Whether you’re planning a leisurely holiday to Panama City Beach and want to know about the general safety of the area, or if you’re an avid swimmer who’ll be sure to test the water’s depths, this article will have you covered on all things shark related. That’s so you can sit back or dive in with a mind at ease.
You will find sharks in Panama City Beach as it lies on the Gulf of Mexico – the ninth largest body of water in the world, and therefore is inevitably home to a variety of sea life. That includes over 200 shark species!
But that’s no reason to panic. The chances of a Jaws reenactment are incredibly slim and in Florida, there’s more chance you’ll be struck by lightening than a victim of a shark attack!
Here are the facts you need to know, and safety tips so you can admire any marine life you stumble across without panicking.
Most Commonly Sighted Sharks in Panama City Beach
As said, the Gulf of Mexico is home to a wide variety of shark species, and five of the most commonly found ones are:
- Hammerhead Shark
- Bull Shark
- Thresher Shark
- Nurse Shark
- Oceanic White Tip Shark
Of those, the Bull Shark is the only one that has a reputation for being quite aggressive (more on that later). Other commonly found sharks in Panama City Beach and nearby include the: Blacktip Shark, Sandbar Shark, Shortfin Mako Shark, Blacknose Shark, and Finetooth Shark.
As you will see, no matter how common sharks may or may not be, they are not usually not so aggressive that they will attack unprovoked. Unprovoked is when a human doesn’t try and interact with a shark.
A good example is that Hammerhead sharks can be aggressive, like many other sharks, but do not actively seek out humans. They will only attack as a defensive measure if provoked – such as if they were touched, or being fished. There has never been a fatality resulting from an unprovoked hammer head shark (and only ever 16 unprovoked attacks on humans ever).
Most Dangerous Sharks in Panama City Beach
Shark attacks are actually very rare and infrequent, especially in the Gulf area. Sharks don’t tend to fixate on humans though, as we are not their natural prey. Experts have actually said risks posed by stingrays are potentially more dangerous than those of sharks.
In fact, it has been found that the Great White Shark finds humans ‘unpalatable’, making attacks on us rare, and usually only when we’re mistaken for other creatures such as seals. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely you’ll spot one anywhere near Panama City Beach, as the Gulf’s waters tend to be too warm for them.
Of the species listed above, only Bull Shark needs to be noted. They eat everything from bony fish and birds to sea turtles and dolphins, and are one of the hardiest species out there. They can survive in fresh water as well as the salty water of the ocean – a trait atypical to sharks – and account for the third highest number of shark attacks on humans. (Recommended: Panama City Beach vs Destin vs Pensacola).
Shark Encounters – Do You Really Need to Worry?
Shark attacks over the years have been steadily decreasing in number, and there are several facts and figures which should leave you confident that you’ll be safe.
2020 saw only 54 attacks versus 64 from 2019. Of those which proved fatal, only three occurred in the USA – and none of those happened in Florida.
While Florida is statistically the most likely place to get bitten by a shark, up on the Panhandle where Panama City Beach is located you are pretty much safe, as attacks typically occur on the western and southern coasts of the state. In fact, Panama City Beach has only recorded eight shark attacks over the past 121 years, with the only two resulting in fatalities being a snorkeler and a diver. So, while there are many species of sharks in Panama City Beach and the surrounding Gulf, getting bitten is definitely very rare, and not something that needs to be stressed about.
Hammerheads as said, are one of the most spotted breed of shark off the Panama City Beach coast, but sightings alone do not indicate danger levels. Hammerheads especially are rarely of any danger to humans, so this really is more an observation than cause for any concern.
For example, earlier this year some TikTokers recorded themselves apparently only a couple of feet away from a Hammerhead, and yet emerged to tell the tale completely unharmed, describing how the shark was of no actual threat once they kept calm.
There are indeed stories of sharks being spotted after becoming beached upon the shore, but locals have then helped the stranded animals back into the ocean.
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Hopefully you can see that you really have no reason to worry about sharks or potential attacks when visiting Panama City Beach. Interestingly, you’re much more likely to die from a bee, wasp or snake than you are a shark.
That said, if you want to ensure you’re doing everything you can to prevent becoming a shark’s lunch, we do have a few tips for you:
- Swim during daylight hours/ areas with good visibility so that people and marine life are more likely to be able to see you. Given sharks don’t tend to attack people unless mistaken for other food, you don’t want to be swimming when it’s too dark.
- Don’t swim by people fishing with bait. Fishing for smaller sharks is permitted in most cases, and so they will be drawn in by the bait, or equally by the fish being caught.
- Take off jewelry before diving in – you might get some unwanted shark attention if your jewelry flashes or reflects sunrays underwater. This is a key way shark identify prey, and they won’t know the difference between fish scales and your Pandora bracelet.
One last step you can take is to familiarize yourself with local warning measures in place. Panama City Beach uses a colour coded flag system to relay messages to swimmers and beach goers. The 5 meanings are as follows:
Green: Low-hazard, calm conditions. Swimmers should exercise standard caution while in waters.
Yellow: Medium-hazard, moderate surf and/or strong currents. Swimmers should take additional care in waters.
Single-red: High hazard, high surf and/or strong currents. Swimming is not advised, but not banned.
Double red: Immediate Danger. Water closed to all swimmers.
Purple: Dangerous marine life present (jellyfish, stingrays, sharks, etc) water should be kept clear of swimmers.
Now that you’re clued up on just how unlikely it is to be the subject of a shark attack here, we hope you enjoy your holiday and the beautiful waters of Panama City Beach without worrying about sharks in Panama City Beach!