Image: Bull shark, Tigris River, Iran
David Fleetham  /  Alamy
We’ve got a bit of bad news: Bull sharks can swim miles up fresh water rivers in search of prey. Although the incidence of shark attacks in Iran has slowed as of late, the Tigris River, in Iran is still the shark attack capital of the Middle East.
updated 9/11/2009 11:58:33 AM ET 2009-09-11T15:58:33

Are your dreams haunted by big, slippery sharks with dead-black eyes? When you see a body of water, do you instantly imagine razor-toothed monsters lurking below the surface, ready to take a delectable bite out of your arm or leg? If you get up the nerve to go in the water, do you wait—heart pounding in your throat—for that ominous dorsal fin to break the surface, signaling the arrival of your mortal enemy?

If so, you should probably re-evaluate your fears. On your average day at the beach, you have a much better chance of being killed by lightning, sun exposure, a falling coconut or a collapsing sand hole dug in the beach by an ambitious 10-year-old (not to mention the most common causes of death at the beach: old fashioned drowning or car crashes somewhere between your front door and the parking lot).

It is undeniable that we are out of our element and all the more helpless in water. That is a huge part of our fear of sharks. It is also the fault of "Jaws" and numerous cable television shows with unnerving soundtracks and graphic re-staged attack footage featuring gallons of fake blood in the water. The shark clearly has a PR problem.

But humans also recognize the shark as one of the planet’s most evolved predators: a nearly flawless stalking and killing machine. Fortunately for us, it is only when one of its flaws occur that a shark opts to bite a bony and nutrition-poor human. As Tasmania-based surfer Gerhard Mausz says, “We’re not on top of the menu when it comes to the shark diet, and when surfers or swimmers get attacked it is almost always an accident.”

“Of the more than 400 shark species in the world,” states the Florida Museum of Natural History-based International Shark Attack File, “only about 30 types are known to have attacked humans.” And only three have a reputation for the highest number of “unprovoked” attacks: great whites, tiger sharks, and bull sharks.

Regardless, all sharks are to be treated with caution and lethal attacks do occur. The beaches that have a relatively high incidence of shark attacks are darkly compelling attractions that excite and repulse our deepest emotions. Sources differ as to which of the three regions—Northern California, Australia or South Africa—holds the record for the highest number of attacks. New Smyrna Beach in Florida claims that largest number of attacks at a single beach.

Image: Bolinas Beach, Northern California
DLILLC/Corbis  /  DLILLC/Corbis
The tiny enclave of Bolinas Beach is on a secluded bay just north of San Francisco in Marin Country. Like its neighbors Stinson Beach and Point Reyes, Bolinas is located right in the middle of the Red Triangle: a region marked by its high density of great white sharks.
This list takes us thorough Northern California to South Africa’s eastern coastline—from Cape Town and on to Durban. Our quest also takes us to the popular east coast beaches of Australia, the reefs off the coast of Northeastern Brazil and a few other surprise destinations.

Read the list and learn about the world’s most shark-infested beaches. But remember to not get too scared, because stress can lead to heart problems, and that has a 750,000 times better chance of getting you than a shark.

Video: Shark expert: Tagging great whites is ‘very fun’

  1. Closed captioning of: Shark expert: Tagging great whites is ‘very fun’

    >> good time.

    >>> 12 great white sharks off the coast of cape cod . sound familiar?

    >> reporter: call it life imitating a blockbuster. great white sharks seen lurking off the coast of cape cod . close to shore and very close to where the movie "jaws" was first filmed. at least 12 sharks have been spotted here, some as big as 15 feet long. and while no one's been attacked, the shark sightings have closed beaches indefinitely and brought out curious onlookers, hoping to get a glimpse of the ocean's greatest predator.

    >> we're here because they come out at dawn and dusk. so we were hoping maybe we'd get a look at them.

    >> reporter: experts believe the great whites are here for food. the region is a seasonal resting spot for seals. great whites are rarely seen in the atlantic , making this a rare opportunity for marine biologist greg skomal and his team of researche researchers.

    >> it's going to be our lucky day , billy boy . i've got a good feeling.

    >> reporter: just like in the movie, this team set out on a shark hunt. but their goal, to electronically tag the sharks with a device that would stay attached for several months, providing new information about the movements of this dangerous but often misunderstood creature.

    >> try to stay on them as good as you can. just so happens that this is the baddest fish in the world and can swallow you whole.

    >> you're going to need a bigger boat.

    >> reporter: off the massachusetts coast, the adventure began and the team closed in on the ever elusive great white .

    >> oh, my god! he loves this area right where these seals are.

    >> stead it up.

    >> reporter: then came the moment of truth requiring both luck and skill.

    >> left, left, left, left!

    >> tag! tag! we've got a tag!

    >> it's such a buildup that it draws the life out of you.

    >> reporter: in all five great white sharks were tagged, no small feat, and hopefully providing big clues into how these powerful predators live. and greg skomal, all of him, is with us now. greg , good morning to you.

    >> it's great to be here. thank you.

    >> 27 years trying to do this. what is this experience like for you? you've been trying to find these sharks .

    >> i'm bouncing offer the wall. i love it. i'm nervous being here because i'd rather be there tagging sharks .

    >> why are we seeing so many suddenly? i know that sharks are in the atlantic , but they're very elusive.

    >> yeah. white sharks are broadly distributed in the atlantic ocean . we know they occur off new england this time of year. what we're kind of fascinated by, we didn't expect to see so many right now in this particular area.

    >> and close to shore , we're talking some of these were 100 yards out?

    >> yes. they're close proximity to a seal colony.

    >> so what is so important about this for you as a researcher? what kind of information are you hoping to glean from these sharks ?

    >> you know, there are folks around the world in the pacific and indian oceans that have great opportunities to study white sharks , look at what they're doing, how they're moving. the atlantic has been somewhat difficult for us to do that in. and this is that rare opportunity where we have white sharks right in my backyard to be able to do that.

    >> talk to me about the tagging process because i look at those images of you, and you make one wrong step, you're in the water with those sharks . what are you feeling when you're out there?

    >> pure exhilaration. i'm literally walking the plank . you get out there, you get to see these sharks . i'm interested am i looking at males, females, getting size estimates while billy's doing the tagging. it's very, very fun.

    >> and once you tag these sharks , they go off for a period of time . the tags are designed to come off, what, in a couple of months?

    >> exactly. there's a misconception that these satellite tags will give us realtime information . they actually don't. they stay on the shark, they collect data, temperature, depth, and then they pop off, float to the surface and transmit that information back to us. then we recreate what the shark did after we tagged it.

    >> you know, i was on cape cod a few weeks ago. i didn't know there were sharks at that time. i'm in the water, the whole thing, because it was beautiful. the weather was gorgeous. how dangerous is it for people? they've obviously closed some beaches, so there's some concern.

    >> there's definitely concern. i'd be more concerned about this weather system moving through right now that's creating these rip tides. but truth be told, you've got white sharks , you've got what they feed on, seals, in the area. it's best to stay out of the water.

    >> okay. and those tags, again, they should be coming off sometime december, january and then they'll float up to the surface , transmit their information , hopefully you learn a lot more about the sharks .

    >> then i'm going to be really excited.

    >> all right. thank you so much .

    >> my pleasure. great to be here.


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