Even though you're more likely to die from a lightning strike, alligator attack or on a bicycle than from a shark attack, sharks do sometimes bite humans.
In this article, you can learn about the actual risk of a shark attack, and how to avoid one.
The International Shark Attack File
The International Shark Attack File was developed in the late 1950s to compile information on shark attacks. Sharks attacks may be provoked or unprovoked. According to the International Shark Attack File, provoked attacks are those that happen when a person initiates contact with a shark (e.g., bites occurring to a fisherman removing a shark from a hook, a bite to a diver that has touched a shark). Unprovoked attacks are those that occur in the shark's natural habitat when a human has not initiated contact. Some of these may be if the shark mistakes a human for prey.
Over the years, records of unprovoked attacks have increased - in 2015, there were 98 unprovoked shark attacks (6 fatal), which is the highest on record. This doesn't mean sharks are attacking more often. It is more a function of increased human population and activity in the water (visiting the beach, increase in participation in scuba, paddle boarding, surfing activities, etc.), and the ease of reporting shark bites. Given the large increase in human population and ocean use over the years, the rate of shark attacks is decreasing.
The top 3 attacking shark species were the white, tiger and bull sharks.
Where Do Shark Attacks Occur?
Just because you're swimming in the ocean doesn't mean you may be attacked by a shark. In many areas, large sharks don't come close to shore. The regions with the highest percentage of shark attacks were Florida, Australia, South Africa, Brazil, Hawaii, and California. These are also regions where lots of people visit the beaches and participate in water activities.
According to The Shark Handbook, most shark bites occur to swimmers, followed by surfers and divers, but the majority of these bites are minor flesh wounds or abrasions.
Ways to Prevent Shark Attacks
There are many ways (most of them common-sense) that you can avoid a shark attack. Below is a list of what not to do if you'll be swimming in waters where sharks might be present, and techniques for getting away alive if a shark attack really does happen.
How to Avoid a Shark Attack:
- Don't swim alone.
- Don't swim during dark or twilight hours.
- Don't swim with shiny jewelry.
- Don't swim if you have an open wound.
- Don't swim too far offshore.
- Ladies: don't swim if you're menstruating.
- Don't splash excessively or make erratic movements.
- Keep pets out of the water.
- Don't swim in areas where there are sewage (for other obvious reasons!) or pinnipeds that are hauled-out. Both areas can attract sharks.
- Don't swim in areas being used by fishermen, as their bait could attract sharks.
- Don't push your luck - never harass a shark. Get out of the water if one is spotted and never attempt to grab or touch it.
What to Do If You're Attacked:
Let's hope you've followed safety advice and successfully avoided an attack. But what do you do if you suspect a shark's in the area or you are being attacked?
- If you feel something brush against you, get out of the water. According to an article from National Geographic, many shark bite victims don't feel any pain. And sharks may strike more than once.
- If you are attacked, the number one rule is "do whatever it takes to get away." Possibilities include yelling underwater, blowing bubbles, and punching the shark's nose, eye or gills and then leaving the area before the shark strikes again.
Although shark attacks are a horrific topic, in reality, many more sharks are killed by humans each year. Healthy shark populations are crucial to maintaining balance in the ocean, and sharks need our protection.
References and Additional Information:
- Burgess, George H. 2011. ISAF Statistics on Attacking Species of Shark. (Online). FL Museum of Natural History. Accessed January 30, 2012.
- Burgess, George H. 2009. ISAF 2008 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary (Online). FL Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 5, 2010.
- Burgess, George H. 1998. Just for Kids: How to Avoid a Shark Attack Reprinted with permission from The Kids' How to Do (Almost) Everything Guide, Monday Morning Books, Palo Alto, California. Accessed February 5, 2010.
- ISAF. 2009. International Shark Attack File. (Online). FL Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 5, 2010.
- Skomal, G. 2008. The Shark Handbook. Cider Mill Press Book Publishers: Kennebunkport, ME. 278pp.