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.
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:
- Trends in shark interactions
- Where shark interactions occur in the United States
- Shark interactions compared to other risks
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:
- Advice from the University of Florida
- Tips from the National Park Service Cape Cod National Seashore
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
- Spiny dogfish
- White shark
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.
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.