Are Shark Attacks on the Rise?


On the 19th of February, an Australian tourist was killed in a shark attack in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. The 59-year-old was swimming around 150 meters from the shore of the Chateau-Royal beach, just south of Nouméa, when the shark attacked him, leaving him with fatal wounds.


This area of New Caledonia, 1,200 km east of Australia, ranks 13th in the world for the total number of shark attacks, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, which has kept a tally of worldwide shark attacks since 1958. In January, there were two other shark attacks near the Chateau-Royal beach, one involving a 49-year-old swimmer, who suffered serious injuries, and one involving a surfer, who managed to escape without injury.


This latest attack comes just weeks after another fatal shark attack, which involved a 16-year-old girl dying after being mauled by a shark in a river in Perth, in Western Australia. Another attack at the start of January, where a great white shark decapitated a diver off the coast of Mexico, brings the total to three fatal attacks in 2023 at the time of writing.


According to statistics, shark attacks did increase around the world in 2021 following three consecutive years of decline, with researchers recording 73 unprovoked incidents that year compared to 52 bites in 2020. While these figures may make it appear that unprovoked shark attacks are on the rise, they are on par with the five-year average of 70 incidents annually. Many believe that beach closures in 2020 caused by the pandemic could be why the numbers were lower, making them seem more dramatic than they are.


In 2022, the global total of unprovoked shark bites was also significantly lower than average, with a total of 57 unprovoked cases last year, five of which proved to be fatal. This was down from nine deaths in 2021 and 10 in 2020. But with three fatal shark attacks already in 2023, could we be seeing these numbers rise again?


Any increase in shark attacks is said to be attributed to climate change and rising temperatures, driving more people to the beach just as shark populations are recovering and possibly swimming closer to shore to feed. However, when you take into account just how many people are going into the water, the probability of being attacked by a shark is incredibly low.


While many people may have a fear of being attacked by one of these majestic creatures, many experts claim that there are many other things that are more likely to happen to you than a shark attack. The chance of being involved in a shark attack is 1 in 3,748,067 compared to something like heart disease, which kills 1 in 5 people in the US. You are even more likely to be struck by lightning or win at one of the best high roller casino sites than you are to be bitten by a shark.


Researchers don’t know for sure why sharks attack people. One possibility could be because they feel threatened, especially as when people are in the sea, they are in shark territory. Another possibility is a case of ‘mistaken identity’, where sharks might mistake swimmers or surfers for food, like a seal or fish. This idea is further backed up by the fact that people are bitten but rarely consumed.


Despite the odds of actually being bitten, most people are still terrified of sharks. Scientists researching why we are scared believe that the 1975 movie “Jaws” caused a generation of people to develop galeophobia – an irrational fear of sharks. On top of this, the media influences people's attitude and perception, often exaggerating the danger that these animals pose.


While the figures so far in January and February seem relatively high, it is common to see annual fluctuations in shark-human interactions. It will be interesting to see whether climate change and warming waters will impact shark attack numbers in the future, or whether the numbers will in fact decrease. What we do know for sure is that humans are in fact more harmful to sharks, with an estimated 100 million sharks killed a year, so while we may be scared of them, they should in fact be more scared of us.


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