Skip to content

Information and Resources

Font Size

Shark Bite

Shark Bite Overview

Sharks have had remarkable evolutionary success. The first sharks lived approximately 400 million years ago, about 200 million years before the dinosaurs. They have survived the reign of the large reptiles by another 200 million years.

The International Shark Attack File, which contains data on shark attacks from around the world, reports fewer than 100 shark attacks per year, with about 10-15 deaths each year. In comparison, about 1,000 people die from attacks by crocodiles; 1,500 from tigers, lions, and leopards; and 60,000 from snakebites.

Only about 40 of the roughly 400 species of sharks are documented attackers of humans, although another 20-30 species may occasionally attack humans. The great white shark has been implicated in more attacks than any other species. The tiger shark and bull shark are also known to be particularly dangerous. In general, however, any shark greater than 2 meters, or 6 feet, in length is potentially dangerous. Exceptions to that rule are whale sharks (the largest of the sharks), basking sharks, and megamouth sharks, all of which feed primarily on tiny plankton.

Sharks normally eat fish, sharks, rays, squid and other invertebrates, sea mammals (such as porpoises, seals, and sea lions), sea turtles, and sea birds.

Sharks have remarkable senses. They have good vision, especially up close, and are especially sensitive to motion and contrast. A shark's sense of smell and taste is remarkable, with two thirds of their brains involved in processing this information. Sharks also have specialized organs called ampullae of Lorenzini, which detect tiny electrical currents, such as those put out by active muscle contractions.

Shark attacks can be broadly categorized into the following 3 types:

  • In a "hit-and-run" attack, the most common type, the shark takes a single bite and does not return for more. Experts feel this attack may be because the shark mistakes a human for its normal prey.

  • In a "bump-and-bite" attack, the shark bumps the victim prior to returning for further bites.

  • In a "sneak attack," the shark bites without warning, and then follows up with further attacks.

The last 2 types of attacks, though less common than the hit-and-run attack, are the source of most severe shark bite injuries and shark bite deaths.

Shark Bite Symptoms

Most people do not know a shark is nearby before an attack. Some people receive only a bump from the shark, which likely occurs when the shark is only investigating what is going on at the water's surface. Because a shark's skin contains tiny toothlike structures called denticles, it is as abrasive as coarse sandpaper. Thus, a bumping can result in a significant abrasion (scrape).

Shark jaws contain multiple rows of sharp, serrated, triangular teeth, and are continuously replaced as they shed. Classic shark bites are crescent-shaped. Another common wound pattern is a series of parallel cuts caused by the shark raking its teeth on the person. Sharks bites can cause massive tissue loss, with a tooth-to-tooth biting force that has been estimated to approach, in the extreme, 18 tons per square inch. Most bites, however, result in cuts that are not deep, or puncture wounds that do not cause blood vessel or nerve injury.

Hot Topics

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

feet
Solutions for 19 types.
MS Overview
Recognizing symptoms.
Woman running
Boost Your Metabolism.
build a better butt
How to build a better butt.
lone star tick
How to identify that bite.
young woman in sun
What to watch for.
brain scan with soda
Tips to kick the habit.
row of colored highlighter pens
Tips for living better.
stressed working woman
And how to fix them?
fat caliper
Check your BMI.
woman dreaming
What Do Your Dreams Say About You?
man with indigestion
How to keep yours at bay.

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Women's Health Newsletter

Find out what women really need.