Shark Attack Risk Off California Plummets, Despite More Great Whites In The Water

As a rising tide of shark attacks preoccupies the North Carolina coastline, American waters half a continent away have become dramatically safer, even though some researchers believe the white shark population that patrols the Pacific coastline is growing.

A new study, led by researchers from Stanford, has found that despite a recovering population of white sharks, the odds of a beachgoer in California experiencing a shark attack are dramatically lower than they were in recent decades, going as far back as the 1950s. As NBC News reports, while the number of white shark attacks have risen in that time frame, the individual risk incurred by swimmers has decreased by an astonishing 91 percent.

The research team examined data from the Global Shark Attack File, limiting their scope to incidents related to great whites that incurred injury. They found that 13 people were killed from 1950 to 2013 by white sharks in California, out of a total of 86 attacks. The average number of attacks per year rose modestly, from 0.9 to 1.5, but it was the change in the human population that dramatically altered the study’s findings.

The risk of getting attacked by a shark off California has plummeted sharply since 1950… http://t.co/q5Gy4tlvmF pic.twitter.com/LorKbDEQ48 — California Guide (@CaliforniaGuide) July 9, 2015

Far more people live in California now than in 1950. In fact, the population has tripled, and the number of beachgoers, scuba divers, and surfers taking to the waves have increased in kind. What hasn’t risen as dramatically, however, is the number of shark attacks, and for that reason a swimmer along the Pacific coast is now 91 percent less likely to run afoul of a great white.

“We actually went in expecting an increase in shark attacks, and that was based on reports of the recovery of white shark populations, as well as the recovery of the prey of white sharks, such as elephant seals,” said Fiorenza Micheli, the study’s senior author. “So the result that, in fact, they have been declining — these interactions — was a bit surprising to us.”

The findings stand in stark contrast to the situation on the East Coast, where 11 different shark attacks have been reported in just the last several months off North and South Carolina. The region generally experiences only one or two such incidents annually, as the Inquisitr previously reported, and experts are baffled by the sudden increase. Though media coverage has been intense, beachgoers are still extremely unlikely to experience a shark incident in the area, however.

Researchers also found that certain factors affected the likelihood that a swimmer would experience a shark attack. As the Washington Post reports, the season, region, and activity a person is engaged in dramatically impacts their chances of an encounter. Even among abalone divers, the highest-risk profession when it comes to great white incidents, the odds of a shark attack still stand at one-in-1.44 million.

[Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]