First documented shark attack in America (2023)

The was the first to document the landing of sharks in America, around 789-1033. There are no eyewitness accounts, just bones. However, our knowledge of prehistoric lifestyles and forensic anthropology allows us to reconstruct what probably happened. The incident went something like this:

“Their village was on the north coast of Puerto Rico, near the modern city of Vega Baja. The two fishermen left the village as the sun rose in the east. They pushed their small outrigger canoe into a gentle wave and began to paddle out to the azure line of the reef, about 500 yards from shore. Small white caps broke onto the reef, marking their destination. They probably used hook and line, spears or nets; or possibly all three, depending on the conditions of the day and the fish they encountered. Their prey was groupers, groupers, parrotfish and thunderbirds that live in close association with the reef. Then their world suddenly turned upside down.

“There was no loud music to sound the alarm, just the gentle lapping of the waves against the side of the canoe as it gently bounced in the gentle impact caused by the shallow reef. It was probably a beautiful morning. High cumulus clouds in a robin blue sky with golden sunbeams projected by the dawn. Tranquility and beauty, and perhaps a bountiful catch.

“They caught and probably speared a few fish, which they talked about in lively voices. The thrill of the chase and the joy of success. The cotton string was pulled hard. The fisherman extended his right hand over the edge of the dugout. But before he could release his catch, a monster appeared from the depths. The tiger shark, attracted by the blood of the bleeding fish, bit sharply into the fisherman's upper arm and began to die. Failing to cut the upper arm mid-torso, he ripped the flesh off his arm as his sharp teeth descended to the elbow. At the elbow, the force of his bite and the violent twisting of his body tore the forearm cleanly free. Blood gushed from the amputated limb.

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“Maybe the canoe capsized or the fisherman just fell to the ground. His blood mingles with the blood of their capture. Without modern medical care, his life was over. His partner managed to pull himself up and bring the canoe back ashore. With the help of other men who ran out of the village to see what had happened, they carried him home. His body was buried in the center of the village, under the square. A cleared area in the center of the community where people gathered for communal events. There was great sadness at the loss of this grown man, the head of the family and a skilled supplier of fish to his village. His burial placed him among the ancestors. Although he left this world, he lived in the world of the dead where he could forever be called upon to help when help from another world was needed.

While this reconstruction of an event that took place more than 1,000 years ago is somewhat fanciful and perhaps even melodramatic, it fits with what we know about life in pre-Columbian Puerto Rico.

In the late 1980s, Dr. Peter E. Siegel, with the support of the Centro de Investigaciones Indigenas de Puerto Rico, led archaeological excavations at a pre-Columbian site known as Maisabel on the north coast of Puerto Rico, near the modern city of Vega Baja. The research formed the basis for his Ph.D. thesis,Ideology, Power, and Social Complexity in Prehistoric Puerto Rico. Dr. Siegel discovered that the place was inhabited around 120 BC. to 1000 AD, making it one of the earliest and longest-lived villages in Western India.

The site consists of 6 central sites, ceramic deposits, food remains and other artifacts, arranged in a roughly circular shape. The center surrounds a plaza where very few artifacts have been found. During the excavation, however, Siegel discovered that the square was a large cemetery. In his own words, Dr. Siegel it asaxis of the world, the central axis of the world in the eyes of the people who made it. Theaxis of the worldserved to connect different layers of the cosmos. In the cemetery were the bones of ancestors, who worshiped the living descendants.

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Dr. Siegel enlisted the help of Linda Budinoff, a student who studies human remains, to analyze the skeletons he unearthed. Her conclusions were presented on the 12theof the International Congress of the International Association for Caribbean Archeology in Cayenne, French Guiana, and were published in the Proceedings of the Congress. Particularly interesting was burial number 17. According to her analysis, Burial 17 was a 29-year-old male. He was buried in a stooped (fetal) position, with prehistoric pottery, chert shards, unaltered raw local stone, conch shell, chert hammer, calcite, ocher, and coral cutter.

The skeleton is complete with the exception of the right forearm and hand. There are a series of lacerations on his upper right arm (humerus), which Budinoff says may indicate that he "Be able towere tortured and executed" (p. 118). One radiocarbon date places the time of death somewhere between cal. 789 and 1033. This skeleton, along with another skeleton with a stingray's backbone between its ribs, was used at the time as evidence for an armed conflict.

  • The upper right arm bone of a shark attack victim, along with teeth marks. Photo © Linda Budinoff

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  • Close-up of tiger shark teeth marks on the lateral and posterior surfaces of the trunk of the humerus. Photo © Linda Budinoff

  • Extreme close-up of the damage. Note the horizontal rows of microcuts that result from serrations on the tiger shark's teeth. Photo © Linda Budinoff

The characteristics of the multiple lacerations made me doubt whether they were actually caused by a weapon. For example, the marks appear on either side of the bone with all cuts in a downward (distal) direction. It is easy to imagine someone being struck on the outside of the arm in this way, but it is difficult to imagine similar cuts being made on the inside of the arm near the body. If the arm had been raised when the blows were delivered, the lacerations would have occurred in an upward direction to the proximal end of the humerus. In other words, the cuts on the inside and outside of the hand would occur in opposite directions. Since Burial 17 had multiple cuts on the inside and outside of the humerus in the same direction, I sought expert advice.

Budinoff provided some excellent photographs of the injury (reproduced here courtesy of Dr. Peter Siegel and the Centro de Investigaciones Indigenas de Puerto Rico). These photos were reviewed by the late UF forensic anthropologist Dr. William Maples, author of the bookDead people tell stories(co-authored by Michael Browning, Doubleday, 1994). Maples was not told where the bone came from, or any other information about the context (although he knew I worked in the West Indies).

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His first suggestion was that a machete had caused the cuts. I explained that there were no metal tools at the time the wound was made. He then suggested obsidian, but again, there are no obsidian tools from this area. He stated that flint (flint) tools might be possible, but it was difficult to sharpen stone tools to the point where they could make such sharp cuts. In addition, he noticed that there were several cuts in the immediate vicinity, all in the same direction. These were not wounds that a living individual would receive, say, in combat with an ax or a machete. If the person had defended themselves against the attack, the multiple lacerations would have spread widely across the humerus and forearm.

In addition, defensive wounds are much more common on the forearm (we naturally raise our arm in front of us to defend against an attack) than on the upper arm. If the cuts were man-made, they should appear after the person was incapacitated. The key, however, was the little grooves that come with the cuts. This is not typical of human tools. When asked if a shark could have made such cuts, he exclaimed "absolutely". He referred me to George Burgess, the guardInternational Shark Attack file, held in conjunction with the American Elasmobranch Society.

As custodian of the shark attack file, Burgess has reviewed more than 3,000 cases. After studying the photos, he concluded that the markings were typical of bone damage caused by a shark. In addition, he believed that the grooves associated with the cuts made it likely that the culprit was a tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). He reported that a tiger shark will bite its victim and if it fails to cut the pendant on the first bite, it will rip the flesh and bite again, continuing to twist its body to use its weight and strength as leverage . It will often happen that the attachment is cut off at the level of the joint. This is exactly what we see in Burial 17. Apparently, the shark failed to bite through the humerus on the first attempt. He must have released the bite, bit again and pulled the arm off at the elbow.

For us, life consists of a series of individual events, but the most an archaeologist can usually hope for are generalizations about what happened in the past. In certain rare cases, like this man from Maisabel, we see life and death frozen in an instant. Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water.

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When was the first shark attack in the United States? ›

Marys River where researchers say the attack occurred. Image courtesy of Kent Mountford. The 1640 incident predates by two years an attack off what is now New York City, currently listed by the Shark Research Institute as the earliest recorded unprovoked shark attack on the continent.

What is the first documented shark attack? ›

The first documented shark attack in history occurred in 1749 when the British seaman Brook Watson went for a swim in the waters off Havana Harbor, Cuba. According to contemporary accounts, Watson's dip was interrupted by a shark who violently attacked him, backed off and then circled around to strike again.

Is the shark attack of 1916 real? ›

Between July 1 and 12, 1916, five people were attacked along the coast of New Jersey by sharks; only one of the victims survived.

Who was the first shark attack in 1916? ›

It was less than a month into summer, and in the blaze of a day that was July 1, 1916. Charles Vansant jumped in the ocean off the New Jersey shore and found himself in the mouth of a shark. The events that followed played out like a living nightmare, and became known as the shark attacks of 1916.

When was the first recorded shark? ›

The earliest fossil evidence for sharks or their ancestors are a few scales dating to 450 million years ago, during the Late Ordovician Period. Emma Bernard, a curator of fossil fish at the Museum, says, 'Shark-like scales from the Late Ordovician have been found, but no teeth.

What was the deadliest shark attack in US history? ›

During World War II, the sinking of a U.S. Navy ship led to one of the worst known shark attacks in history, with up to 150 killed in a feeding frenzy.

Has a black person been attacked by a shark? ›

On the morning of January 15, 1983, a body of a black man washed ashore. Most of the body had been devoured by sharks. It appeared a shark had bit his foot when he was alive. However, it is unknown if this is what caused his death, as he could have drowned before he was bitten.

How many documented shark attacks are there? ›

Unprovoked Shark Attacks by Region of the World
Country/TerritoryTotal AttacksFatal Attacks
California (USA)12412
South Carolina (USA)1052
Western Australia (Australia)10716
112 more rows
Jan 8, 2023

Has there ever been a shark attack recorded? ›

U.S. leads world in number of unprovoked bites

Consistent with long-term trends, the United States recorded the most unprovoked shark bites in 2022, with 41 confirmed cases. This is lower than the 47 incidents that occurred in the U.S. in 2021.

What is the most famous shark attack in history? ›

The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 killed four people in the first two weeks of July 1916 along the New Jersey shore and Matawan Creek in New Jersey. They are generally credited as the beginning of media attention on shark attacks in the United States of America.

Is the shark story in Jaws true? ›

No, at least not according to Jaws author Peter Benchley, though he was certainly aware of the 1916 attacks (they are mentioned in his novel). Even though Jaws is not based on a true story, respected news outlets often cite the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks as being the main inspiration for the movie.

What town is Jaws based off of? ›

Martha's Vineyard, MA (as Amity Island)

Amity Island, the small beach town terrorized by the world's most famous shark, first came to life in the pages of Peter Benchley's book Jaws, which the film is based on.

Who killed the biggest shark? ›

Megalodon - the biggest shark that ever lived - was killed off by the Great White, according to new research. The huge and powerful sea monster was outcompeted for resources by its smaller and nimbler rival, say scientists.

Who jumped the shark first? ›

The phrase was coined in 1985 by Jon Hein in response to a 1977 episode from the fifth season of the American sitcom Happy Days, in which Fonzie (Henry Winkler) jumps over a shark while on water-skis.

Are sharks older than dinosaurs? ›

Sharks are older than trees and dinosaurs

The earliest evidence of shark fossils dates back as far as 450 million years, which means these creatures have been around at least 90 million years before trees and 190 million years before dinosaurs.

When was the biggest shark found? ›

The biggest great white shark ever recorded is a female shark affectionately named Deep Blue. She was spotted and filmed for the 2014 episode of Shark Week's “Jaws Strikes Back” and measures in at 20 ft long and is estimated to be about 4,500 pounds.

Were there sharks at Pearl Harbor? ›

The crew was not alone in the water. "We had 10 or 12 sharks around us all the time," Conter says. "I told the men, 'If a shark comes close, hit it in the nose with your fist as hard as you can. '"

What is the number 1 shark attack beach in the USA? ›

New Smyrna Beach, Florida

New Smyrna Beach has seen more shark attacks than any other beach in the United States. The International Shark Attack File estimates that Florida has the most shark attacks worldwide each year.

What is the #1 shark attack capital of the world? ›

Where is New Smyrna Beach Located on a Map? New Smyrna Beach, the shark bite capital of the world, lies just south of Daytona on Florida's eastern coast. The beach borders the Atlantic Ocean and is located in Volusia County. To navigate, press the arrow keys.

What is the most shark infested ocean? ›

1. New Smyrna Beach, Florida. There have been more than 300 unprovoked shark attacks in Volusia County, where New Smyrna Beach is located. Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is “the shark attack capital of the world.” The state accounts for more than half of the total shark attacks in the United States annually.

What shark has never attacked a human? ›

Though impressive hunters, Bamboo Sharks have never attacked humans. Bamboo Sharks are so docile, they have been noted to let divers stroke and pet them. Between their smaller size and non-aggressive temperaments, these sharks pose no threat to humans.

Has anyone been attacked by a great white shark? ›

A fisher was recently decapitated by a 19-foot-long (5.8 meters) great white shark while diving for ax tripe, a scallop-like mollusk in Mexico. The tragic event made headlines because of the unusual nature of the attack.

Has a great white shark ever attacked a human? ›

White sharks are responsible for unprovoked and sometimes fatal attacks on humans, but these attacks are extremely rare. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, there were 57 unprovoked attacks on humans by all species of sharks in 2020, and 13 of those attacks resulted in human fatalities.

Do most shark attacks happen in 3 feet of water? ›

Most attacks on divers have happened in 31 to 40 feet of water, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History. Attacks on surfers and swimmers are most common in 6 to 10 feet of water, according to the museum.

What to do if a shark bumps you? ›

If you're attacked
  1. Defend yourself - playing dead doesn't work.
  2. Use whatever you have at your disposal (surfboard, dive gear, fishing equipment) to avoid using your bare hands to attack the shark.
  3. If you must use your hands, concentrate on attacking the eyes, nose and gills.
  4. Make sudden movements to scare the shark.
Oct 12, 2022

Which state has most shark attacks? ›

Florida is known as the "shark attack capital of the world" and accounts for more than half of the total shark attacks in the United States each year.

What is the biggest shark witnessed? ›

The biggest great white shark on record was an enormous female shark named “Deep Blue.” This magnificent creature was over 20 feet long and weighed an estimated 2.5 tons. Her behavior was just as impressive as her size, and she was known for her unique hunting habits, mating rituals, and migration patterns.

How many men on the USS Indianapolis were eaten by sharks? ›

(It was a feeding frenzy after a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945 during World War II. Some 900 American sailors were stranded in shark-infested waters, where an estimated 50 men a day were ripped apart by the sharks.

Did the shark in Jaws eat the dog? ›

Pipit was a dog and second victim of the shark.
Background information
Cause of deathKilled by Bruce
Other namesTippit, Pippin, Pippet, Pippit
13 more rows

Has there ever been a shark as big as the one in Jaws? ›

On January 17, patrol helicopters off the coast of southern Australia reported seeing a great white shark “nearly as big as Jaws.” In fact, it was estimated to be up to 23ft long, only marginally smaller than the infamous movie killer — and it came to within just 100 metres of the shore.

What stuntman in Jaws was killed by a shark? ›

Stuntman Jose Marco was killed on-camera when a great white shark bit through a protective net and attacked him. Samuel Fuller had clashed with the producers on a variety of issues, and when the production company used Marco's death to help promote the film, he quit.

Which beach was Jaws filmed at? ›

The Beach | Joseph Sylvia State Beach | Oak Bluffs, Mass.

Of course, this is where it all goes down — the beach where Alex Kinter gets chomped by a shark. If you dare, you can swim at the exact same location today, only it's known as Joseph Sylvia State Beach.

Was Jaws in Cape Cod? ›

“Jaws”, Martha's Vineyard

Steven Spielberg's 1975 smash-hit “Jaws” is usually what comes to mind when thinking of movies filmed on the Cape and Islands. Based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, the movie was filmed on Martha's Vineyard but is set in the fictional New England town of Amity.

Can you visit where Jaws was filmed? ›

Visiting the film locations for Jaws is an entertaining way to spend your time on Martha's Vineyard. There are more fun things to do in Oak Bluffs and things to see Edgartown while you are visiting the island as well, and all of them are kid-friendly.

What shark kills the most humans per year? ›

The great white shark has killed the most humans resulting in 52 known fatalities, though roughly 300 unprovoked attacks are recorded from the great white.

Which US Navy ship sunk shark infested waters? ›

On July 30, 1945, the USS Indianapolis is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sinks within minutes in shark-infested waters. Only 316 of the 1,196 men on board survived.

What largest shark disappeared? ›

The megalodon, which went extinct millions of years ago, was the largest shark ever to prowl the oceans and one of the largest fish on record. The scientific name, Otodus megalodon, means "giant tooth," and for good reason: Its massive teeth are almost three times larger than the teeth of a modern great white shark.

Is there still 1 megalodon alive? ›

Is the megalodon still alive? 'No. It's definitely not alive in the deep oceans, despite what the Discovery Channel has said in the past,' notes Emma. 'If an animal as big as megalodon still lived in the oceans we would know about it.'

What killed off megalodons? ›

Megalodons succumbed to global cooling due to the shrinking of their habitat, the vanishing of their favorite prey, and competition from other predators 3.5 million years ago.

What was the first shark on earth? ›

Cladoselache is regarded as the first "true shark". It lived 380 million years ago and it still retained a few characteristics of its fishy ancestors.

Who is the girl that got bit by a shark? ›


WPTV reports the attack happened on Thursday at North Hutchinson Island. A 13-year-old girl, Ella Reed, said a shark, which appeared to be a bull shark at least four feet long, bit her multiple times.

How did shark first appear on Earth? ›

Most scientists believe that sharks came into existence around 400 million years ago. That's 200 million years before the dinosaurs! It's thought that they descended from a small leaf-shaped fish that had no eyes, fins or bones. These fish then evolved into the 2 main groups of fish seen today.

When was the first great white shark found? ›

Great White sharks DID NOT EVOLVE FROM MEGALODON SHARKS, they are distantly related to Mako sharks and diverged sometime in the Late Eocene or Early Oligocene perhaps 30 or 35 million years ago. The origins of Great Whites (Carcharodon carcharias) was unclear until fossil evidence was found in the 2000's.

When did the first great white shark appear? ›

These first white sharks likely first appeared during the middle of the Miocene Epoch. (However, some studies suggest that they may have evolved during the Oligocene Epoch [33.9 million to 23 million years ago].) Descendent species do not appear to have branched off from C. hastalis.

How long was the shark attacks of 1916? ›

In July of 1916, New Jersey became the site of a series of vicious shark attacks that would span 12 days and take the lives of four people and severely injuring one.

Who is the biggest great white shark ever seen? ›

The biggest great white shark on record was an enormous female shark named “Deep Blue.” This magnificent creature was over 20 feet long and weighed an estimated 2.5 tons. Her behavior was just as impressive as her size, and she was known for her unique hunting habits, mating rituals, and migration patterns.

Who discovered the first shark? ›

In the Americas, Eugene Gudger was considered the first person to study the biology of sharks in the early 1900s. Sharks came into the spotlight in the mid-1900s during wartime, when soldiers were left floating in the ocean after battles, resulting gin many shark-related casualties.

Has there ever been a great white shark in a lake? ›

Great white sharks are oceanic creatures and cannot survive in freshwater lakes. While some species of sharks, such as bull sharks, are capable of surviving in saltwater. It is not normal for most sharks to live in lakes.

What is the biggest shark ever recorded? ›

Estimates suggest megalodon actually grew to between 15 and 18 metres in length, three times longer than the largest recorded great white shark. It may have been comparable in length to today's biggest whale sharks, the largest of which has measured in at 18.8 metres.

What eats a great white shark? ›

The great white shark is an apex predator, as it has no known natural predators other than, on very rare occasions, the orca.

What was the worst year for shark attacks? ›

The 2016 yearly total of 81 shark attacks worldwide was on par with the most recent five-year (2011–2015) average of 82 incidents annually. By contrast, the 98 shark attacks in 2015, was the highest yearly total on record.

What water is the most shark infested? ›

1. New Smyrna Beach, Florida. There have been more than 300 unprovoked shark attacks in Volusia County, where New Smyrna Beach is located. Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is “the shark attack capital of the world.” The state accounts for more than half of the total shark attacks in the United States annually.

What is the shallowest water a great white can swim in? ›

And that's fine. Everybody can make their own personal decision, but realizing that sharks can get into water as shallow as five of six feet deep is something that people need to realize.”


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