Shark 'Attack' - Statistics and Victims
Bull Shark © Rob Allen.

The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) is recognised as the definitive source of scientifically accurate information on shark bite incidents.

According to the ISAF 2015 Worldwide Summary, a total of 98 unprovoked shark bites occurred worldwide. Tragically, this included six fatalities: two on Reunion Island, and single incidents in Australia, New Caledonia, Hawaii, and Egypt. This figure matches the annual average over the previous decade.

98 unprovoked shark bites surpasses the previous high of 88, recorded in 2000. It should, however, be made clear that this does not indicate an increase in the frequency of ‘shark attacks’, but instead the result of growing human populations in coastal areas, with water-users spending greater periods of time in the sea, at a wider range of locations.

In general, the number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide has shown a steady increase since 1900. But before authorities introduce culling, netting programmes, drumlines and other kneejerk reactions, this trend must 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’, the majority are likely to be unfamiliar with these risks, which include sharks and their behaviour.

While there is some degree of statistical anomaly, the number of shark bites on humans 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 that shark bite incidents - fatal and non-fatal - are hugely terrifying and tragic. Although the number of these incidents will reflect the ever-increasing number of surfers, swimmers and divers, in relative terms the likelihood of being bitten by a shark remains extremely low, with the risk of death by drowning, car accident - even lightning strike - considerably higher. The risk of encountering a shark is lessened further by a better understanding of shark behaviour, with early-warning and shark monitoring programmes offering water-users a greater ability to avoid potentially dangerous situations. And on those occasions when interaction has been unavoidable, the percentage of fatal shark bites relative to the total number of bite incidents continues to fall as more people survive due to advances in medical treatment.

ISAF 2015 Worldwide Summary

Related Links:

About Shark 'Attacks'

Incidents and Motives

How to reduce the chance of being bitten by a shark