Tampa Bay is a beautiful place that offers fun water activities like swimming, boating, fishing, and of course, beachgoing. The sunny weather and warm water make Tampa Bay a lovely place for people and creatures alike – but some might wonder what kind of creatures are living below the waves. For example, are there sharks in Tampa Bay?
There are about a dozen species of sharks that live in and around Tampa Bay. In fact, Tampa Bay is known as one of the most shark-dense areas in the world. That said, there’s not a lot of need to worry when swimming or boating in Tampa Bay: shark attacks are very, very rare.
Continue reading to find out what kinds of sharks live in Tampa Bay. Are there any great white sharks? Can you catch sharks, and do they make good eating?
Lions and Tigers and Sharks, Oh My!
The beautiful waters of Tampa Bay are a great place for all kinds of recreational activities. However, they are also an excellent place for sharks to live. Tampa Bay is home to about a dozen different species of sharks, who come and go throughout the year. In fact, some anglers even fish for sharks on the bay.
So what kind of sharks live in Tampa Bay? There are about a dozen species of sharks that come and go from the sunny shores of the bay. Some of the most common sharks are blacktips, bonnetheads, great hammerheads, bull sharks, lemon sharks, nurse sharks, and tiger sharks. While an exact count of how many individual sharks live in the bay isn’t available, Tampa Bay is widely regarded to be one of the most sharky places in the world.
While the presence of so many shark species might sound alarming, there’s no need to fret. Tampa Bay’s shark population rarely attacks human beings. The odds of being attacked by a shark in the United States are only about one in six million. It might sound flippant to say it, but the truth is that beachgoers don’t really need to be worried about shark attacks on humans.
To provide more perspective, sharks kill about one person per year in the entire United States, while cows kill about twenty people per year. Shark attacks make for scary news stories, but the risk of being attacked by a shark is very low.
In 2018, Florida reported a total of just 16 shark attacks. Miami and the Miami Beaches reported more than 23 million visitors to South Florida’s beaches alone in 2018, which means that less than 0.0000007% of Florida beachgoers are attacked by sharks. That is pretty good odds.
Phenomenal Florida Fun Fact: You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a shark: about 40 Floridians are struck by lightning every year, compared to about 16 shark attacks per year.
What would make a shark attack someone? Contrary to popular belief, sharks aren’t natural man-eaters or malicious, evil hunters like the fictional shark in Jaws. Sharks don’t actively hunt humans and generally keep away from people. Mostly, they like to eat fish and marine invertebrates, with some of the larger species preying on seals or sea lions.
Anglers who want to fish for sharks will find great places to reel in these predators of the deep in Tampa Bay. Bonnethead sharks like to hunt in shallow coastal waters over sand flats and mud flats and can be attracted with shrimp and crabs as bait.
Fishermen who want to fish near estuaries and places with brackish water might be able to reel in a bull shark, who also enjoy eating small mollusks and cephalopods like shrimp and squid. Other commonly caught sharks in Tampa Bay are the nurse shark and the thresher shark, which apparently makes good eating.
Are There Great White Sharks in Tampa Bay?
While Tampa Bay is not known for great whites, some have been spotted in the greater Tampa Bay area. Most recently, a 12-foot long great white named Edithe who weighs more than 1,000 pounds was tracked near Tampa Bay. Edithe has been tagged by researchers who are monitoring her movements, but it is likely that there are other great whites in the Gulf of Mexico. That said, there are no recorded instances of great whites attacking beachgoers in Tampa Bay.
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What Sharks are Common in Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay is home to a wide assortment of sharks; some are well-known and popular sharks like thresher sharks and hammerheads. Others, such as the bull shark and the tiger shark, have a fearsome reputation. Still, others like lemon sharks and nurse sharks are less well-known by the general public.
Blacktip sharks are commonly seen in the Gulf of Mexico and often make appearances in Tampa Bay. Blacktips are usually grayish brown, with distinguishing bands or lines on their sides. As their name suggests, blacktips have black tips on their various fins, with the exception of their anal fin, which is white. These beautiful sharks are known to leap out of the water while pursuing fish.
Hammerheads are easily distinguished from other sharks by their uniquely shaped heads. The hammer-shaped heads of these sharks house sophisticated electrical receptors that allow the shark to sense bioelectrical activities to find prey, even prey hiding beneath the sands. Hammerheads like to hunt prey that lives on the seafloor, including stingrays, crustaceans, cephalopods, and even other sharks. Hammerheads are apex predators and have no natural enemies – except humans.
Bonnetheads are similar to hammerhead sharks. They’re a smaller species of hammerhead that is notoriously reclusive and shy, and they prefer to avoid humans at all possible costs. They like to live near shallow water and flats, consuming crabs, shrimp, mollusks, and fish. Bonnetheads make good sport on fly-fishing gear or light tackle.
Tampa Bay is also home to lemon sharks. The name originates from the unique skin tone of the lemon shark, which is often described as yellow-brown or olive and provides them solid camouflage in their natural hunting grounds. Lemon sharks can grow to be between 8 and 10 feet long, but they’re not considered threatening to human beings. They are, however, widely prized for their delicious meat, which is highly popular among seafood enthusiasts.
Another common Tampa Bay shark is the bull shark. Bull sharks are more stout than other shark species, which gives them a distinctive appearance. Bull sharks are ravenous eaters who enjoy a wide variety of foodstuffs, including fish, unlucky seabirds, turtles, marine mammals, and even other bull sharks. These sharks have unique kidneys that help them regulate their body’s salinity so that they can hunt in salt water, brackish water, and fresh water.
Perhaps more fearsome than the bull shark is the tiger shark. Named for the dark stripes that adorn their backs, tiger sharks can grow to more than 14 feet in length and weigh well more than 1,400 pounds.
Tiger sharks are one of the more dangerous species because of their size and strength, as well as their tendency to share waters with humans. However, they are not discriminating eaters: tiger sharks will eat more or less any prey they come across and have been known to scavenge as well as hunt.
Are There Shark Attacks in Tampa Bay?
While there have been shark attacks in Tampa Bay before, they are very rare. In fact, the most recent data shows that shark attacks in Florida are down overall, and there haven’t been any shark attacks in Tampa Bay in the last couple of years. In addition, as we mentioned, sharks aren’t predisposed to attacking humans: humans are challenging prey and not in the average shark’s diet.
Shark attacks generally happen when the shark is confused. For example, a human may smell like blood if they have an open wound, or they might be wearing something shiny that resembles fish scales. Surfers, wakeboarders, and other board-sports participants are at higher risk of shark attacks because they may resemble prey animals like seals. Sharks are most active around twilight, and they like to lurk in the dropoffs near sand bars.
In the extremely unlikely event that you’re attacked by a shark, remember that these animals respect size and power. Punch the shark in the nose and, if it continues to attack, grab the gills and eyes. Prey that fights back is unappetizing to a shark. Get out of the water as quickly as possible if a shark has attacked or one is investigating the water near you.
Back to the Briny Deep
Tampa Bay is a very shark-friendly environment. About a dozen species of sharks live in and around the bay, and while this might sound concerning, sharks are actually a vital part of Tampa Bay’s ecosystem.
These beautiful and sleek marine predators are perfectly content to leave humans alone and focus on catching fish, squid, shrimp, and other tasty marine critters. There are definitely sharks in Tampa Bay, but there’s plenty of room to share the waters with these wonderful beasts.