- Text by Shelley Jones
There were more unprovoked shark attacks in the world last year than ever before, according to a study released by Florida University-based research body International Shark Attack File.
The total of unprovoked attacks – which, in layman’s terms, is an attack on a live human in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark – reached 98, ten more than the 2000 all-time high of 88.
And surprisingly for some perhaps, the large majority of the attacks (30) were in Florida, with 59 attacks in the USA in total compared to just eight in South Africa and 18 in Australia.
The news will come as very alarming to most, with galeophobia (debilitating fear of sharks) going from strength to strength. But what do the stats really say about our relationship with the apex ocean predator?
Well, there are more people using the oceans to swim, play and chill in than ever before, which obviously increases chances of human-shark interaction. Very few of those will be violent and even fewer will be fatal (there was just one fatality from an unprovoked shark attack last year).
Huck travelled to Florida at the end of last year to meet a shark diver, Bryce Rohrer, who swims with the animals every single day. He’s never been bit. Proof, if you like, that educating yourself about the animals and the local environment is key. If you flail around and act like prey, for example, sharks will treat you like prey.
Of course there are random attacks, sharks are predatory animals – and frequent water-users like surfers are going to be much more exposed – but even these attacks make up a tiny percentage of the overall interactions. You’re much more likely to get killed by a dog, or a spider, or a bolt of lightning.
Scientists also suggest that warmer sea temperatures, possibly as a result of global warming, are bringing sharks further into shore, where human-shark interactions are much more likely to happen.
So there are signs that human-shark interactions are going to continue to increase but thanks to the work of shark and ocean conservationists over the years, friendly solutions like eco-nets (that don’t hurt the sharks or other sea creatures) and sonic repellent technology are being favoured over knee-jerk solutions like culling.
Whenever sharks and humans share space there will be an element of risk but a rational response to that, by educating yourself on the animals and your local environment, will make your experience of the water safer.
Here are The International Shark Attack File’s top tips for swimmers:
– Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.
– Do not wander too far from shore, this isolates an individual and additionally places one far away from assistance.
– Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
– Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound, and enter with caution if menstruating; a shark’s olfactory ability is acute.
– Wearing shiny jewellery is discouraged because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
– Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
– Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks; both often eat the same food items.
– Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing; sharks see contrast particularly well.
– Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
– Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs; these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
– Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!
Visit The International Shark Attack File website for more information.