Are Shark Attacks on the Rise?
In recent years, it seems shark attacks have been making headlines more than ever. Are the oceans getting more dangerous?
Despite what seems to be an increase in the
number of shark attacks on American swimmers, experts continue to reassure the
public that they are rare events. But vacationers and the feared ocean predator
continue to cross paths.
Every year, we hear about someone who has
been attacked by a shark. And in recent years, it seems shark attacks have been
making headlines more than ever. Does this mean that the oceans are getting
In 2001, sharks attacked three swimmers
over Labor Day weekend in Virginia and North Carolina, killing two and
critically injuring the third. In both fatalities, the victims died after
massive blood loss. It's been decades since sharks caused similar tragedies in
the two Atlantic states. Earlier that year, a bull shark ripped the arm off of
8-year-old Jessie Arbogast in Florida. His limb was recovered and
But on the heels of this apparent slew of
shark attacks, researchers reported that shark bites in North America fell in
2003, continuing a three-year trend.
There were 55 unprovoked shark attacks
around the world in 2003. That was down from 63 in 2002 and down from 68 in
2001. The record was set in 2000, when there were 79 shark attacks.
And while shark attacks are thankfully
rare, experts offer some tips on how to keep it that way.
Shark attacks really don't happen very
often. Your chances of being attacked by a shark in the U.S. are about 15 times
less than your chance of being struck by lightning, Erich K. Ritter, PhD,
senior scientist with the Global Shark Attack File in Princeton, N.J., tells
Ritter specializes in shark-human
interactions and has participated in more than 4,000 staged encounters with
sharks, studying how they behave.
"Florida is the world capital of shark
attacks," he tells WebMD. In 2000, nearly half of the shark attacks in the
U.S. occurred in Florida, Ritter says.
The greatest number of recorded incidents
has involved white sharks, followed by bull, tiger, and, in Florida, the
But Ritter prefers to talk about shark
"accidents" -- not attacks. Emergency physician Richard Nateman, MD,
"Humans are not really what [sharks]
want. When they get a human, that's a mistake," he tells WebMD. They do
want fish, so the best strategy for avoiding a shark attack is not looking like
a fish, he explains.
Sharks usually won't attack someone who's
standing or in a vertical position. "They want to attack horizontal things
because they know fish are horizontal," he says. Nateman is CEO of South
Florida Emergency Physicians at Baptist Hospital in Miami and has seen about a
dozen shark victims during his years at the hospital.
Even though the risk of attack is low, you
may still want to take steps to further limit that risk. Nateman and Ritter
offer the following tips: