SHARK! Watch Your Toes on Spring Break!

Florida is #1 in attacks

Photo: Brent T. Wheat
shark attacks
A rotten way to end a body-boarding trip! Sorozatgyilkos fehér cápa(CC BY 2.0) by lwpkommunikacio

Just in time for late winter vacations and spring breakers making plans for beach parties comes this warning from the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida. The U.S.A. topped the rest of the world in reported shark attacks in 2017.

The U of F program, called the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), investigated 155 incidents of alleged shark-human interaction occurring worldwide in 2017. Eighty-eight cases represent confirmed unprovoked shark attacks on humans. Thirty of the remaining cases were confirmed as provoked attacks on humans.

Unprovoked attacks are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurred in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark. Who would provoke a shark?

More than you would guess. Provoked attacks occur when a human initiates physical contact with a shark, such as when a scuba diver or snorkeler is bitten after grabbing a shark (not smart), attacks on spear-fishers (Who can blame the fish?), people feeding sharks (They can’t find their own food?) and bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a hook or fishing net. Full disclosure – I’ve done this, but I used a large, long pair of needle-nose pliers.

Of the remaining 37 cases, 18 involved bites to motorized or non-motorized marine vessels (boat attacks), two involved shark-inflicted post-mortem bites on people who died in some other way, four were cases in which the shark-human interaction could not be confirmed based on the available data and one case involved a diver in a public aquarium.

ISAF ruled another dozen reported cases as “doubtful.” They decided these were mistaken shark reports in which the incidents were actually bites from stingrays, barracudas or other toothy fish as well some being cuts and abrasions from sharp objects, perhaps man-made, coral or sea shells.

Last year’s number is up, slightly, from the previous few years which had an average of 83 annual attacks, including 2015 when 98 shark bites were tallied. That’s the bad news. The good news is for the first time in several years, none of the attacks in the U.S. last year were fatal.

Elsewhere, in the world, only five shark-imposed deaths were reported.

Obviously, if you are worried about being attacked by a shark the best prevention is to avoid provoking them since about half the attacks fall into that category. (Although shark fishing is fun and exciting.) Discounting those, the U.S. still leads the way in the world and in the U.S., Florida ranks far ahead of the other states. Number two is South Carolina and Hawaii comes in third, with six shark/human incidents.

People engaged in various water-related activities and recreations are not equally susceptible to being attacked. By far, surfers are mostly likely to be attacked, reporting nearly 60 percent of the incidents, followed by swimmers/waders at 25 percent and divers coming in at about 10 percent.

It’s simple logic, the number of human-shark interactions is directly correlated with time spent by humans in the sea. As the world population and interest in aquatic recreation continues to rise, it’s only logical to expect the incidence of shark attacks to increase, as well. Continued technological advancements have allowed the ISAF to greatly expand its global communications with observers and beach safety organizations both locally and internationally. Increased attention given to sharks in the media has promoted public interest in shark attacks around the world, leading to better documentation of human-shark interactions.

Still, when you think of the uncounted millions of people around the world who occasionally or regularly swim, dive even ride surfboards in the world’s oceans, shark attacks are extremely rare. Far more people in total, a far greater percentage of people overall, are injured or die participating in bicycling, golfing, horseback riding, playing soccer and other seemingly normal and non-threatening activities.

So don’t shy away from those beach holidays you are planning, and when you go, don’t feed the sharks.

More Scary Reading-

International Shark Attack File website

Mike Schoonveld
Mike Schoonveld grew up hunting and fishing in rural Northwest Indiana. In 1986 he piggy-backed a career as an outdoor writer onto his already long tenure as a wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR. Now retired from his DNR position, Schoonveld is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed boat captain, operates Brother Nature Charters on Lake Michigan and spends much of his time trailering his boat to fishing hotspots around Indiana and the Midwest. Mike can be reached through his website or visit Mike's Outdoor World Blog at


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