shark with an easy meal. Having a shark on the end of your line has the potential to tip over your kayak or even pull you overboard.

Try to avoid blood in the water. If you plan to keep your catch, kill the fish as soon as possible to limit vibrations. You might want to wait till you get back on dry land before you gut the fish, as fish remains and blood can attract hungry sharks. Make sure no blood from the fish can escape through scupper holes.

Sharks can also be attracted to your bait while you’re fishing, so it’s worth keeping this in mind if you do plan to fish in shark territory..

Video: How to Avoid Sharks While Kayak Fishing

Watch Out For Dolphins And Seals

Dolphins and seals can be fun to see when you’re kayaking. But having dolphins and seals around may mean there are also sharks. Dolphins and sharks will tend to eat the same food, so where there are dolphins, there are likely to be sharks.

Sharks also hunt seals, so if there are a lot of seals or sea lions, then a shark is probably not far away. Some large sharks will also eat dolphins. So seeing dolphins, seals, and sea lions doesn’t mean you’re safe from shark attacks.

Keep Your Dog Out Of The Water

Dogs will generally make quite a splash when they enter the water or swim around. So if you’re kayaking with your dog, it’s best not to let them jump off to swim. Keep your dog safely on the deck.

A swimming dog may encourage sharks to come closer to you and may also result in a shark attacking your dog.

As well as keeping your dog out of the water, it’s a good idea to avoid hanging your legs over the side of the kayak. And avoid jumping in the water yourself.

Avoid Inflatable Kayaks

Dangerous sharks have razor sharp teeth. So an inflatable kayak is not ideal if you plan to kayak in waters where there are maneater sharks.

Despite most inflatable kayaks having multiple air chambers for increased safety and buoyancy, a half-deflated kayak is probably not what you want to be in with a shark circling around you.

Hard shell kayaks can offer a little more protection in shark habitats. The hard shell may deter a shark if it bumps it out of curiosity. A soft inflatable may feel more like a shark’s prey if bumped.

However, if sharks take a bite out of any kayak, even if it’s just to investigate the object, your kayak is probably not going to seem very strong. It will likely be damaged, depending on the type of shark that takes a bite. It may even leave some teeth behind.

Stay Close To Shore

Now, you may think, since we’ve already mentioned that sharks tend to be close to shore, that staying close to shore may not be the best idea. But the closer you are to the shore, the closer you are to assistance and potential rescue if you do happen to encounter a shark.

While this can be beneficial in almost all kayaking circumstances, it can be especially helpful if you’re paddling close to a busy beach where people are more likely to see you.

Best Color Of Kayak?

You may want to know if there’s a color of kayak that can be safer to be in than others. However, the answer to this is not definitive. Sharks are thought to be color blind. But they seem to see color contrast.

Some studies have shown that the color of your kayak doesn’t play a role in how likely you are to be attacked. In California, out of 17 shark attacks on kayaks since 1989, the color of kayak attacked most often was blue.

However, the numbers are generally quite evenly spread across the colors, with yellow and white kayaks having the least number of shark attacks.

It’s worth noting, though, that most of the kayakers that were attacked were fishing at the time.

3 Best Places To Kayak With Sharks

1: San Diego, California

Paddling at La Jolla in San Diego, California on a sunny dayPin
Courtesy: MDRIV3R858 on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

La Jolla can be one of the best places to kayak with sharks. While there are dangerous white sharks in the waters around San Diego, the sharks that you can most commonly see around the La Jolla caves are leopard sharks.

Leopard sharks are generally harmless and feed on crabs and small fish along the seafloor. The shallow waters of La Jolla provide a nursery for young leopard sharks because of the protected waters and abundance of food.

It can be a good idea to take a guided kayak tour to paddle with the leopard sharks in La Jolla. Tours can be dependent on the ocean conditions, as the waters can sometimes be too rough for safe kayaking.

There are many places to rent kayaks or take a tour in La Jolla and you can also check out the famous seven caves.

Where to launch & how to get there: La Jolla Shores Boat Launch, Avenida De La Playa, La Jolla, CA 92037

2: Islamorada, Florida

Islamorada in the Florida Keys can be an excellent spot to kayak with sharks. The area is filled with mangrove islands that provide habitat for an abundance of marine life, including manatees, sting rays, dolphins, and, of course, sharks.

hese crystal clear, shallow waters allow you to view lots of marine life easily from your kayak.

There are many places to rent kayaks across the Florida Keys where you can explore the calm waters on your own. Or you can let an experienced guide escort you to the best spots for viewing sharks in their natural habitat.

A good spot to rent kayaks is at Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters. But if you want to take a guided tour with a difference, you can paddle in clear kayaks to view the sharks swimming beneath your boat.

Where to launch & how to get there: Upper Matecumbe Key Blackwood Dr Launch, 1 Mastic Street, Islamorada, FL 33036

3: Scotland, UK

If you want to kayak with sharks but don’t want the added danger of being attacked, Scotland can be a fantastic place to kayak.

Basking sharks are commonly found in the waters around the west coast of Scotland and these enormous sharks are harmless to people. Because basking sharks swim close to the surface, it can be exciting to witness them from a kayak.

There are various places you can kayak with sharks in Scotland, with a number of rentals and tours available in different locations. A good spot to rent kayaks or take a guided tour is Oban.

You can also rent kayaks and transport them yourself to other spots along the coast or venture by ferry to the Outer Hebrides from Oban Pier for further chances to kayak with sharks.

Video: Basking Shark And Sea Kayaks, Isle Of Barra, Scotland

Where to launch & how to get thereHarbour Promenade, George Street, Oban, Scotland, UK, PA34 5SL.

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