The International Shark Attack File or ISAF was set up in 1958 to store all reported shark attacks. Records date back from 1580 to the present day and are collected from all over the world. The file was set up after a conference of scientists from 34 countries that were concerned about the lack of reliable information for shark attacks. There are currently 3300 investigations housed in the file and 2154 of the 3300 reports are confirmed unprovoked attacks. Out of those 2154 attacks, 554 have been fatal. The records include all related material such as newspaper articles or video news reports. They also contain the medical and in some cases the autopsy reports. More information about the group can be found at their website http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/ISAF/ISAF.htm.
On average there are about 70-100 sharks attacks a year. Of these attacks, generally only 5-15 of them are fatal. This is, however, only an estimate seeing is how not all attacks are reported. The number of attacks on humans has slightly increased over the years, not because sharks are intentionally seeking out humans as prey, but simply because there are far more people swimming in the oceans today. The more people there are the greater the chance of someone getting bitten.
Although large species can and will devour a human, sharks don’t particularly like the taste of human flash. Added to the fact that we don’t have near enough fat or muscle to be suitable in a shark’s diet. Even if the fattest person in the world were to be eaten, it still wouldn’t be enough for a large Great White. Feeding isn’t the only reason that a shark will bite. They will bite in self-defense if they feel threatened or provoked. A diver may see the tail of a resting shark sticking out from under a ledge and have the urge to give it a pull; the shark will bite in defense then rapidly swim away. A person may unknowingly enter a shark’s territory and when that particular shark feels that its personal space has been encroached on enough, it may possibly bite.
For the attacks that are deemed “unprovoked”, there are three different types of attacks that are used. One is the “hit-and-run”. This particular style of attack seems to be the most commonly used. These attacks usually occur in shallow waters and are below the knee and non life-threatening. The victims don’t usually see the sharks and are only bitten once. “Hit-and-run” attacks are probably a case of mistaken identity, where the shark is in low visibility water and the sound of splashing humans and the glitter of shiny jewelry make it appear to be a injured fish. Once the shark has bitten, it knows it made a mistake and immediately lets go. The second type of attack is the “bump-and-bite”. Although they are less common that the “hit-and-run” they are usually more dangerous and can result in death. The shark will circle the victim in deeper water then bump them just before the actual attack. “Sneak” attacks are the third and final type of unprovoked shark attack. “Sneak” attacks often occur when the shark is feeding or defending its personal space. These last two types of attacks are far more dangerous than the first one. In “bump-and-bite” and “sneak” attacks a shark will often strike repeatedly and multiple injuries are common. Death may also come as a result of these two attacks.
Attacks in Perspective
Any person who gambles likes to know the odds right? Well, we all gamble and take chances whenever we enter the water, as well as when we do almost anything else as well. The following are statistics and probabilities that compare shark attacks to daily activities.
• More fatalities from car accidents in one month then shark attacks throughout history.
• More people are killed by bees, wasps, and snakes each year than by sharks.
• Elephants kill ten times more people than sharks and crocodiles kill 100 times more.
• You are more likely to die from drowning or having a heart attack while swimming than by a shark.
• Other beach related injuries such as dehydration, jellyfish stings, stingray barbs, sun burn and spinal damage when diving are far more common than shark attacks.
• More stitches are required for cuts from mollusk shells than for shark attacks.
• You are more likely to win the national lottery than be attacked by a shark.
• For every one person bitten by a shark, 25 people are bitten by New Yorkers.
• More people die in skiing accidents in the Alps than by shark attacks
• More than six times as many people are hit by lightning in Florida than attacked by sharks.
• One out of every 30 million people is attacked by a shark.
Reducing the Risk of Shark Attacks
The only fool-proof way to avoid a shark attack is to not enter the water at all. However, that seems unlikely with the amount of coastline that the United States has. So in order to have a safe and enjoyable time in the ocean, there are a few basic safety measures that people must learn. The rules apply to everyone who enters the water.
1. When spear-fishing, all ways stay alert and cautious.
2. Avoid swimming from dusk to dawn (sunset to sunrise). This is the time when sharks are most active.
3. Don’t swim with open wounds that are bleeding or while menstruating. Sharks are attracted to blood and other bodily fluids.
4. Don’t wear bright colors or flashy jewelry, a hungry shark might confuse the glint of silver jewelry or the sheen of fish scales.
5. Avoid excessive splashing and horseplay, a splashing human sounds like an injured fish.
6. Swim in a group. Never go out by yourself. A shark is less likely to attack if there are more people in a group.
7. Avoid swimming in murky, turbid waters especially around river mouths. In low visibility water a shark might have a difficult time telling the difference between your foot and a separate fish.
8. Don’t swim with marine animals. Many people think that it is safe to swim with dolphins around but where there are dolphins there are usually sharks. Both animals often feed on the same prey and sharks will become more aggressive when they must compete for food.
When you are diving in an area frequented by sharks you might want to remember to carry a shark billy with you. Basically a shark billy is a piece of wood (such as a broom stick) on a lanyard. If a shark gets too close a gentle prod with the stick should drive it off. If it doesn’t then a quick rap on the snout should do it.