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Shark Attack - Statistics and Victims
If statistics are anything to go by, 2011 was not a safe year to surf, swim or dive in the sea. There were 14 confirmed fatal shark attacks; seven in the attack ‘hot-spots’ of South Africa and Australia, as well as four in waters surrounding the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion and the Seychelles. Add to these a number of non-fatal attacks around the world – including two resulting in serious injuries in Russia’s far eastern Primorsky Krai region, which attracted significant media attention due to the unusual location – and there is a sense that shark attacks are on the rise.
However before authorities support culling, netting programmes, drumlines and other kneejerk reactions, these figures should be viewed in context. Central to this is the rapid growth in coastal populations, with some 40% of the world’s population now living within one hundred kilometres of a coast – a figure expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. Consider also the burgeoning popularity of water-sports such as surfing, kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling; fuelled by ‘life-style’ marketing and improvements in equipment (wetsuits in particular), more people are drawn to these sports in a wider range of locations and are spending longer periods in the water. Similarly, the ‘3-S’ tourism attractions – sun, sand and surf – remain favourites within the global tourism industry, itself one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the world.
Combined, these trends mean that each year around the world hundreds of thousands more people are entering a wider range of marine environments for longer periods of time – environments which they will share (whether they realise it or not) with large marine animals: dolphins, seals, whales and, of course, sharks. Although many water-users understand the inherent risks and unpredictable nature of their ‘playground’, a great deal more are likely to be unfamiliar with the associated risks – including sharks and their behaviour.
While there is a degree of statistical anomaly in the figures for 2011, the number of shark attacks each year is relative to the number of people entering the water – a figure which, unfortunately, can be expected to increase if current lifestyle and demographic trends continue. This is somewhat ironic given the critically low population levels of many shark species as a result of global overfishing.
There is absolutely no doubt shark attacks – fatal and non-fatal – are hugely terrifying and tragic incidents. Although the number of attacks will reflect the ever-growing number of water-users, in relative terms the likelihood of shark attack remains extremely low, with the risk of death by drowning, car accident – even lightning strike – considerably higher. The risk of shark attack is lessened further by an improved understanding of shark behaviour and movements, with early-warning and shark monitoring programs offering more effective protection, and the ability to minimise human-shark interaction. And on those occasions when interaction has been unavoidable, the percentage of fatal attacks relative to total attacks continues to fall as more people survive due to advances in medical treatment.
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) is internationally recognised as the definitive source of scientifically accurate information on shark attacks and their 2011 Shark Attack Summary can be read here.
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