February 20, 2016
2015's Record High Number Of Shark Attacks Explained

The data is in for 2015, and last year officially ranks as the worst on record for unprovoked shark attacks around the globe. Worldwide, 98 people found themselves engaged in such incidents, yet experts are pointing out that the reasons behind this sudden surge in attacks indicate that it is hardly time to panic.

The International Shark Attack File tracks both provoked and unprovoked incidents globally, as National Geographic points out, using that data to assess broad trends in human-shark interactions. According to their work, last year's total number of attacks led to six human fatalities, while setting new records worldwide.

The 98 unprovoked attacks that took place in 2015 represent an increase of 26 incidents over the prior year, and an upswing of 40 shark attacks from just a decade ago. The United States led the way with a record breaking year of its own, reporting 59 separate attacks, six more than the previous record. Shark activity was particularly high in Florida (the most likely place for shark interactions in the world) and the Carolinas, where multiple attacks were recorded, as The Inquisitr previously reported. Australia, meanwhile, documented 18 incidents (resulting in a single fatality), while South Africa, notably home to the Great White Shark among other species, logged just eight attacks.While beachgoers could be forgiven for voicing concern about going in the water, George Burgess, who heads the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, asserted that it has probably never been safer for swimmers and surfers to enter the sea.
"The chances for any individual who goes in the water surviving have probably never been higher, since there are so many more of us going out than before."
In fact, the heightened number of people headed into the water (spurred on by a strengthening economy) is one of the factors that Burgess points to as responsible for the record number of shark incidents. Warmer water from El Nino and global warming, as well as a lack of notably strong storms in most developed countries, have further added to the situation, making it statistically more likely for shark attacks to occur. For his part, Burgess uses a similar rise in car accidents as an analogy to explain the situation.
"There were more car fatalities in 2015 than 1950, but that doesn't mean cars are more dangerous. It means there are a lot more out there."
With the global human population steadily growing, the long term trend for shark attacks may be rising, as LiveScience notes, simply due to the increased odds of the two species coming together. This doesn't mean that more people are likely to die from shark attacks, however; over the last decade, the average number of annual deaths related to shark incidents has held steady at six.The uptrend in attacks also doesn't mean that sharks are getting more aggressive. With millions of beachgoers entering the water each year, the number of shark attacks is actually vanishingly small from a statistical point of view. A rise in incidents similar to that observed last year could conceivably be the result of little more than random chance.

It's important to remember also that humans kill far more sharks than the inverse. As many as 100 million sharks fall victim to anglers and poachers each year, while the odds for a human of dying from a shark attack stand at somewhere around one in eight million.

[Photo by Albert Kok - Own Work via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0]