Are There Sharks in Destin? (Types, Photos & Attacks)

Destin, Florida, located in the Florida Panhandle and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, Destin Harbor, and the Choctawhatchee Bay, makes for an incredibly popular getaway trip.

The Destin Harbor Boardwalk features boutiques, restaurants, and live entertainment. One of the most popular places for boaters is Crab Island, which has a shallow sandbar great for parking your boat to enjoy swimming.

One of the most popular activities in Destin is fishing. It’s nicknamed the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. It’s also known for its golf courses, sandy white beaches, and delicious seafood restaurants.

About 4.5 million people come to Destin each year to explore this coastal city and partake in fun water sports activities, such as boating and parasailing. You can also take a break away from beach life for trips to theme parks and aquariums in the area.

But if you’re planning a trip, you might be worried about one thing:

Are there sharks in Destin? How common are shark attacks in Destin, FL?

Photo by hrlori/Flickr

Most sharks in Destin are species common to the Gulf of Mexico, the Western Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea. The following species are sharks commonly spotted in Destin, Florida waters:

  • Atlantic sharpnose sharks
  • Bonnethead sharks
  • Blacktip sharks
  • Bull sharks
  • Great hammerhead sharks
  • Nurse sharks
  • Whale sharks

However, visitors shouldn’t fear the water. Shark attacks are extraordinarily rare in Destin, which has recorded only four total attacks in history, with no fatalities.

Follow along to learn more about each of these sharks in Destin, how common they are, and the likelihood of seeing one during your visit!

Types of Sharks in Destin, FL

Florida provides an ideal habitat for a wide variety of marine life. There are many different shark species that inhabit Florida coastal waters.

Shark sightings around some of Destin’s most popular attractions, such as Crab Island, aren’t very common. Due to the abundance of shark species in Florida, however, there is a possibility of seeing sharks during your trip.

Here are a few of the species you may spot while vacationing in Destin.

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

By NMFS, E. Hoffmayer, S. Iglésias and R. McAuley – Public Domain

The Atlantic sharpnose shark is a year-round resident in Florida waters. Its range extends down the Eastern US coast and the Florida Gulf Coast. These sharks are fairly small, so their bites aren’t nearly as powerful as larger shark species.

However, they’re considered a moderate threat to humans due to their preferred coastal habitat.

They can be found at depths up to 920 ft, but often occur at depths less than 32 ft. Atlantic sharpnose sharks are most common in inshore waters during the late spring and early summer.

Atlantic sharpnose sharks exhibit inshore to offshore migration patterns. They frequent surf zones, estuaries, and harbors. They often come into contact with humans in surf zones.

This shark gets its name from its long, pointed snout, which is longer than the width of its mouth and makes up about 4% of its body.

Bonnethead Shark

By D Ross Robertson – Public Domain

The bonnethead shark is a small hammerhead shark species. They can be distinguished from other hammerheads by their distinct bonnet or shovel-shaped head.

They’re most common along the southern coast of the Eastern US in the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. They also inhabit the Pacific Ocean from southern California south to Ecuador.

Bonnetheads are an inshore shark species that inhabit warm waters close to the coast. They’re most common on the Florida Gulf Coast during the spring, summer, and fall. Females occur more frequently in the late summer and fall, as they travel to shallow waters to give birth.

The preferred habitat of bonnethead sharks includes continental and insular shelves, shallow bays, reefs, and estuaries at depths of 39 ft. Bonnetheads are most active during the day because this is when they feed on various crustaceans, especially blue crabs.

Although they may come in contact with humans because of their preferred inshore habitat, bonnetheads are shy and considered harmless to humans.

Blacktip Shark

By Albert kok – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The blacktip shark is a medium-sized shark with a dark gray to brown appearance above and a white underbelly. 

These sharks are most abundant in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Blacktip sharks are an inshore species typically found at depths less than 100 ft. They’re mainly spotted in bays, estuaries, mangrove swamps, and around river mouths.

Female blacktips frequent shallow estuarine waters during the late spring and early summer to give birth.

These sharks can pose a threat to humans due to their preferred inshore habitat, which causes them to encounter humans frequently. Blacktip sharks are responsible for about 20% of shark attacks in Florida waters.

Surfers are the most common victim of blacktip shark attacks because they mistake human limbs for prey. Although these sharks have been known to bite humans, they’re generally timid creatures that try to avoid humans when possible.

Bull Shark

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Named for their aggressive behavior, bull sharks are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the globe. These sharks are common in Florida waters, including along the Florida Gulf Coast.

Bull sharks have migratory patterns based upon water temperature. They travel north along the eastern coast of the US during the summer and return to tropical waters during the fall and winter.

In the Gulf of Mexico, females frequent shallow coastal lagoons, river mouths, and estuaries to give birth between April and June. These sharks are also capable of spending long periods of time in freshwater, often traveling thousands of miles up rivers. Bull sharks inhabit shallow waters at depths of 100 ft, but they can also be found at depths between 3-450 ft.

The largest bull shark reported was about 13 ft and weighed 698 pounds. 

Due to their large size, close proximity to humans, and aggressive nature, bull sharks are considered one of the most dangerous shark species.

According to the International Shark Attack File, bull sharks are responsible for almost 100 non-fatal attacks and 26 fatal attacks that have taken place around the world.

Great Hammerhead Shark

By Albert kok – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The great hammerhead shark is the largest of the nine hammerhead species in the genus Sphyrna.

They can reach a maximum length of 18-20 ft and weigh 500 pounds on average. The heaviest great hammerhead shark reported was caught off the coast of Sarasota, Florida and weighed in at 991 pounds.

There are 18 non-fatal unprovoked hammerhead attacks recorded in the International Shark Attack File as of 2022. Since hammerhead species can be difficult to distinguish, it’s likely that the great hammerhead is responsible for only a fraction of these attacks.

Due to their large size, however, great hammerheads should be treated with caution if encountered.

Great hammerhead sharks inhabit warm temperate and tropical coastal waters. They can be found in inshore and offshore habitats at depths between 262-984 ft. Great hammerheads participate in seasonal migrations and travel north to cooler waters during the summer.

Nurse Shark

Public Domain

Nurse sharks are a bottom-dwelling, nocturnal species that can be yellowish-tan to dark brown in appearance. These sharks reach an average length of 8 ft and can weigh more than 200 pounds.

In the Caribbean region, these sharks are often referred to as cat sharks. They’re common in the Atlantic Ocean, with some populations more locally abundant. They’re especially common in south Florida waters, the Florida Keys, and the West Indies.

Nurse sharks hunt for prey in shallow waters less than 65 ft deep at night. During the day, they’re often seen lying on sandy bottoms in large groups at depths anywhere between 10-246 ft.

Nurse sharks aren’t considered aggressive.

They’re responsible for only 9 non-fatal unprovoked attacks, which are likely attributed to increases in ecotourism attractions. Although they’re fairly docile creatures, nurse sharks have the ability to inflict a powerful bite that can result in serious injury.

Whale Shark

By Abe Khao Lak – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, with some individuals reaching a whopping 65.6 ft in length!

These sharks are widespread in tropical and warm temperate waters around the world. Although they may come inshore, these sharks are an open ocean species that can reach depths up to 6,326 ft.

Due to their open ocean habitat, whale sharks are considered fairly harmless to humans.

These sharks have also been known to interact peacefully with divers. However, if provoked, they have the ability to become more aggressive.

The whale shark has a unique feeding behavior. It’s a filter feeder that travels through large schools of plankton and other small sea creatures. They suck in the microscopic organisms along with water, which filters out of their gills.

Shark Attack History & Statistics at Destin, FL

Although Destin, Florida boasts an abundance of shark species, shark attacks in this area are extremely rare. Seeing sharks in Destin is also less likely than in other coastal areas in Florida.

According to the International Shark Attack File, there are only four all-time shark attacks reported for Okaloosa County, which includes Destin.

This makes Destin one of the safest locations in Florida to visit in relation to shark attack incidents.

One of the most recent shark attacks in Destin occurred in April 2017, when a teen was bitten by a shark while swimming on a sandbar in the Gulf around 3:00 p.m. The victim suffered several lacerations to both legs that required about 80 stitches.

Another incident occurred off Okaloosa Island, which is located between Destin and Fort Walton Beach. In July 2014, a 39-year-old man was fishing off a sandbar when a shark bit his foot, which resulted in a non-life threatening injury.

Florida is known to hold the record for most shark attack incidents in the United States.

In 2021, Florida had 28 reported shark attacks, which made up 38% of unprovoked attacks worldwide.

With that said, Destin ranks very low in shark attacks compared to other areas in Florida. Shark attacks are rare occurrences in general, but they’re especially rare in this area.

Wrapping Up

Destin, Florida is home to several shark species that live in or frequent the Gulf of Mexico. Although there is an abundance of sharks in Florida waters, attacks in Destin are extremely rare.

Only four shark attacks have occurred in Destin as of 2022, zero of which resulted in fatalities.

Compared to other parts of Florida, especially the eastern coast, Destin is one of the safest locations to visit in relation to shark attacks.

Beach safety measures that have been implemented over the years have helped reduce shark attack fatality rates.

Shark attacks often occur as a result of sharks mistaking human limbs as prey. Most sharks don’t purposely seek out humans and aren’t highly aggressive. Using caution when participating in water sports activities and having a buddy with you can help keep you safe.

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Hope this helps!