Shark attack
Overview
 
A shark attack is an attack on a human by a shark
Shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

. Every year around 60 shark attacks are reported worldwide, although death is quite unusual. Despite the relative rarity of shark attacks, the fear of sharks is a common phenomenon, having been fueled by the occasional instances of serial attacks, such as the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916
The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were a series of shark attacks along the coast of New Jersey between July 1 and July 12, 1916, in which four people were killed and one injured. Since 1916, scholars have debated which shark species was responsible and the number of animals involved, with the...

, and by horror fiction and films, such as the Jaws
Jaws (film)
Jaws is a 1975 American horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name. In the story, the police chief of Amity Island, a fictional summer resort town, tries to protect beachgoers from a giant man-eating great white shark by closing the beach,...

series. Almost all shark experts feel that the danger presented by sharks has been exaggerated, and even the creator of the Jaws phenomenon, the late Peter Benchley
Peter Benchley
Peter Bradford Benchley was an American author, best known for his novel Jaws and its subsequent film adaptation, the latter co-written by Benchley and directed by Steven Spielberg...

, attempted to dispel the myth of sharks being man-eating monsters in the years before his death.
In 2000, the year with the most recorded shark attacks, there were 79 shark attacks reported worldwide, 11 of them fatal.
Encyclopedia
A shark attack is an attack on a human by a shark
Shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

. Every year around 60 shark attacks are reported worldwide, although death is quite unusual. Despite the relative rarity of shark attacks, the fear of sharks is a common phenomenon, having been fueled by the occasional instances of serial attacks, such as the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916
Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916
The Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 were a series of shark attacks along the coast of New Jersey between July 1 and July 12, 1916, in which four people were killed and one injured. Since 1916, scholars have debated which shark species was responsible and the number of animals involved, with the...

, and by horror fiction and films, such as the Jaws
Jaws (film)
Jaws is a 1975 American horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name. In the story, the police chief of Amity Island, a fictional summer resort town, tries to protect beachgoers from a giant man-eating great white shark by closing the beach,...

series. Almost all shark experts feel that the danger presented by sharks has been exaggerated, and even the creator of the Jaws phenomenon, the late Peter Benchley
Peter Benchley
Peter Bradford Benchley was an American author, best known for his novel Jaws and its subsequent film adaptation, the latter co-written by Benchley and directed by Steven Spielberg...

, attempted to dispel the myth of sharks being man-eating monsters in the years before his death.

Statistics

In 2000, the year with the most recorded shark attacks, there were 79 shark attacks reported worldwide, 11 of them fatal. In 2005 and 2006 this number decreased to 61 and 62 respectively, while the number of fatalities dropped to only four per year. Of these attacks, the majority occurred in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 (53 in 2000, 40 in 2005, and 39 in 2006). The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

reported in July 2008 that there had been only one fatal attack in the previous year. On average, there are 16 shark attacks per year in the United States with one fatality every two years. Despite these reports, however, the actual number of fatal shark attacks worldwide remains uncertain. For the majority of third world coastal nations there exists no method of reporting suspected shark attacks therefore losses and fatalities at near-shore or sea there often remain unsolved or unpublicized.

The United States has had more reported shark attacks than any other country, with a total of 1,049 attacks (49 fatal) during the past 339 years (1670–2009). According to the International Shark Attack File
International Shark Attack File
The International Shark Attack File is a global database of shark attacks. It began as an attempt to catalogue shark attacks on servicemen during World War II. The Office of Naval Research funded it from 1958 until 1968. During that time a panel of shark experts developed a standard system for...

, the states in the U.S. where the most attacks have occurred in are Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, and the Carolinas
The Carolinas
The Carolinas is a term used in the United States to refer collectively to the states of North and South Carolina. Together, the two states + have a population of 13,942,126. "Carolina" would be the fifth most populous state behind California, Texas, New York, and Florida...

, though attacks have occurred in almost every coastal state. Outside the U.S., Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 (since records started in 1791, 875 attacks of which 214 were fatal) and South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 have had the most attacks.

As of 2010, the ISAF
International Shark Attack File
The International Shark Attack File is a global database of shark attacks. It began as an attempt to catalogue shark attacks on servicemen during World War II. The Office of Naval Research funded it from 1958 until 1968. During that time a panel of shark experts developed a standard system for...

 recorded a total of 2,320 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide since 1580, with 447 attacks being fatal. The location with the most recorded shark attacks is New Smyrna Beach, Florida
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
New Smyrna Beach is a city in Volusia County, Florida, United States. The population was 20,048 according to the 2000 census. As of 2007, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 23,161.-History:...

. First world nations such as the United States, Australia, both high income countries, and to some extent South Africa, an upper middle income country, facilitate more thorough documentation of shark attacks on humans than poorer coastal countries.

The Florida Museum of Natural History
Florida Museum of Natural History
The Florida Museum of Natural History is the State of Florida's official state-sponsored and chartered natural history museum. Its main facilities are located on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida....

 compares these statistics with the much higher rate of deaths from other, less feared causes. For example, an average of more than 38 people die annually from lightning
Lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

 strikes in coastal states, while less than 1 person per year is killed by a shark. In comparison, 100 million sharks are killed every year by humans.

Even considering only people who go to beaches, a person's chance of getting attacked by a shark is 1 in 11.5 million, and a person's chance of getting killed by a shark is less than 1 in 264.1 million. In the United States, the annual number of people who drown is 3,306, whereas the annual number of shark fatalities is 1.

Species involved in incidents

Contrary to popular belief, only a few sharks are dangerous to humans. Out of more than 360 shark species, only four have been involved in a significant number of fatal unprovoked attacks on humans: the great white
Great white shark
The great white shark, scientific name Carcharodon carcharias, also known as the great white, white pointer, white shark, or white death, is a large lamniform shark found in coastal surface waters in all major oceans. It is known for its size, with the largest individuals known to have approached...

, tiger
Tiger shark
The tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, is a species of requiem shark and the only member of the genus Galeocerdo. Commonly known as sea tigers, tiger sharks are relatively large macropredators, capable of attaining a length of over . It is found in many tropical and temperate waters, and is...

, bull
Bull shark
The bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, also known as Zambezi shark or unofficially known as Zambi in Africa and Nicaragua shark in Nicaragua, is a shark common worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers...

 and the oceanic whitetip
Oceanic whitetip shark
The oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, is a large pelagic shark inhabiting tropical and warm temperate seas. Its stocky body is most notable for its long, white-tipped, rounded fins....

. These sharks, being large, powerful predators, may sometimes attack and kill people; however, they have all been filmed in open water by unprotected divers. The 2010 French film Oceans shows footage of humans swimming next to sharks deep in the ocean. It is possible that the sharks are able to sense the presence of unnatural elements on or about the divers, such as polyurethane diving suits and air tanks, which may lead them to accept temporary outsiders as more of a curiosity than prey. Uncostumed humans, however, such as those surfboarding, light snorkeling, or swimming, present a much greater area of open meaty flesh to carnivorous shark predators. In addition the presence of even small traces of blood, recent minor abrasions, cuts, scrapes, or bruises, may convince sharks to attack a human in their environment. Some sharks such as the Hammerhead
Hammerhead
- Fiction :* Hammerheads, a 1990 book by Dale Brown.* Hammerhead, a 1964 Charles Hood secret agent novel by James Mayo* Hammerhead , a 1968 film based on the novel by James Mayo* Hammerhead , a 1987 Italian action film...

 seek out prey through electromagnetic detection, an unpreventable transmission relative to natural human intervention in an oceanic environment. Most of the oceanic whitetip shark's attacks have not been recorded, unlike the other three species mentioned above. Famed oceanographic researcher Jacques Cousteau described the oceanic whitetip as "the most dangerous of all sharks".

Modern day statistics show the oceanic whitetip shark as being seldom involved in unprovoked attacks. However, there have been a number of attacks involving this species, particularly during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. The oceanic whitetip lives in the open sea and rarely shows up near coasts, where most recorded incidents occur. During the world wars many ship and aircraft disasters happened in the open ocean, and due to its former abundance the oceanic whitetip was often the first species on site when such a disaster happened.

Infamous examples of oceanic whitetip attacks include the sinking of the Nova Scotia, a steamship carrying 1000 people, that was sunk near South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 by a German submarine in World War II. Only 192 people survived, with many deaths attributed to the oceanic whitetip shark. The same species is probably responsible for many of the of the 60–80 or more shark casualties following the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis
USS Indianapolis (CA-35)
USS Indianapolis was a of the United States Navy. She holds a place in history due to the circumstances of her sinking, which led to the greatest single loss of life at sea in the history of the U.S. Navy...

 on 30 July 1945; tiger sharks may also have been involved.
In addition to the four species responsible for a significant number of fatal attacks on humans, a number of other species have attacked humans without being provoked, and have on extremely rare occasions been responsible for a human death. This group includes the shortfin mako
Shortfin mako shark
The shortfin mako shark, Isurus oxyrinchus , is a large mackerel shark. Along with the closely related longfin mako it is commonly referred to as a "mako shark".-Etymology:...

, hammerhead
Hammerhead shark
The hammerhead sharks are a group of sharks in the family Sphyrnidae, so named for the unusual and distinctive structure of their heads, which are flattened and laterally extended into a "hammer" shape called a "cephalofoil". Most hammerhead species are placed in the genus Sphyrna while the...

, Galapagos
Galapagos shark
The Galapagos shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, found worldwide. This species favors clear reef environments around oceanic islands, where it is often the most abundant shark species...

, gray reef
Gray reef shark
The grey reef shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae. One of the most common reef sharks in the Indo-Pacific, it is found as far east as Easter Island and as far west as South Africa. This species is most often seen in shallow water near the drop-offs of coral reefs...

, blacktip reef
Blacktip reef shark
The blacktip reef shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, easily identified by the prominent black tips on its fins...

, lemon
Lemon shark
The lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, is a shark in the family Carcharhinidae, that can grow to long. It is known as the lemon shark because, at certain depths, light interacting with the local seawater can give this shark a tanned and yellow pitted appearance, much like the surface of a...

, silky
Silky shark
The silky shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, named for the smooth texture of its skin. It is one of the most abundant sharks in the pelagic zone, and can be found around the world in tropical waters. Highly mobile and migratory, this shark is most often found over the edge...

, and blue
Blue shark
The blue shark is a species of requiem shark, family Carcharhinidae, that inhabits deep waters in the world's temperate and tropical oceans. Preferring cooler waters, blue sharks migrate long distances, for example from New England to South America. Although generally lethargic, they can move very...

 sharks. These sharks are also large, powerful predators which can be provoked simply by being in the water at the wrong time and place, but they are normally considered less dangerous to humans than the previous group.

A few other shark species do attack people every year, producing wounds that can potentially kill, but this occurs either specifically because they have been provoked, or through mistaken identity due to water conditions or the like.

In the evening of 16 March 2009 a new addition was made to the list of sharks known to attack human beings. In a painful but not directly life threatening incident a long distance swimmer crossing the Alenuihaha Channel between the islands of Hawai‘i and Maui was attacked by a cookiecutter shark
Cookiecutter shark
The cookiecutter shark , also called the cigar shark, is a species of small dogfish shark in the family Dalatiidae. This shark occurs in warm, oceanic waters worldwide, particularly near islands, and has been recorded from as deep as . It migrates vertically up to every day, approaching the...

. The 2 bites, delivered about 15 seconds apart were not immediately life threatening.

Types of attacks

Scientists have defined two types of shark attacks, one of which has three subcategories:
  • Provoked attack – the human touches the shark, pokes it, teases it, or otherwise aggravates/provokes it in some way.
  • Unprovoked attack
    • Hit-and-run attack – Usually non-fatal, the shark bites and then leaves; most victims do not see the shark.
    • Sneak attack – Victim will not usually see the shark, and they may receive repeated deep bites. This is the most fatal kind of shark attack.
    • Bump-and-bite attack – The shark bumps before biting and then normally swims away.


An incident occurred in 2011 when a 3-metre long great white shark jumped onto a 7-person research vessel
Research vessel
A research vessel is a ship designed and equipped to carry out research at sea. Research vessels carry out a number of roles. Some of these roles can be combined into a single vessel, others require a dedicated vessel...

 off Seal Island, South Africa. The crew were undertaking a population study using sardines as bait, and the incident was judged to be an accident.

Reasons for attacks

Large sharks species are apex predators in their environment, and thus have little fear of any creature they cross paths with. Like most sophisticated hunters, they are curious when they encounter something unusual in their territories. Lacking any limbs with sensitive digits such as hands or feet, the only way they can explore an object or organism is to bite it; these bites are known as exploratory bites. Generally, shark bites are exploratory, and the animal will swim away after one bite. For example, exploratory bites on surfers are thought to be caused by the shark mistaking the surfer for the shape of prey. Nonetheless, a single bite can grievously injure a human if the animal involved is a powerful predator like a great white or tiger shark.

Despite a few rare exceptions, it has been concluded that feeding is not a reason sharks attack humans. In fact, humans don't provide enough high-fat meat for sharks, which need a lot of energy to power their large, muscular bodies".

Sharks normally make one swift attack and then retreat to wait for the victim to die or exhaust itself before returning to feed. This protects the shark from injury from a wounded and aggressive target; however, it also allows humans time to get out of the water and survive. Shark attacks may also occur due to territorial reasons or as dominance over another shark species, resulting in an attack.

Sharks are equipped with sensory organs called the Ampullae of Lorenzini
Ampullae of Lorenzini
The ampullae of Lorenzini are special sensing organs called electroreceptors, forming a network of jelly-filled pores. They are mostly discussed as being found in cartilaginous fishes ; however, they are also reported to be found in Chondrostei such as Reedfish and sturgeon. Lungfish have also been...

 that detect the electricity generated by muscle movement; another theory is that the shark's electrical receptors, which pick up movement, pick up the signals like those emitted by wounded fish from someone who is fishing or spearfishing, and thus attack the person by mistake.

George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, said the following regarding why people are attacked: "Attacks are basically an odds game based on how many hours you are in the water".

Prevention

While there is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of a shark attack when one is in the water, one may take precautions such as:
  • avoiding the water at dawn, dusk, or night, when sharks tend to feed;
  • avoiding areas where sharks generally locate themselves, such as murky waters and steep drop-offs
  • avoiding swimming alone, always being near a group of people, and if possible, avoiding being at the edge of the group;
  • refraining from excess splashing or movement;
  • preventing pets from entering the water;
  • avoiding shiny jewelry, tan lines and bright clothing, all of which can attract sharks;
  • avoiding entering water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating;
  • avoiding areas where prey animals of sharks live, for instance seals;
  • avoiding areas where the remains of fish have been discarded into the water, such as near fishermen cleaning their catch.
  • sharks attack at 2-3 feet of water so remember to stay closer than that in shark infested waters.

Dolphins' protection

There are many documented instances of dolphin
Dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

s protecting humans from shark attacks, such as one attack on a surfer in northern California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 in August 2007 and one off the coast of New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 in 2004. Typically, dolphins form a ring around humans who are injured. There is no accepted explanation for this behavior; as mentioned in the Journal of Zoology, "The importance of interactions between sharks and cetaceans has been a subject of much conjecture, but few studies have addressed these interactions". In some cases, sharks have been seen attacking, or trying to attack dolphins. The presence of porpoises does not indicate the absence of sharks as both eat the same food.

Media impacts

The effect the media has on the population's view of shark attacks has generally been negative. Using such theories as the cultivation theory
Cultivation theory
Cultivation theory is a social theory which examined the long-term effects of television on American audiences of all ages.Developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania, cultivation theory derived from several large-scale research projects as part of an overall...

 and the effects of "mean world syndrome", it is simple to see how such media as television and movies can quickly affect a person’s view. Starting with the effects generated from news broadcasts, a shark attack is quickly broadcast across the country, particularly if fatal, even though more people die from random occurrences such as lightning strikes than from a shark attack. This will bring the fear of a shark attack to life as it becomes a reality for many that hear of a particular incident. This heightened state of unnecessary fear is accredited to the sometimes negative portrayal of sharks through television and motion pictures. Films such as Jaws were the cause of large scale hunting and killing of thousands of sharks. There are some television shows, such as the famous Shark Week, that are dedicated to the preservation of these animals. They are able to prove through scientific studies that sharks are not interested in attacking humans and generally mistake humans as prey. It is however, a mixture of these media exposures that keep many people out of the water for fear of a shark attack.

See also

  • Summer of the Shark
    Summer of the Shark
    The Summer of the Shark refers to the coverage of shark attacks by American news media in the summer of 2001. The sensationalist coverage of shark attacks began in early July following the Fourth of July weekend shark attack on 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast, and continued almost unabated—despite no...

  • Red Triangle (Pacific Ocean)
    Red Triangle (Pacific Ocean)
    The Red Triangle is the colloquial name of a roughly triangle-shaped region off the coast of northern California, extending from Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco, out slightly beyond the Farallon Islands, and down to the Big Sur region, south of Monterey...

  • List of fatal, unprovoked shark attacks in the United States
  • Hannah Mighall
    Hannah Mighall
    Hannah Mighall , is a resident of Scamander, Tasmania, who is notable for surviving an attack from a five meter great white shark....

     – survived an attack by a 5 m great white shark
  • 2010 Sharm el-Sheikh shark attacks
    2010 Sharm el-Sheikh shark attacks
    The 2010 Sharm el-Sheikh shark attacks were a series of attacks by sharks on swimmers off the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. On 1 December 2010, three Russians and one Ukrainian were seriously injured within minutes of each other, and on 5 December 2010 a German woman was killed, when...

  • Bethany Hamilton
    Bethany Hamilton
    Bethany Meilani Hamilton is an American professional surfer. She is known for surviving a shark attack in which she lost her left arm, and for overcoming the injury to ultimately return to professional surfing. She wrote about her experience in the 2004 autobiography Soul Surfer: A True Story of...


External links

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