Depending on where you live, your chances of seeing a shark in the wild can jump to nearly 100 percent. Intentional shark spotting, however, involves two very different approaches. First there are next-to-no-risk vacation spots, tour groups and other travel opportunities to view mostly gentle giants, such as basking and whale sharks, or even predatory sharks, like great whites, but with great forethought and protection. Organized "white shark diving" groups, for example, permit divers to view the predatory sharks from the safety of metal cages.
The second type of frequent shark spotter is someone who is looking out for public safety. In the United States, for example, the National Park Service scouts popular beaches, both by land and air, in search of the toothy fish. Searches increase during the warm weather months, when visitors descend in droves upon the sites, heightening the likelihood of unexpected, and potentially lethal, shark and human encounters.
Where Basking Sharks Roam
Among the best places to view basking sharks are beaches at the United Kingdom's Isle of Man. In June, from a boat, viewers there may see entire shoals of the filter feeders. The Marine Conservation Society Basking Shark Watch Project reports that northwestern beaches at the island provide some of the best opportunities. In 1991, someone even spotted 100 basking sharks off the Isle of Man's Jurby Head.
One of the world's most comfortable basking shark-viewing spots has to be the Land's End Hotel in Cornwall, near the popular beach at Sennen, which is frequented by surfers. From the comfort of a pub window, visitors can gaze, not only at the surfers, but also at seals, black back gulls and basking sharks. The best time to view basking sharks is from May to July, when the enormous sharks stop at this place on their migratory journey in search of food.
Shark-Infested Beaches in Brazil, South Africa and Australia
Shark spotting in Brazil, South Africa and Australia may not be quite so relaxed, due to the number of shark attacks and deaths in these places over the years. Beaches at Recife, Brazil, which is located at the northeastern end of the country, attract a number of predatory sharks, such as bull sharks. Recife is part of the state of Pemambuco, where, according to data compiled by the International Shark Attack File, at least 46 shark attacks resulting in 14 human fatalities have occurred. Beaches at this part of Brazil are therefore among the most shark-prevalent of South America.
The "Great White Shark Capital of the World" is said to be centered in the waters off Gansbaai, Western Cape, South Africa. From April through September, locals claim visitors have a 99 percent chance of viewing a great white. During this time, these most fierce of fish arrive at the small village for feeding. Gansbaai could arguably have the world's densest concentration of predatory sharks, since another site nearby, known as "shark alley," attracts the elasmobranches; this narrow channel between two islands is right in the heart of great white territory.
Island and U.S. Shark Hot Spots
Shark fanciers who hope to plan an island getaway might consider visiting beaches at Reunion Island in the European Union, Oceania's Papua New Guinea or Grand Bahamas Island. All attract sharks and have experienced a number of attacks on humans as a result. Tiger Beach in the Bahamas has one of the world's highest concentrations of tiger sharks, which can lurk in even very shallow water. Hawaii is a shark watcher's paradise, but two beaches stand out among the rest. At any given time, waters off Kahuna Beach in West Maui may include nearly 40 different shark species. Aggressive tiger and nurse sharks are included in the group, so multiple shark attacks, at least 34, have occurred there since the 1800s. Oahu's North Shore beaches also have reported numerous shark sightings. Tiger and nurse sharks abound in Oahu waters. Great white and bull shark sightings are fairly common, too. California and Florida, along with Hawaii, round out the top three U.S. states for shark sightings and attacks. Dozens of shark species, including tiger, spinner and blacktip sharks, call waters off Florida's New Smyrna Beach home. Volusia County in northeast Florida and Brevard County are both infamously known as "Shark Bite Capitals of the World," due to the hundreds of reported attacks. In California, Bolinas Beach in Marin County is tops. It forms a point in what is known as the "red triangle," famous for great white sightings and attacks. Shark-filled waters also surround beaches at California's Humboldt County so, as for all places where sharks are known to be present, extreme caution must be observed. Since sharks target loners, it's best to join a guided group that allows onlookers to spot sharks and then return to land with all limbs intact.