Are shark-bite incidents increasing?
AThe number of shark bites reported each year is relative to the number of people entering the water. The rapid growth in coastal populations and increased popularity of ocean-based recreational pursuits (and the advances in equipment such as wetsuits) mean that hundreds of thousands of people are entering the marine environment for longer periods of time. If current lifestyle and demographic trends continue, then the number of reported bites could reflect this.
Fatalities from shark bites are very rare (you’ll have heard the comparisons that more deaths are caused by falling coconuts, traffic accidents, faulty toasters and selfies) but when these tragic incidents do occur, they generate a lot of media attention.
According to the International Shark Attack Files, there were 154 bite incidents in 2016. Of these, 84 were considered unprovoked, four of which were fatal. The remaining incidents were either provoked, occurred post-mortem, involved sharks biting boats, did not in fact involve sharks, or were not fully explained. The 2016 statistic of 84 unprovoked incidents is on a par with the average of 82 between
2011–2015, though 2015 saw the figure jump to a record high of 98.
People wonder if the global shark decline is reducing bite frequency. A recent study suggested that a quarter of shark, skate, ray and chimaera (long-tailed cartilaginous fish) species are threatened according to the IUCN Red List criteria, with large-bodied, shallowwater species, such as sawfishes and angel sharks, at the greatest risk. These species are not usually associated with humans. In any case, the chance of sharks and people crossing paths varies hugely according to climate, location and local human activity.
Tiger sharks ( pictured), bulls and great whites are the three species most associated with shark-human interactions.