Fatal shark attacks have doubled in the last 12 months, a new report has revealed, occurring in holiday hotspots including California, Florida, Mexico and Egypt.
Ten unprovoked attacks proved fatal in 2023 – up from five the previous year – with a “disproportionate” number occurring in Australia, according to the findings.
There was also a general increase in the number of unprovoked shark attacks around the world last year, the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF) reveals.
The findings were described as “errant” by shark experts, who noted that the number of recorded white shark bites has increased “precipitously” in recent decades.
But the research team believes the pattern is not due to increased shark aggression, but rather a combination of more people in the ocean each year and a greater emphasis placed on reporting bites and deaths.
ISAF, a scientific database of global shark attacks, confirmed a total of 69 unprovoked bites in 2023.
Experts say that while the number is higher than the average of 63 attacks over the past five years, the data remains “consistent” with long-term trends.
Australia accounted for 22% of all attacks in 2023 and 40% of deaths.
There were also two confirmed deaths in the US, one in the Bahamas, one in Egypt, one in Mexico and one in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific.
Other confirmed non-fatal bites occurred in Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, New Zealand, Seychelles, Turks and Caicos, Galapagos Islands and South Africa.
Dr. Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said, “This is within the range of normal numbers of bites, although the fatalities are a little unnerving this year.”
Which sharks kill humans?
First things first. Sharks do not actively seek out humans for lunch. When sharks attack, it is almost always a case of mistaken identity.
Most shark attacks are known as ‘test bites’ and as soon as the shark realizes that the human is not a seal or something else, it will swim away.
However, the most common species behind shark bites are great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks.
Less commonly, mako sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks have also been involved in fatal attacks.
And remember, humans kill around 100 million sharks every year, often because of shark fin soup, in which the animal’s dorsal fin is cut off and the fish is returned to the sea where it cannot survive. .
See more information: What types of sharks do you find in the UK and how dangerous are they?
The US has had 36 unprovoked attacks, representing 52% of the global total. Of these, two – one in California and the other in Hawaii – were fatal.
As in previous years, Florida has had more shark attacks than any other state, with 16.
Although ISAF documents and investigates all shark bites to humans, the annual report focuses primarily on unprovoked attacks.
They are defined as any situation in which a shark is in its natural habitat and attacks without any human provocation.
ISAF records include 22 additional attacks last year that were intentionally or unintentionally provoked.
The most common activity of victims at the time of the attacks was spearfishing.
“We are biologists and we want to understand the natural behavior of animals – not unnatural behavior,” said Dr. Naylor.
Three deaths in 2023 have occurred at a remote surfing destination off the coast of South Australia.
The Eyre Peninsula is known for its wild, untamed beaches and phenomenal surf breaks, and despite being difficult to access and navigate, it is an attractive location for surfers.
The region is home to colonies of seals and a high density of great white sharks, known simply as white sharks in science.
How to reduce the risk of a shark attack
- Swim with a friend
- Stay close to the coast
- Don’t swim at dawn or dusk
- Don’t swim near schools of fish or where people are fishing
- Avoid wearing jewelry – the reflected light can resemble the shine of a shark’s fish scales
- Avoid excessive splashes
Dr Naylor said: ‘If a great white shark is chasing a seal and the seal knows it, the great white shark doesn’t stand a chance.
‘Seals are really agile, so the only ones that get caught are the ones that are playing and thrashing on the surface minding their own business.
“And this is what a surfer looks like.”
Surfers were victims of 42% of shark bites worldwide last year, with swimmers and waders in second place at 39%.
Australia, in addition to its coastal white shark populations, also has bull sharks in and around its rivers. A fatality caused by a bull shark attack occurred early last year in a river near the coast.
The vast majority of unprovoked attacks are test bites – which occur when a shark mistakenly identifies a human as its preferred prey, according to the findings.
When this happens, the shark typically swims away after a single bite.
But some species – such as white sharks and tiger sharks – are so large that even a single bite can be fatal.
One of the fatal attacks involved a tiger shark on the shores of the Red Sea in Egypt.
Joe Miguez, a doctoral student in the Florida Shark Research Program, said: “The bite in Egypt stood out because a video shows a tiger shark taking several swings at a human in the water.
“Even though predation events are extremely rare, it is quite clear that this is what happened.”
But despite the increase, researchers say the number of bites and deaths occurring in 2023 is within the average for the last decade.
Each year, there are consistently fewer than 100 unprovoked bites, making it more likely that someone will win the lottery than be attacked by a shark.
Most shark attacks occur during the summers of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, when many species are most active and when more people spend more time in the water.
Last year’s count included the first known shark attack in New York City in more than 50 years.
But Dr Naylor added: “It causes a lot of fear, but the reality is you are putting a lot of people in the water on a hot day with bait fish in the water.”
Although the odds of being bitten by a shark are “incredibly” low, ISAF recommends that swimmers stay close to shore, do not swim at dawn or dusk, and avoid excessive splashing.
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