Panama City Beach, Florida, is one of the country’s top beach destinations for families, couples, friends, and students alike.
With 27 miles of stunning beaches best known for their unmatched turquoise waters and a huge variety of both exciting recreation and relaxing activities, that doesn’t come as a surprise.
This beautiful stretch of Florida coast is home to a vast history as well as unbeatable ocean offerings and classic beachtime and water recreation. Vacationing here is a perfect choice, and a perfect balance of relaxing ocean getaway and an opportunity to experience some of the country’s naval history.
Panama City has a lot to offer, but if you’re planning on spending a lot of time enjoying the waves, you might have one big question:
Does Panama City Beach, FL have sharks?
Panama City and its Gulf waters are home to a ton of different varieties of sharks. Luckily, shark attacks in Panama City are extremely rare and should not be a major concern for most beachgoers.
Some common sharks you might find near Panama City Beach are:
- Hammerhead sharks
- Bull sharks
- Blacktip sharks
- Thresher sharks
- Sandbar sharks
- And nurse sharks
Let’s take a look at each of these sharks, photos, shark attack history in Panama City, and some shark safety tips!
Types of Sharks Near Panama City Beach, FL
Panama City Beach sits along the Gulf of Mexico, which is itself the ninth largest body of ocean water in the world.
It is home to a similarly large variety of marine life, including over 200 of the world’s shark species.
While that seems like a high number, the danger posed by sharks here is minimal — just as it is in any part of the world, despite sensationalized media coverage!
There are a few of those species that are more common near Panama City Beach in particular. While you’re unlikely to encounter any Panama City Beach sharks, let alone find yourself in an unpleasant situation with them, it’s good to know what types of sharks make a home here.
Hammerheads are a very well-known shark species. Of course, they have a memorable appearance, but they’re also some of the world’s friendliest sharks!
They are quite docile, and are usually considered harmless to humans (there are some species of hammerhead that are more aggressive, but you won’t find them here).
Hammerheads are also very intelligent — they’re known for high levels of cognition, and even exhibit complex social behavior.
Bull sharks are an incredibly versatile species. They’re able to thrive in both fresh and salt water — if you’ve ever heard of a shark making it up the Mississippi all the way to Illinois, this is the one!
Adult bull sharks are between seven and eight feet long, and this species is wider than most other sharks in the region.
Bull sharks by nature exist in habitats close to shore, and they’re territorial, meaning that they are easily provoked.
This combination makes them one of the species responsible for shark bites, in a group with tiger sharks and great whites. All in all, though, shark bites are still exceedingly rare.
Blacktip sharks are somewhat similar in appearance to bull sharks, though not in behavior.
Blacktips are actually classified as a timid shark species, and they’re usually wary of humans.
Occasionally, they treat humans with curiosity, but under most circumstances, blacktip sharks are not considered dangerous to people.
Like any animal, they can react negatively when provoked or in the presence of food, but even in the event of a blacktip shark bite, the vast majority result in only minor wounds.
Thresher sharks are found in all tropical and temperate oceans in the world. They are very long, slender sharks with a tail used to stun their prey.
They’re also one of the only shark species in the world that is known to jump fully out of the water.
Thresher sharks are not considered a threat to humans.
Quite the contrary — they are actually victims of overfishing, leading to all species of thresher being listed as vulnerable to extinction.
Sandbar sharks are some of the larger coastal sharks in the world.
They’re also known as thickskin sharks and brown sharks, and they are known for their heavy-set bodies and short, round snouts.
They’re often found in shallow water, lurking over sandy or muddy bottoms. Sandbar sharks prey on other fish, and are themselves prey to larger sharks like tiger sharks and great white sharks.
As with the thresher shark, sandbars suffer from overfishing and are a protected species.
Sandbar sharks are not considered dangerous to people, despite their large size. In fact, no known shark attacks are attributed to them, and sandbar sharks are a popular species to swim with!
Nurse sharks are a slow and sedentary species, but don’t make the assumption that that means they’re docile.
Nurse sharks are responsible for a fair number of shark bites, though it’s generally assumed that many of those are due to lack of care and caution while around them, especially since it’s easy to confuse their slow movements with gentle behavior.
Because they are tolerant of capture and handling (when done with care!), nurse sharks are an important species for scientific research, contributing a lot to our knowledge of shark physiology.
History of Panama City Beach Shark Attacks
Shark attacks in Panama City Beach are extremely rare, despite how many species can be found in the region.
Statistically, Florida has the highest likelihood of shark encounters of any other state, but the vast majority of those are along the Atlantic coast.
The Panhandle is considered quite safe, and Panama City Beach itself has only recorded eight shark attacks in well over a hundred years.
Sharks often get a negative reputation as being dangerous marine animals. And while they are some of the ocean’s top predators, it’s important to consider that they do not prey on people.
Sharks are generally uninterested in humans unless provoked, and most instances of shark bites are cases of the animal mistaking a human for its actual food, like seals.
Of course, you’re more likely to have a shark run-in near an ocean beach than if you are inland — just being in shark territory creates a non-zero chance of encountering one.
As a popular beach getaway destination, Panama City Beach is no exception; however, shark attacks are very rare in Panama City Beach. More danger is actually posed by other marine animals, like stingrays and jellyfish.
This is due to a few main reasons.
One, humans just aren’t tasty to sharks, so they don’t pursue us as food. And second, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is known for its subtropical characteristics, meaning the same warm water that draws people to the region for vacation can often be too warm for sharks to spend a lot of time in.
While abundant in the Gulf, sharks tend to just pass through rather than hang out close to beaches. Plus, most of the Panama City Beach sharks don’t pose any danger to humans.
While sharks can be sighted regularly, a sighting alone doesn’t pose a safety concern — which is why it’s important to pay attention to advisories to know when a sighting may be uncomfortably close to shore.
Avoiding Sharks in Panama City Beach (Tips & Things to Know)
Panama City Beach has a strong advisory system to indicate water conditions, resulting from both adverse weather and potentially dangerous marine animals.
There are five color-warnings you’ll want to familiarize yourself with, with the fifth and most dangerous being the purple flag advisory, which is the indicator that dangerous marine life is present.
This can mean a shark has been spotted, but is also used for other animals like jellyfish and stingrays. Regardless, a purple flag warning means that beachgoers, swimmers, and people in general should steer clear of the water.
Other than heeding officials and posted advisories, there are several things you can keep in mind or prepare to reduce the (already small) chance of having a dangerous encounter with Panama City Beach sharks.
- Be mindful of when you’re in the water. Sharks are most active at dawn, dusk, and night. It’s good practice to avoid the water around these times, since that’s when a shark is more likely to be lurking. It’s also good to keep in mind that while dim lighting is ideal for sharks, humans are not as great at seeing in the dark — if you’re swimming during these times, a shark can see you much better than you can see it.
- Avoid shiny things. Jewelry, rhinestones on swim suits, and anything shiny and wearable can actually appear like fish scales to a shark, making you appear more like prey. As mentioned above, sharks don’t usually approach humans and most cases of shark bites happen when a shark mistakes a human for its prey — jewelry or shiny clothes can be a factor in this.
- Mind your swimming behavior. First, it’s best to avoid swimming alone, as it’s extremely rare for a shark to approach, let alone attack, a group of people. Second, the safest option is to swim closer to shore, since most sharks will avoid the shallowest water but are more comfortable in deeper water a little farther out. And third, keep in mind how you swim. For similar reasons of mistaken identity, excessive splashing or wild movements can mimic the motion of other marine animals that could indicate food. (For the same reason, it’s wise to keep pets out of the water, too).
If you’ve chosen Panama City Beach as your next vacation spot, you’ve already done well.
While the region has plenty to offer on land, like its vast naval history, environmental excursions, and plenty of food and entertainment, most vacationers here are planning to enjoy the area’s unbeatable beaches.
With beachtime recreation comes the question of shark safety and what to be prepared for.
Fortunately, sharks garner a mostly false reputation for danger — most sharks are uninterested in humans, and Panama City Beach has a history of extremely few shark attacks.
While the Gulf is home to hundreds of shark species, you don’t have to worry about that impacting your vacation!
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Hope this helps!