By: Katharine Baumgartner
Shark attacks (or bites as you'll learn soon) are rare. You are far more likely to be injured by your toilet than attacked by a shark. In 2008, there were about 235,000 people (age 15+) that visited the emergency room due to bathroom related injuries. As a result, nearly 25,000 occurred on or near the toilet (Center for Disease Control). In comparison, in 2018, there were only 66 reports of unprovoked shark attacks on humans, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Additionally, in 2018 there were 34 reports of provoked shark attacks which include humans harassing sharks or fisherman being harmed. This is much lower than the 2013-2017 average of 84 per year.
What is a shark attack?
“Provoked attacks” occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, attacks on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, etc.
“Unprovoked attacks” are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.
*There are other reasons why sharks attacks happen, however, they are very rare.
The term 'shark attack' isn't defined as well as it should be and this has lead to a lot of confusion. Although 'attack' is used at times throughout this blog (mostly in the tables/graphics), it should be noted that shark biologist have proposed a system that scientists, the media, policy makers, and the public can use for classifying human-shark incidents. These four categories are designed to further define and clarify human-shark incidents.
Shark sightings: A sighting of a shark in the proximity of people, no physical human-shark interaction occurs.
Shark encounters: Human-shark physical contact or with an object that the human is holding. For example, a shark biting a surfboard or brushing up against a human.
Shark bites: A shark bites a human resulting in minor to moderate injuries.
Fatal shark bites: When serious injuries take place to a human by a shark biting one or more times causing significant blood loss and/or body tissue and the outcome is fatal.
For more information on these four categories and why we should move away from the term 'shark attack' see this article in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences!
In 2018, surfers/board sports accounted for 53% of all shark bites. When you spend a lot of time in the surf zone, a sharks natural feeding habitat, who can blame them? Check out the table below that shows the victim activity at time of being bitten. Graph credit: International Shark Attack File -Florida Museum
In 2008, an estimated 234,094 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms due to bathroom related injuries. Toilets were among the second highest location in the bathroom where injuries occurred. Clearly, the likelihood of being injured by your toilet is much greater than being injured by a shark.
The graph indicates that most shark bites occur in the USA. More specifically, Florida is known for topping the charts with the most unprovoked shark bites. In 2018, Florida reported 16 shark bites which accounted for 50% of all bites in the USA and 24% worldwide. Elsewhere in the USA, Hawaii, North Carolina, and South Carolina had 3 unprovoked shark bites, Massachusetts and New York had 2 reports, while California, Georgia, and Texas had 1 shark bite. There was 1 fatal shark bite that occurred in Massachusetts in 2018. This was the first fatality in the USA since 2015 and the first fatality in Massachusetts since 1936. Graph credit: Statista.
It’s pretty simple folks! The more humans, the more human-shark interactions. As the human population continues to climb, along with our interest in exploring the ocean, we increase our human-shark interactions. However, due to our advancement in technology, global communication, and beach safety organizations we are able to make the public aware of sharks to promote safe interactions.
In conclusion, shark bites are rare. When spending time in the ocean, watch out for rip tides, do the stingray shuffle (shuffle your feet on the bottom so you don’t step on a stingray), don’t provoke sharks, and do your research on shark feeding habitats.
But most importantly, be careful when you are on or near your toilet!