Navigating Beachside Life and Shark Attacks in New Smyrna Beach, Florida

What's it like to live in the "shark attack capital of the world"?

New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Ajr24g/Creative Commons

Located on Florida’s east coast, New Smyrna Beach has a population of slightly below 30,000, a number of art galleries and a reputation for shark attacks. It has, in fact, been dubbed the “shark attack capital of the world.” In a 2019 article for The Washington Post, Richard Tribou provided more context for that alarming distinction, noting that “surfers near Ponce Inlet get bit in the stirred-up waters near New Smyrna Beach.”

The good news — such as it is — is that these bites are not fatal. Still, not being bitten by a shark at all sounds like the most preferable option here.

What is the experience like of living in a town whose claim to fame reads like an invitation to danger? Writing in The New York Times, Rebecca Renner shares her own experiences of everyday life in New Smyrna Beach. And it sounds far less alarming than you might think.

First, there’s the matter of the bites themselves. “Most ‘shark attacks’ are exploratory bites in which the shark grabs on and releases its human prey,” Renner notes “leaving behind the recognizable half-moon of gashes from their teeth and little else.”

Renner also shares her own experience of a close encounter with a shark while surfing. While it’s described in nerve-wracking detail — Renner has an excellent sense of how to pace the story perfectly — what stands out is how fundamentally everyday it seems.

“Every time I went into the water, I was taking a risk. I already knew that,” Renner writes. “And in any case, you’re more likely to get struck by lightning than to be bitten by a shark, even here.” The result is one of the most calming accounts of swimming with sharks you’re likely to read.

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