When Humans Attack! The Truth on Shark Encounters

Recent headlines on shark attacks are rekindling nightmares from "Jaws," giving these feared fishes a bad rap.

While all 375 shark species eat meat, none has a personal agenda against humans. But occasionally sharks will mistake people for prey.

To hunt down their food, sharks rely on a combination of senses including sight, sound, smell, and even electrical signals. While most of us don't smell much like seals or fish, we humans can certainly look like enticing meals in hungry sharks' eyes. The splashing of a surfer paddling his board along the surface or the flash from a swimmer's watch or bracelet may look enough like a fleeing fish in turbulent waters to provoke an "attack."

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"When it comes to the probability of being hurt by a shark, more people are likely to be killed by pigs, by coconuts, you name it. They represent a very small risk-and a very big interest. We love to hate our monsters." -Samuel Gruber, professor of marine and atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami quoted in the Washington Post

 

underside of surfer and sea lion

A surfer paddling a surfboard along the surface can look a lot like a seal or sea lion, a great white's preferred food.

Despite the recent cluster of shark attacks, there's nothing special about this year. In fact, worldwide, there have been fewer reports this year than last. Off the coast of Florida, where most of the recent encounters have occurred, the number of incidents is the same as last year.

Only occasionally are shark bites fatal to humans. According to the International Shark Attack File, an average of eight fatalities occur worldwide each year. This year there has been only one-in Brazil. Considering that humans harvest an estimated 100 million sharks and shark relatives annually, it's easy to see who are the true predators.

great white shark
In the United States, one is 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning than a shark. So far this year there have been 41 attacks worldwide. Last year there were 79. Since 1952, there have been only 81 recorded shark attacks in California.