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Sharks in Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean Coastal Waters

Sharks are found in coastal waters along the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and U.S. Caribbean. Some species populations are on the rise. But your chances of interacting with one are still very low.

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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, and Atlantic sharpnose sharks can be abundant in the Southeast’s and Gulf of Mexico’s nearshore waters. In the Caribbean Sea, tiger, hammerhead, and Caribbean reef sharks are often seen. 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 73 unprovoked shark bites in 2021, 47 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 [shark] stocks have experienced population growth including:  

  • Atlantic sharpnose
  • Atlantic blacktip 
  • Sandbar 
  • Spiny dogfish
  • Tiger 
  • White

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 off of Cape Cod, MA.  

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.

Resources

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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…

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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,…

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Shark Identification Placard

Shark Identification and Regulations Placard (PDF, 1 page)

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 October 13, 2022

Sharks