Last year saw a total of 98 unprovoked sharkattacks on humans worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack File, which investigates and collects data related to these incidents. Out of these attacks, six of the victims subsequently died. The figure for 2015 is the highest ever recorded, yet this does not mean the rate of shark attacks has increased.
In fact, the number of attacks this year was on par with the average seen over the past decade. However, if we look at the bigger picturetaken from records dating back to the1950sthetotalshave actually been declining,due to an increase in the number of people spending time in the water.And when these figures are compared to other animal attacks, they palein significance even more. In the United States alone, for example, 4.5 million people a year are bitten by dogs, which in 2015 led to 35deaths.
Surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark on live TV during a surfing competition last year. CNN/YouTube
Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the sharks natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark, and as such do not include any that occur when fishermen are removing hooks from their mouth, when spear fishermen are out hunting, or when divers are bitafter grabbing the animals.
The United States saw the highest number of incidents, recording 59 attacks, with Australia and South Africa following with 18 and eight,respectively. Interestingly, the data shows that the number of attacks off NorthAmerican states has increased, thought to be due to sharks movinginto the ever-warming waters.
The increase in attackshas also been attributed to a rise in the number of people now living by the coast, and therefore entering the water. This assertion has been backed up by data presented on the Australian ABC news program Four Corners, in which records dating back 50 years showed that there was a link between the number of people in a region and shark attacks, but no correlation between shark population sizeand attack rate.
Surfing and board sports are considered the most dangerous activities when it comes to the number ofreported shark attacks, but they are still incredibly rare. mingis/Shutterstock
I can show statistically that there is no relationship between the number of sharks out there and the number of attacks, Deakin Universitys Laurie Laurenson told Four Corners. Its just simply not there. I dont know. Im surprised that its not there but its not there.
The program also talked to CSIRO shark expert Barry Bruce, who claimed that shark nets, which are frequently deployed to protect popular beaches from the animals, do nothing to reduce the chance of people being attacked. This is because the nets never fully reachthe sea floorand only cover a small fraction of the beaches people are using, meaning the sharks simply swim right through them.
The report says that as populations on the coast increase, the number of attacks will only rise in tandem. The best advice is to know who is most at risk, and to then be aware and pay attention to your surroundings. Out of the reported incidents in 2015, the majority occurred on those participating in board sports(such as surfing), followed by swimmers, and then snorkelers, while there were zero attacks on scuba divers. Finally, they note that people should avoid swimming at dawn, dusk, or at night.