The number of shark attacks around the world has decreased for 3 consecutive years. In 2021, however, the number of shark attacks has increased again.
In 2020, there were 52 confirmed shark bites, which was the lowest annual tally in over 10 years, according to new data. published by the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF). In 2021, on the other hand, there were 73 bites, which trails the global 5-year average.
“Shark bites have dropped drastically in 2020 due to the pandemic [and its associated beach closures following COVID-19 restrictions]”, ISAF Director Tyler Bowling, wrote in a summary. “Last year was much more typical, with an average number of bites from an assortment of species and deaths from white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks.”
Florida, as it has for years, leads the world as the place where the most shark bites have occurred. In fact, there were 28 unprovoked shark bites in Florida last year, compared to 19 in the rest of the United States and 26 outside the United States, according to ISAF data.
Additionally, of the 28 unprovoked shark bites in Florida, 63% — or 17 bites — occurred in Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach.
Two types of shark bites
There are two types of shark bites: unprovoked bites and provoked bites.
“Unprovoked bites are defined as incidents in which a bite on a living human being occurs in the shark’s natural habitat without human provocation of the shark,” says ISAF.
Induced bites, on the other hand, are those that “occur when a human initiates an interaction with a shark in some way,” ISAF notes. “These include cases where divers are bitten after harassing or attempting to touch sharks, bites on spearfishers, bites on people trying to feed sharks, bites occurring when unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, etc.”
The ISAF investigates all reported shark bites, but pays particular attention to unprovoked bites. Indeed, studying these incidents helps researchers better understand the natural behavior of sharks, which, in turn, leads to the development of mitigation strategies so that humans are bitten less frequently.
Shark bites around the world
Of the 73 unprovoked shark bites in 2021, 64% – or 47 bites – occurred near US shores. Of these, all but five took place along the Atlantic coast.
ISAF explains that there are two reasons why so many unprovoked shark bites occur in Florida. First, Florida has the second-highest population growth rate in the United States, ISAF notes, which means there are a lot of people in Florida. Second, going to the beach is an increasingly popular activity. This combination means that the number of people on Florida beaches continues to grow rapidly.
Australia, as has also been the case in recent years, was the country with the second highest number of unprovoked shark bites in 2021 – with 12 bites, according to ISAF data. Three unprovoked shark bites occurred last year in Brazil and New Zealand. An unprovoked shark bite also occurred in Canada, Ecuador and St. Kitts and Nevis last year.
Who was bitten and where
Following the expected trend, most – 51% – of people who received unprovoked shark bites were surfers and people involved in board sports. This group can unwittingly attract sharks by splashing and paddling. Swimmers and waders were involved in 39% of the incidents, and the rest were either snorkelers/free divers or body surfers, according to the data.
The reason surfers and boarders are so often bitten by sharks is that they are on the water in and around surf areas. “This thin strip of water, where incoming waves that may have traveled hundreds of miles eventually latch on to the rising coastal seafloor and overturn, creates the perfect environment for surfers and sharks,” says the ISAF.
“Coastlines and marine estuaries are a favorite feeding area for a variety of fish, which take advantage of the tides to find new foods and forage near the shallow seabed for plants and invertebrates,” continues ISAF. “These small fish, in turn, attract sharks, which sometimes mistake humans for prey.”
How to stay safe
The good news is that with the growing number of people on the beaches and in the ocean, the total number of unprovoked shark bites each year is extremely low.
One of the reasons the risk and incidence of unprovoked shark bites is low stems from growing education about how to avoid encounters with sharks in areas they are known to frequent. For example, the ISAF provides many suggestions on ways to reduce the risk of being bitten by a shark, including avoiding splashing in open water, as sharks may mistake this activity for struggling fish. Other tips to avoid the risk of being bitten by a shark are to stay close to shore, avoid swimming at dusk or dawn, and don’t swim around schools of fish or where people are fishing. .
You can find more tips to be safe and reduce the risk of being bitten by a shark here.
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