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Old 28-06-2005, 12:00   #1
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From the International Shark Attack File
A database of shark attacks as well as information on how, why, and where sharks attack, and how to avoid becoming a victim.

”Shark Attacks in Perspective”

Say the word "shark" and the first image most people conjure up is a Jaws-inspired white shark devouring unsuspecting bathers while well-meaning authorities and scientists helplessly stand by. Shark attack is probably the most feared natural danger to man, surpassing even hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes in the minds of most beach users and sailors. Among the earth's large animals implicated in the attack and consumption of humans, only sharks have not been "controlled" by man. Even the fiercest of terrestrial predators, the large cats and bears, are extremely susceptible to a rifle and "problem" animals simply have been eliminated, leaving many of these species endangered. Some crocodilians, especially the Nile and saltwater crocodiles, are certainly as dangerous as sharks, but these reptiles have never captured as much "press" in part because their populations are largely limited to Third World countries and they, too, are vulnerable to human hunting pressure. The sea's only other creatures with the capability of consuming a human, killer and sperm whales, are not normally considered threats to man. Sharks, on the other hand, have been documented attackers (and sometime consumers) of humans around the world throughout recorded history and have remained relatively immune from human intervention.

Shark attack did not become a subject of particular public interest until the twentieth century. Several factors have contributed to the upswing in public awareness of shark attack during the last sixty years. First and foremost has been the evolution of the press from a parochial to a cosmopolitan news-gathering system that covers a larger portion of the world in a more rapid and comprehensive manner. Increased competition and a shift of journalistic values in certain quarters additionally has contributed to more active searches for "shock" stories, i.e. those that titillate the public and promote sales. Needless to say, an examination of current weekly tabloids confirms that "shark eats man" is a best-selling story line. World War II, with a plethora of air and sea disasters never before encountered during previous confrontations or in peacetime, regrettably spawned large numbers of shark attacks and spurred research to find an effective shark repellent. The general worldwide trend towards more intense utilization of marine waters for recreational activities during this time period has also increased the chances of shark-human interactions with a resulting increase in the total number of attacks. Add in fictionalized shark accounts in the popular press and movies and it's easy to see why shark attack is a hot topic.

Shark attack is a potential danger that must be acknowledged by anyone that frequents marine waters, but it should be kept in perspective. Bees, wasps and snakes are responsible for far more fatalities each year. In the United States the annual risk of death from lightning is 30 times greater than that from shark attack. For most people, any shark-human interaction is likely to occur while swimming or surfing in nearshore waters. From a statistical standpoint the chances of dying in this area are markedly higher from many other causes (such as drowning and cardiac arrest) than from shark attack. Many more people are injured and killed on land while driving to and from the beach than by sharks in the water. Shark attack trauma is also less common than such beach-related injuries as spinal damage, dehydration, jellyfish and stingray stings and sunburn. Indeed, many more sutures are expended on sea shell lacerations of the feet than on shark bites!

Nevertheless, shark attack is a hazard that must be considered by anyone entering the marine domain. As in any recreational activity, a participant must acknowledge that certain risks are part of the sport: jogging offers shin splints, camping brings ticks and mosquitoes, tennis may result in sprained ankles, and so on. Beach recreation has its inherent risks as well, and shark attack is simply one of many that must be considered before entering the water. Most people agree, however, that the extremely slim chance of even encountering a shark - much less being bitten - does not weigh heavy in their decision-making.

[Reprinted, with emendations, from: Burgess, G.H. 1991. Shark attack and the International Shark Attack File, pp. 101-105. In: Gruber, S.H. (ed.). 1990. Discovering Sharks, American Littoral Society, Highlands, New Jersey]

A comparison of Lightning Fatalities in the coastal USA (1959 - 2003)
Average Fatalities per year:
Lightning = 41.5
Sharks = 0.4 (Total Shark Attacks = 16.4)
For more comparisons, goto:

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Old 28-06-2005, 22:04   #2
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The insurance rep in me says to consider the likelyhood of an event happening. When I was surfing in NZ there had been three recorded shark attacks in the previous one hundred years. Not high enough numbers to cause me concern. As well the dolphins are on the surfers side. We new that in the sixties and do not need it to be discovered today. However the surfing spot off the end of the garbage dump in Oahu called the " shark hole " did require a regular look out for sharks. For a surfer, drowning, impact with corral, impact with surfboard, impact with another surfer are the things to be aware of.

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Old 28-08-2005, 19:13   #3
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Shark Statistics Rant

GordMay: This is not a commentary on your note but rather a continued discussion around the interesting thread you have started.

Mike: "The likelihood of the event" indeed!

I love surfing, SCUBA and sailing and I'm the last one to try to scare anyone away from these sports/lifestyles. That said, I think some folks torture the numbers a bit much. Saying that more people die in traffic accidents than via shark attack disguises the actual probabilities. If a million people drive cars and 100 are harmed in crashes the statistic of relevance is 1 in 10,000. If 10,000 people go to the beach and swim in the ocean and one is attached by a shark, the exposure is still 1 in 10,000. Comparing the 100 people in traffic accidents to the one shark attack is not really relevant. My examples aren't real statistics, just scenarios designed to make a point. I've never seen anyone construct a scientific, mathematically unbiased view on this subject (although I'm sure that one exists somewhere). Per exposure what are the odds of attack and how do these statistics compare with similar statistics around more common activities? While I'm certain at a gut level that shark attacks are rare, from a probabilistic stand point it is tiresome to get nothing but spin wildly biased to one side or the other. Probabilistically how likely is an attack beach swimming, versus surfing, versus diving? Probabilistically how likely is an attack in a particular local? Do ten attacks in Miami make it more dangerous than a small beach in South Africa? Not if the small beach had 500 visitors last year and Miami had 2 million.

I love sharks, but regardless of the stats, when I see a Bull, Tiger or White, I'm out of the water for 24 hours.

Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. -- HG Wells
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Old 29-08-2005, 04:14   #4
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I agree the statistics can be problematic. I also contend that the folks from the flat lands, with little knowledge and a lot of fear of the oceans, can also be problematic. With regards to NZ a trip to any beach during the summer months will reveal a very large number of people in the puddle, so when I say there had been only 3 shark attacks it becomes a very small number of incidence. You need to see for yourself. Statistics would be hard to formulate. A turtle bit me in the lagoon next to the Iliki hotel in Honolulu, and that is my only encounter with marine life. I surfed in NZ and Hawaii for many years. When discussing the probability of an event happening and how we plan for it, it is interesting to note that many folks to not plan for the event that will absoluely for sure happen.
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