Sharks in Atlantic Coastal Waters

Sharks are found in coastal waters along the East Coast, and some species populations are on the rise. But your chances of interacting with one are still very low.

Lemonshark.jpg

Lemon shark by Albert Kok, used under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The waters off the East Coast are home to more than 50 shark species. These range from the small spiny dogfish to the much larger white shark, and they are found in just about every kind of ocean habitat.  

Species Commonly Found Near Shore

Most Atlantic sharks spend at least part of their lives in coastal waters. Many species move through bays and estuaries along the U.S. coast in search of food. Others are open-ocean dwellers that use shallower waters as nurseries or occasional feeding grounds. 

Species like Atlantic blacktip, spinner, Atlantic sharpnose, and lemon sharks can be abundant in the Southeast’s nearshore waters. In the Mid-Atlantic region, sandbar, sand tiger, and smooth dogfish sharks frequent nearshore waters, especially during the summer. These species are also found in New England waters, where spiny dogfish and white sharks commonly swim in search of their natural prey. 

Explore Atlantic shark nurseries

Is Climate Change Bringing More Sharks Near Shore?

Understanding the effects of climate change on sharks and other fish populations is an emerging area of study and a priority for NOAA Fisheries. Some southern species are extending their ranges farther north. However, there is currently no evidence that sharks are spending more time near shore as a result of warming waters. 

Interactions with Humans

It is extremely unlikely for Atlantic swimmers and surfers to be bitten by—or even encounter—a shark. The University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File recorded a worldwide total of 64 unprovoked shark bites in 2019, 41 of which were in the United States. Explore the International Shark Attack File to learn more about: 

Watch the video below to learn how swimmers and surfers concerned about sharks can further reduce the chances of being bitten. 

     

    Learn more about how to reduce your risk with these resources from our partners: 

    Recovering Populations

    Fishing and other human activities in the 1980s and early 1990s significantly lowered some Atlantic shark populations. Today we manage 43 species of sharks in Atlantic federal waters with rules that prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks. Thanks to this science-based approach, several stocks have experienced population growth:  

    • Gulf of Mexico blacktip 
    • Sandbar 
    • Spiny dogfish 
    • White shark 

    Are all U.S. sharks overfished?

    Hear from our researchers on white shark recovery

    Read about spiny dogfish recovery

    Learn more about the Magnuson-Stevens Act

    White Sharks and Seals

    Similar to white shark population increases, seal populations are rebuilding as a result of federal, state, and local protections. For instance, gray seals, which were once nearly eradicated in New England, are now a common sight in Cape Cod.  

    Seals are a favorite prey of large white sharks, and the rise of seals in some areas has led to more white shark sightings. Safety experts encourage beachgoers to be cautious in areas where seals have gathered. However, even in these known white shark “hotspots,” interactions with humans are very rare. 

    Researchers return to study gray seal pups in New England

    Does the Marine Mammal Protection Act Allow Local Officials to "Cull" Seals?

    Culling of seals is occasionally raised by coastal residents as a possible solution to negative human interactions with white sharks. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the lethal “take” (i.e., killing) of marine mammals, but provides a few limited exceptions. These include when local officials can lethally remove animals that are impacting Endangered Species Act-listed species or pose an immediate health and safety risk to people. 

    MMPA Section 109(h) provides for the protection or welfare of the animals or public health and welfare by allowing federal, state, or local officials to humanely euthanize marine mammals that are suffering or causing immediate danger to people. This provision also allows for the non-lethal removal of an individual nuisance animal by local government officials, but not culling of an entire population. 

    NOAA Fisheries regulations outline the process for local officials to invoke any aspect of MMPA Section 109. They require an after-action report be submitted to NOAA Fisheries within 6months of the taking. However, an application of this section of the act to cull pinnipeds (e.g., seals) because of an increase in shark attacks would be unprecedented. We have not received any notifications from local officials regarding this issue. 

    Learn more about MMPA conservation and management  

    Resources

    document

    2019 Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Report for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species

    This report, required under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provides the public with information on the latest…

    peer_reviewed

    Apex Predator Publications and Reports – White Shark

    Cailliet, GM, LJ Natanson, BA Welden, and DA Ebert. 1985. Preliminary studies on the age and growth of the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias,…

    outreach_education

    Shark Identification Placard

    Shark Identification and Regulations Placard (PDF, 1 page)

    Insight

    Understanding Atlantic Shark Fishing

    U.S. shark fishermen work under some of the most robust environmental standards in the world.

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    Last updated by Office of Communications on September 03, 2020

    Sharks