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Shark 'Attacks' (Bite Incidents)
Did you know? more people are killed every year by dogs, bees, lightning and lions than by sharks.
Of the more than 500 species of shark recorded, only a very few are considered to be potentially dangerous to humans. Incidents of people being bitten by sharks are extremely rare - yet ignorance and sensationalism has led the 'Jaws' myth to be widely perceived as reality.
Moving away from the use of outdated shark 'attack' terminology
Most media reporting of shark bite incidents - including non-fatal and fatal bites on humans - will more likely than not use highly emotive, often inaccurate language. As well as contributing little to understanding the shark's behaviour and learning from the incident, such language can also ‘criminalise’ sharks in the mind of the public, with terms such as “man-eater” or “rogue shark” incorrectly implying intent to target or harm humans (1). In order to move away from the use of this outdated shark “attack” terminology, where possible the Shark Trust uses two categories to describe and report shark incidents (1):
1. Shark bites - Incidents where sharks bite people resulting in minor to moderate injuries. Small or large sharks might be involved, but typically, a single, non-fatal bite occurs. If more than one bite occurs, injuries might be serious.
2. Fatal shark bites - A shark bite incident in which serious injuries take place as a result of one or more bites on a person, causing a significant loss of blood and/or body tissue and a fatal outcome.
1. Neff, C, and Hueter, R. 2013. Science, policy, and the public discourse of shark “attack”: a proposal for reclassifying human–shark interactions. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. 10.1007/s13412-013-0107-2
It is often difficult to identify the shark species involved in a bite incident, and in some cases the wrong species is blamed. While the size and shape of the wound can give some indication of the species and size of the shark involved, it is often difficult to say with any degree of certainty.
Three shark species - the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and the Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) - are most frequently associated with serious bite incidents on humans, although many more species of shark will potentially bite if they feel threatened.
Bear in the mind that as our understanding of shark behaviour continues to grow, the traditional view of the “provoked” versus “unprovoked” shark bite is no longer as clear cut as once thought. Obviously, cases of divers spearing sharks, attempting to ride them, or fishermen hooking sharks and pulling them into their boats are “provoked” incidents. However when a swimmer unwittingly passes very close to a shark which is ‘minding its own business’, the animal’s reaction to a violation of its personal space – a perceived threat common to all wild animals – may result in the shark biting the swimmer. Depending on your perspective, this can be construed as either a provoked or unprovoked incident. However, the key is to understand why it happened and work towards reducing the likelihood of it happening again.
Most shark bites occur in coastal areas – in shallow, murky waters where sharks hunt, such as river mouths and off beaches, as well as in places where the seabed drops away into deeper water. According to records, the majority of shark bite incidents occur in waters above 12°C, with 80% of incidents occurring in the tropics and subtropics.
There have been no unprovoked shark bites in British waters since records began in 1847. However two instances have been recorded of anglers being bitten whilst removing hooks from the mouths of sharks they had caught.
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) is recognised as the definitive source of scientifically accurate information on shark bites on humans - read their 2014 Shark Attack Summary.
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