There are a lot of misconceptions out there about shark attacks. When most people think about shark attacks, they imagine the Jaws scenario of a big Great White Shark hunting and attacking people. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, sharks attacks are extremely misunderstood by most.
This misunderstanding has been devastating to shark populations, leading to horrific practices like shark culling and hunting. In reality, people are only occasionally attacked by sharks and not the way most people think.
Shark Attacks Are Incredibly Rare
The most important thing to understand about shark attacks is how rarely they actually occur. In fact, the chances of a swimmer being bit by a shark is one in 11.2 million. In fact, there are only ever about 70 shark attacks per year worldwide and only 3-4 of them prove fatal. Furthermore, most sharks attacks are the result of human provoking a shark like while a fisherman is killing them or a person steps on one accidentally. Some experts believe that unprovoked attacks only occur for 3.7% of all attack victims.
Why Do Sharks Attack?
There are several motivating factors behind shark attacks. Why sharks attack usually depends on the species, the activity of the human, and the location of the attack. Here is a list of the most common reasons sharks attack:
- Curiosity: Sharks are curious to see if a human is a viable food source, so they’ll take a bite to check it out.
- Mistaken Identity: Sharks may mistake humans for other forms of prey.
- Territory: Sharks may see humans as a threat to their territory.
- Competition: Sharks may view a human as a competing predator.
- Habitat Loss: Sharks are in hunt of new sources of food as they lose their habitats from human activities.
- Provocation: Humans may provoke a shark by pulling on its fins or stepping on it.
- Personality: Younger, more aggressive sharks may be trying to prove themselves by attacking a human.
- Conditioning: In some areas, people feed sharks, so they equate humans with food.
Who Is Attacked By Sharks?
Of the unprovoked attacks, the people most likely to be attacked were people who entered shark territory, rather than average beach goers sticking along the shoreline. The most likely people to be attacked by a shark are scuba divers at 46%, surfers at 38%, and other sportsmans like kayakers or tubers at the remaining 5%. Only 11% of unprovoked shark attacks occurred against swimmers.
Where Do Sharks Attack?
Most shark attacks occur around North America and the Australian continent and South Africa. Shark attacks do not necessarily occur in areas that have the most densely populated amount of sharks. Most of the time they occur in places where sharks have experienced habitat loss and are forced to interact with humans. Most sharks, like other wild animals, would prefer to avoid humans if possible.
How Sharks Attack
There are three main ways a shark will attack in open water:
- Hit and run: Sharks will swim up take a bite out of curiosity, realize you are not what they want and swim away.
- Bump and bite: Bump and bites usually start with the shark circling around you, then they will engage by bumping into you then taking a bite. Usually this is like a hit and run where a shark is motivated by curiosity or sometimes, territorialism.
- Sneak attack: Sneak attacks are the shark attacks that you see in the movies, where a shark is generally interested in eating you. However these attacks are extremely rare and usually only occur in deep waters.
Most of the time sharks will bite the legs and arms of a person and more rarely they will bite the torso or head. Usually if a shark attack is unprovoked, it’s motivated by curiosity more than anything else. In most cases, if a shark attacks, it will take a bite, realize you are not a marine animal, and then leave. So most people are able to survive shark attacks.
What Shark Species Attack?
Though people only ever imagine the big Great White Shark attacking, most species of sharks have never attacked a human. In fact, some sharks like Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks are so docile, they’ll even play with people. Of the 440 known species of shark, only 34 species have ever attacked a human. Of these 34 species, some sharks like the Leopard Shark, the Port Jackson Shark, and the Dusky Shark have only ever bit one person. The sharks that are most likely to attack are in order Tiger Sharks, Bull Sharks, and then Great White Sharks. Most of the time, the sharks attacking were younger and thus less cautious and more aggressive in their behavior.
What To Do If You Are Attacked
If you are ever unlucky enough to be attacked by a shark, there’s a couple of things you can do to ensure that you stay in one piece.
- Stay calm: Sharks can sense fear in the water, so the last thing you want to do is let it know that you are prey.
- Keep your eyes on the shark: Watch every movement of the shark, so you can be prepared if it is coming in to attack.
- Get into a defensive position: Continue to face the shark, try to pull yourself in so that the shark cannot attack you easily. If possible find coverage.
- Do not make sudden movements: Do not swim away quickly, do not thrash about in the water, do not attract the shark’s attention.
- Fight back: Sharks do not have doctors, so they are not interested in getting injured. If a shark attacks you punch or kick their nose, eyes, or gills. If possible look for any kind of weapon from a rock to any gear you have on you.
- Get out of the water: As soon as possible get out of the water. Swim slowly and deliberately, using the breaststroke as to not attract attention.
Most likely you will never be attacked by a shark. The truth is shark attacks are overblown and extremely rare. Most of the time shark attacks are provoked by human activity, and in the rare cases they are not, there’s some things you can do to protect yourself. The truth about shark attacks is that they don’t happen that often, so there’s really no reason to be afraid of sharks.