- Out of the 500 shark species, only 3 are considered really dangerous.
- Shark attacks, however, are rare; the risk is considered very low, about 1:10 vs a deadly lightning strike.
- Since the 1970s, shark populations had been decimated by up to 70%.
- Find out ways to avoid risk of shark attack.
News of shark attacks grab headlines. There are compelling reasons why shark stories — and movies — draw attention. They capture the public's imagination due to a cocktail of fear, fascination and the occasional dramatic events.
In the social media era, shark attacks are sure-shot viral clips.
However, even as such incidents get significant attention, including the recent shark attack in Egypt, the actual risk of a shark attack remains low — compared to other risks in our daily lives.
In the face of plain shark facts, however, sensational flicks are sure to get greater mind share.
Shark terrorising people — on films
Sharks have terrorised people, but it’s more for their reels effect. For example, the blacktip reef shark have occasionally been known to bite people that are swimming or wading but do not pose a serious threat to humans. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) has recorded just 11 unprovoked blacktip reef shark bites on humans since 1959.
On the other hand, great white sharks are dangerous both underwater and above water, breaching the water surface occasionally to catch prey. Because of their size, power, and lethal hunting prowess, the great whites are responsible for more attacks on humans than any other shark species.
The National Geographic reports: “Of the 100-plus annual shark attacks worldwide, a third to a half are attributed to great white sharks. Most of these, however, are not fatal.”
Even Steven Spielberg, who directed the 1975 Oscar-winning thriller Jaws — which tells the story of a “man-eating” great white shark — now regrets the movie’s effect on shark populations, knowing how they have declined more than 70 per cent since the 1970s, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts report.
What you need to know about sharks:
Do sharks actively hunt humans for food?
A 2021 study published by Macguire University in Sydney, Australia states: “Attacks are extremely rare and people are rarely consumed by sharks. A shark is capable of eating someone if they wanted to — but it often doesn’t, which suggests we're not considered prey and certainly not targeted, so that should allay a lot of fears.”
Attacks are extremely rare and people are rarely consumed by sharks. A shark is capable of eating someone if they wanted to — but it often doesn’t, which suggests we're not considered prey and certainly not targeted, so that should allay a lot of fears.
How do sharks detect their prey?
Sharks have remarkable sensory systems that enable them to detect and locate their prey. Some ways in which sharks sense and locate their food:
Olfaction (Sense of Smell):
Sharks have evolved a highly developed sense of smell. Their snout-mounted olfactory organs are highly sensitive to chemical cues in the water. Sharks are capable of detecting fragrance molecules in extremely small concentrations — for as little as one part per million (1ppm). They employ this sensitivity to find possible prey by spotting body fluids — like blood and other chemical clues.
A specialised sensory system called the “ampullae of Lorenzini” is found in several shark species. The shark's head and snout include tiny gel-filled pores that are able to pick up weak electric fields produced by other organisms' muscle contractions and nerve impulses. Sharks can discover prey that may be hidden or buried in sand or mud because to electroreception.
Lateral Line System:
The lateral line is the name of the shark's sensory system. It is made up of a network of canals that are filled with fluid and flow along their sides. Sharks can track the movements of nearby prey or other underwater objects using this system, which also detects changes in water pressure and vibrations.
Sharks have keen eyesight that is tailored to their aquatic surroundings. They have unique adaptations that enable them to see in low light, such as a large number of light-sensitive cells (rods) in their retinas. Some shark species have a reflective coating called the tapetum lucidum behind their retina that improves their vision in low-light conditions.
Even in situations where sight may be limited, sharks may successfully detect and track their prey — by combining various sensory talents. Some shark species may rely more heavily on particular senses. That entirely depends on their biological niche and hunting tactics.
What do sharks prey on?
Sharks eat almost anything — fishes, crustaceans, seals, seabirds, invertebrates, molluscs, marine mammals, and other sharks.
Certain shark species, however, eat some foods more than others. While hammerheads are known for preying on stingrays, bull sharks eat other sharks.
Great whites prey on sea lions, and tiger sharks feed on several species of sea turtles.
Tiger sharks, known as "garbage cans of the sea”, feed on both live food and carrion. They are ecologically important predators of sea turtles and snakes.
In general, sharks are known as opportunistic eaters — they prey most often on the weak, inferior members of the population.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, sharks attack humans when they are confused or curious.
Where are sharks found? How do they live?
In all of the world's oceans, sharks can be found in both deep and shallow waters. To procreate and feed, some animals travel great distances. Some species live alone (solitary), while others occasionally gather in groups. For instance, it has been shown that lemon sharks gather in groups to socialise.
Even though some sharks will occasionally form schools, most sharks prefer to hunt and live alone, only gathering with other sharks when necessary, such as during mating.
How many shark attacks were recorded in 2022?
In 2022, the latest for which data is available, 57 incidents of “shark attacks” were recorded by the "International Shark Attack File" (ISAF), which is under the Florida Museum of Natural History. ISAF investigated 108 alleged shark-human interactions worldwide in 2022.
70Average annual incidents of unprovoked shark incidents annually (2017-2021)/ Source: ISAF
How many deaths are attributed to shark bites?
In 2022, there were nine shark-related fatalities — five of which are assigned as “unprovoked”. This number is in line with the five-year annual global average of six unprovoked fatalities per year, according to ISAF.
Do sharks stay in one place?
Sharks migrate. Oceanographers point to a variability in oceanographic, socioeconomic and meteorological conditions from year to year which significantly influences the local abundance of sharks in the water.
Great white sharks travel as much as 4,000 km (2,500 miles), equivalent to the distance between Dubai and Istanbul, in an open ocean, where their prey may be scarce.
Now, using extensive satellite tracking data, scientists have found that tiger shark migrations have shifted poleward, a response to 40 years of ocean warming, according to a NOAA Fisheries paper published in January 2022 in Global Change Biology.
Over the past decade, geolocation tagging of sharks has revealed that their arrival times to northern areas have also occurred earlier in the year during extremely warm periods, according to a Shark Research Unit report. “Potential consequences of these climate-driven alterations include increasing shark vulnerability to fishing, disruption of predator-prey interactions and changes in encounter rates with humans,” the report stated.
What’s the difference between unprovoked vs provoked shark bites?
“Unprovoked bites” are defined as incidents in which a bite on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.
“Provoked bites” occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, bites on spearfishers, bites on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net and so forth.
Compared this to average of 6 unprovoked fatalities from shark-human interactions (5 recorded in 2022), according to the "International Shark Attack File" (ISAF).
What is the risk of being bitten by a shark?
The risk of being bitten by a shark remains extremely low, according to Gavin Naylor, ISAF Programme Director, under the Florida Museum of Natural History — University of Florida.
Based on available data, both fatal and non-fatal bites are trending down in the short term. Given the number of individuals that partake in aquatic leisure each year, the total number of unprovoked shark bites globally is incredibly low.
Compared to decades ago, the number of fatalities has decreased as a result of improvements in medical care, public awareness, and beach safety.
Why do shark stories grab headlines?
Shark stories often hog headlines and capture public attention for several reasons, including:
Sharks are often portrayed as apex predators and evoke a primal fear in humans. The idea of a powerful creature lurking beneath the ocean's surface, capable of inflicting harm, triggers our instinctual fears and captivates our attention.
Rare and dramatic events
While shark attacks on humans are relatively rare, when they do occur, they tend to be dramatic and receive significant media coverage. These incidents, combined with graphic imagery and personal stories, attract public interest.
• ISAF confirmed 57 unprovoked shark bites on humans and 32 provoked bites.
• Of the remaining 19 cases, four involved bites to motorized or non-motorized marine vessels (“boat bites”), two sea disasters where victim’s boats sank, and four involved shark-inflicted post-mortem bites (“scavenge”).
• Three cases were regarded as “doubtful,” or incidents that likely did not involve a shark. These included one case attributed to a bluefish and one collision with a shark.
• In three cases, the nature of the incident was unclear with the available data (“No assignment could be made”). An additional two cases could not be confirmed as a shark-human interaction (“Not confirmed”).
• Surfers and those participating in board sports accounted for less incidents (35% of the total cases), which bucks recent trends.
• Swimmers and waders accounted for the majority of incidents at 43%. Snorkelers/free divers accounted for 9%, and the remainder of activities were too varied to combine.
• These included jumping in the water, floating on a raft, and scuba diving (13%).
Human interest and fascination
Sharks have long fascinated humans. Their ancient evolutionary history, impressive size, and unique adaptations make them intriguing creatures. People are naturally curious about these apex predators and are drawn to stories that feature them.
Pop culture impact
Movies like Jaws have left an indelible mark on popular culture, perpetuating the image of sharks as menacing and dangerous. The influence of such movies has contributed to the continued fascination and media coverage of shark-related stories.
In recent years, there has been growing awareness about the importance of shark conservation. Issues such as overfishing, habitat destruction, and the impact of shark finning have gained attention, leading to increased coverage of shark-related news stories to highlight these concerns.
Dos and don'ts: How to reduce the odds of a shark bite
Steps you can take to reduce your chances of being bitten by a shark:
- Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to bite a solitary individual.
- Refrain from excess splashing, as this may draw a shark's attention.
- Do not wander too far from shore — this isolates an individual and places him or her far away from assistance.
- Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active.
- Do not enter the water if bleeding from an open wound or if menstruating — a shark’s ability to smell blood is acute.
- Wearing shiny jewellery is discouraged. When light reflects off shiny jewellery, it resembles the sheen of fish scales.
- Avoid waters with known discharges or sewage and waters used for any type of fishing-especially if there are signs of baitfishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds, which frequently feed on bait fishes, are good indicators of such activity.
- Use extra caution when waters are murky.
- Remember that sharks see contrast particularly well. Uneven tans and bright coloured clothing may draw a shark's attention.
- Do not allow pets in the water: their erratic movements may draw a shark’s attention.
- Be careful when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs — these are favourite hangouts for sharks.
- Swim only in areas tended by lifeguards.
- Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present, and get out of the water if sharks are sighted.
- Never harass a shark.