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Incidents of Shark Attacks in Virginia Waters


If you’re heading to Virginia Beach, it’s important to be aware of the risk of encountering sharks in the area. With several different species residing in Hampton Roads, some venture quite close to shore. Unfortunately, shark attacks at Virginia Beach have become more common in recent years, causing concern among beachgoers. 

The severity and frequency of these incidents have only added to the apprehension many people feel when approaching the water. While it’s important to stay vigilant, it’s also essential to remember that sharks play a vital role in the ecosystem and shouldn’t be demonized for simply being a natural predator of the ocean.

Rising Cases of Shark Attacks in Virginia

Shark Attacks in Virginia

The coastal waters of Virginia have always been a hot spot for vacationers seeking the sun, sand, and sea. However, there’s a growing concern about shark attacks happening more frequently. Officials state that these accidents are rare and urge the public to approach the ocean with caution. 

Despite their efforts to quell any fears, shark attacks still happen from time to time and make headlines every year. Recent studies suggest that the number of shark attacks in Virginia has virtually doubled over the past 20 years. Yet, coastal development and an increase in the number of people entering the water could be attributed to this swell in numbers. 

While it’s important to know the risks when swimming in the ocean, it’s also important to remember that these accidents are still relatively uncommon and that preventative measures can be taken to reduce the danger of coming into contact with these powerful creatures.

Types of Sharks Found in Virginia

Virginia’s coastline is not just a popular spot for tourists; it’s also home to a variety of shark species. With more than ten different types of sharks living in these waters, there’s no shortage of opportunities for shark sightings. Off the shore of Virginia Beach, in particular, you can regularly catch glimpses of these majestic creatures. 

#1 Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark

The Sandbar shark is a species that is known by many names, including Brown sharks and thick-skinned sharks, and they are commonly found on the beaches of Virginia. As one of the world’s largest coastal sharks, they can grow up to 8.2 feet long, with the females being significantly larger than males. 

Shallow water is their preferred habitat, with coastlines, ports, and beaches being ideal spots for them. However, they are also known to venture out to deeper water, up to 600 feet deep. If you’re interested in more unique shark species, you should definitely check out the Spotted Gully Shark!

#2 The Smooth Dogfish Shark

The Smooth Dogfish Shark

If you’re planning a beach trip to Virginia, you might want to keep an eye out for the smooth dogfish. These sleek sharks can grow up to 5 feet long, making them one of the larger predators near the shore. They go by many names, including smoothhounds and dusky smooth dogfish, but their blunt row of teeth is one of their key distinguishing features. 

Unlike deep-water sharks, coastal sharks like the smooth dogfish have access to different food resources, which helps explain why they can never attain the size of a great white. Nonetheless, these sharks are still formidable predators, so it’s best to stay aware of your surroundings when you’re enjoying the beach.

#3 The Sand Tiger Shark

The Sand Tiger Shark

The tiger shark is a magnificent creature that lingers near Virginia beaches, growing up to 14 feet in length. This shark has a different diet compared to its marine counterparts, consuming anything from seals, dolphins, and even birds. Although infamous for its aggressiveness, tiger sharks are not harmful creatures, and attacks on humans are not common. 

These impressive predators play an essential role in maintaining the biodiversity of our oceans. The tiger shark’s size, strength, and adaptability make it an important component of the marine ecosystem. So, while encountering a tiger shark may be intimidating, these incredible creatures are fascinating and should be respected.

#4 Bull Shark

Bull Shark

While sightings of bull sharks in Virginia may be infrequent, it’s important to remember that they are one of the largest sharks that frequent the beaches here. Bull sharks are known for their preference for deep ocean waters, where they can grow to impressive sizes. 

However, they do make occasional stops along the coastline. While it may be exciting to catch a glimpse of a bull shark, it’s important to keep in mind their reputation for aggressive behaviour. In fact, most bites in coastal locations are attributed to bull sharks. It’s easy to see why they’re not a frequent sight on our shores, but it’s best to err on the side of caution.

#5 Spinner Shark

Spinner Shark

The spinner shark is a fascinating deep-water predator that is becoming increasingly visible along the coastline of Virginia. Although it prefers coastlines with shallow waters, this shark is known to occasionally venture into the deeper waters, where it can thrive at depths of up to 330 feet. 

Spinner sharks are often compared to blacktip sharks due to their similar appearance, but their behaviours and habitats are quite distinct. Spinner sharks are slowly making their way north, with more frequent sightings seen along the coastline of Virginia, particularly along the southeast shore. 

It is worth noting that this is the region where spinner sharks are most likely to breed, and where their pups are often fostered. As the climate continues to change, it is expected that spinner shark sightings will become even more frequent along the Virginia coast.

#6 Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

When it comes to sharks frequently found near Virginia beaches, the Atlantic sharpnose is among the largest. Growing up to four feet in length, these creatures have earned their name from their most recognizable feature: their pointed noses. 

Populations of the Atlantic sharpnose are currently booming in both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, which is great news for these beautiful creatures. However, to ensure their long-term survival, regulations need to be put in place. Despite being around average in terms of their coastal shark diet, Atlantic sharpnose sharks consume a variety of tiny fish, eels, shrimp, crabs, and molluscs to sustain themselves. 

#7 Dusky Shark

Dusky Shark

The Atlantic sharpnose shark is a fascinating creature that can grow up to an impressive 4 feet in length. It is one of the largest sharks that frequently reside near Virginia beaches, and is known for its pointed nose which earns it its unique name. 

These sharks are currently thriving in both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, exceeding expectations and proving to be a remarkable species. However, regulations are crucial to ensure their long-term survival. While not particularly picky eaters, the Atlantic sharpnose shark’s diet includes eels, shrimp, crabs, molluscs, and tiny fish, making them an important part of the coastal shark ecosystem. 

With the implementation of necessary measures to protect them, the Atlantic sharpnose shark can continue to flourish and amaze us with its impressive size and distinct features.

#8 Blacktip Shark

 Blacktip Shark

The Blacktip shark is a fascinating creature with a distinctive feature that sets it apart from other sharks: the black tips present on each of its fins. This trait gives it its name and an instantly recognizable appearance, making it a favourite among divers and scientists alike. 

As a type of requiem shark, the blacktip is related to other species such as the dusky and sandbar sharks. Despite being smaller than the dusky, adult blacktip sharks can still reach up to 9 feet in length and are known to be aggressive. 

Unfortunately, there have been documented attacks on humans, but this does not make the blacktip shark inherently “bad.” It’s simply a reminder that, like with any wild animal, it’s best to approach with caution and respect.

#9 Scalloped Hammerhead

This impressive creature is one of the largest sharks found close to Virginia beaches, reaching a maximum length of 8.2 feet, making it one of the tiniest hammerhead sharks.

 But don’t let its size fool you – some specimens have grown to be over 10 feet long! Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you’ll spot one swimming close to any coasts for the majority of the year, as these deep-water oceanic sharks prefer to live and prosper far out at sea. 

However, during the migration season, they will venture inland to benefit from the shoals. Even though it may be rare to see these magnificent creatures up close, it’s important to remember that they play a vital role in the ocean ecosystem.

#10 Smooth Hammerhead Shark

The smooth hammerhead may be one of the largest shark species out there, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the most dangerous. This impressive beast can grow up to a whopping 16 feet in length, yet it is more commonly found near the coast than out in the open ocean. 

Although the smooth hammerhead’s size may make it seem intimidating, it generally prefers to stick to a diet of small fish. However, the largest specimens have been observed going after other sharks and rays. 

And while there have been some reports of attacks on humans, smooth hammerheads generally prefer to keep their distance. Still, they have been known to plunder fishermen’s catches and baits, making them something of a nuisance to local fishermen. 

Types of Shark Bites

Provoked Bites

In cases where individuals bother or approach sharks, it’s known as a provoked bite – a dangerous situation that can result in serious injury or even death. 

Whether it’s releasing a shark from a fishing net or attempting to feed one, these actions can cause defensive behaviour from the shark, leading to unfortunate and often preventable incidents. 

It’s crucial that we take the necessary precautions to avoid provocations and promote safe interactions with these magnificent creatures.

Unprovoked Bites

The ocean is a wondrous and vast environment, but it can also be a dangerous one. Sharks, in particular, are known for their aggressive tendencies towards humans. There are instances where these creatures have bitten people without any provocation. 

Such behaviour is in line with their typical nature, and it is the type of data that is frequently utilized for study. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) website provides publicly accessible information on unprovoked shark incidents.  

Hit-And-Run Bites

The ocean is often seen as a peaceful and serene place, but those who frequent its waters know it can be dangerous. Sharks are one of the most feared creatures that dwell in the ocean and for good reason. 

They hunt to survive, and when strong currents, pounding surf, and murky waters combine, it’s not uncommon for a shark to misinterpret human movements for those of their prey. In most cases, a shark will bite once and then swim away. While it’s often feet or legs that are bitten, the injuries are usually minor, and fatalities are rare.

Sneak Bites

Unlike in shallower waters, where a glimpse of a dorsal fin could signal danger, deeper seas provide no such warning. The victim, completely unaware of the looming threat, could quickly become prey to one of nature’s most fearsome predators. 


The ocean represents a vast and enigmatic world that harbours incredibly diverse and fascinating creatures, such as sharks. When a shark actually bumps its target before biting, this is known as a bump-and-bite. Furthermore, the shark may bite multiple times, just like with sneak bites. It may lead to fatalities or severe injuries.

Incidents Due to Shark Attacks in Virginia Beach

Over the years, numerous shark encounters have been recorded across the coastal regions of the United States. In the case of Virginia, specifically, there have been 1,100 documented shark attacks between 1837 and 2014. These incidents encompass all the coasts of the country.

The first recorded shark attack in Virginia dates back to 1852 when a deserter attempting to swim away from the USS Pennsylvania fell victim to a fatal shark attack.

Between 1900 and 2020, Virginia’s waters witnessed a total of 19 shark attacks, four of which resulted in tragic fatalities. It is worth noting that some of these attacks were provoked, such as when a worker was bitten by a blacktip reef shark after being revived from anaesthesia.

In 2001, Virginia experienced its deadliest shark attack when a bull shark bit a 10-year-old boy who was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean near Sandbridge.

The most recent shark attack in Virginia occurred in 2010, also at Sandbridge. Although non-fatal, it left an 18-year-old surfer with bites on the ankle and knee, a chilling reminder of the potential dangers lurking in the ocean.

These incidents serve as a reminder of the importance of remaining cautious and vigilant while enjoying Virginia’s coastal waters.

Famous Cases of Shark Attack Victims

Labor Day weekend in 2001 took a devastating turn in Virginia when three swimmers fell victim to shark attacks. These horrifying incidents resulted in the loss of two lives and severe injuries to the third swimmer. The victims of the fatal attacks suffered significant blood loss before succumbing to their injuries.

Similar shark-related disasters have plagued Atlantic states throughout history. Earlier that year in Florida, an 8-year-old named Jessie Arbogast had his arm torn off by a bull shark. Miraculously, Jessie’s severed limb was recovered and successfully reattached.

The series of attacks in Virginia occurred off Oak Island, in the shallow coastal waters where the victims were enjoying a late Sunday afternoon. Astonishingly, the two separate incidents unfolded roughly two miles apart, making it a 90-minute journey to reach each other. Both victims tragically lost an arm, and one of them also lost a leg. 

Despite the intensity of the attacks, the responsible sharks managed to elude capture. Experts believe that further examination of the wounds could provide valuable insights into the size and species of the sharks involved.

These distressing events serve as a stark reminder of the potential dangers posed by sharks and the importance of remaining vigilant while enjoying coastal waters.

Guidelines to Avoid Shark Attacks

When it comes to any activity, it’s important to prioritize safety and minimize risks. Here are some helpful tips to reduce your chances of encountering a shark:

  1. Buddy Up: Always swim with a friend. Sharks are more likely to approach lone individuals, so having a companion adds an extra layer of safety.
  2. Stay Close to the Coast: Avoid venturing too far from the shore, as it can increase the distance to emergency assistance. By staying closer to the beach, you can quickly seek help if needed.
  3. The time it Right: Steer clear of the water during dusk or dawn. Many shark species are most active during these times, especially when they are feeding at night.
  4. Watch for Warning Signs: Be mindful of areas where sport fishing occurs, as they can attract sharks. Keep an eye out for diving seabirds, as they are often indicators of the presence of these marine predators.
  5. Share Space Wisely: Avoid swimming in waters commonly used by anglers for recreational or commercial purposes. Remember, dolphin sightings do not guarantee the absence of sharks, as they often share similar food sources.
  6. Be Mindful of Water Conditions: Exercise extra caution when the water is hazy or unclear. Some shark species may have impaired vision in such conditions, just like humans. Avoid wearing brightly coloured or highly contrasting clothing, as sharks have excellent contrast perception.

By following these guidelines, you can enhance your safety and enjoy your time in the water responsibly. Should you wish to explore more about sharks, we have a selection of articles available for you to delve into!

Ways to Eliminate the Risk of Sharks Attacks

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of shark attacks, there are measures in place to minimize these encounters. One approach is the use of shark exclusion nets, which act as a barrier between humans and sharks while causing minimal harm to the environment. However, it’s important to acknowledge that these nets are not foolproof.

One drawback of exclusion nets is the potential for entanglement, which can lead to the unintended loss of life for sharks and other marine animals. Additionally, the operation and maintenance of these nets can be costly.

Shark exclusion nets are typically deployed in designated low-energy zones, primarily for non-surfing activities. To enhance safety measures, advancements in technology have been utilized. Sensor buoys and drones are employed to monitor shark movements, allowing for real-time information and alerts.

By utilizing these innovations, it becomes possible to manage maritime hazards more effectively, particularly at public beaches. The ultimate goal is to continue developing safer solutions that prioritize the well-being of both humans and marine animals.

While the risk of shark encounters cannot be completely eradicated, ongoing efforts and advancements aim to create a balance where people can enjoy the ocean while minimizing potential hazards for all parties involved.

Do All Sharks Pose a Threat to Humans?

Sharks have a notorious reputation as ruthless predators, but not all of them pose a danger to humans. In fact, according to evidence, only 30 out of 500 shark species can bite humans occasionally. And out of those, just a handful are potentially harmful. 

Despite this, there have been reports of shark attacks in Virginia, with the bull shark, the tiger shark, and the white shark being among the culprits. It’s important to remember that all sharks are predators, and if provoked, they may be able to cause injuries. So if you ever come across one, it’s best to keep a safe distance and avoid any sudden movements.  


When was the last shark attack in Virginia?

Well, the answer is that the last recorded shark attack occurred in the summer of 2019. Though it’s not a common occurrence, shark attacks have happened in the state over the past few decades. Knowing the history of shark attacks in Virginia can help people take precautions when swimming in the ocean along the Virginia coast. 

Are there sharks in Virginia waters?

The answer is yes, although the likelihood of encountering one is relatively slim. There are over 40 species of sharks that are known to inhabit the Atlantic Ocean waters off the coast of Virginia, ranging from the small and harmless to the larger and more predatory. However, incidents involving sharks in Virginia are rare, with only a handful of documented shark attacks in the past century. 

Are there bull sharks in Virginia?

While they are typically found in warm, salty waters near the equator, reports have surfaced about bull sharks being spotted in Virginia’s coastal waters. These sharks are known for being aggressive and are responsible for many attacks on humans each year. Whether or not they truly inhabit Virginia’s waters is still up for debate, but one thing is for sure.

Final Words

Virginia is undoubtedly one of the most famous tourist attractions in the US. Thousands of travellers visit Virginia every year to bask in the sun and enjoy its beautiful beaches. However, these beaches often come with a dark side, thanks to the presence of some mighty sharks lurking in the waters. 

There have been many reports of shark sightings just off the coastlines of Virginia, and over time, these sightings have resulted in an increased number of shark attacks. Unfortunately, Virginia’s waters are home to some of the most aggressive sharks in the world, and these predators have been known to cause serious harm to humans.


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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.

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A motivated philosophy graduate and student of wildlife conservation with a deep interest in human-wildlife relationships, including wildlife communication, environmental education, and conservation anthropology. Offers strong interpersonal, research, writing, and creativity skills.


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