You are more likely to be killed by a coconut!
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
You are statistically more likely to be injured by your toilet or by an air freshener! Every year, more people are killed by dogs than by sharks! Yet, shark attacks make the news every year and many people believe the risk from sharks is rising. So what is the truth?... Are sharks dangerous?...Where do shark attacks occur?... Are they becoming more common?
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How dangerous are sharks?
Statistically sharks pose much less of a risk to humans, compared to many other species of animals. For example, many more people are killed each year by wild animals like hippos and crocodiles, and many more people are even killed by domesticated animals like cows.
We are also far more dangerous to each other than any shark is! You are statistically much more likely to be killed by another human being than by a shark. My all-time favourite statistic (and I swear, this is true!) is that it is more likely that you will be bitten by a New Yorker than by a shark! You can check if you don't believe me, by taking a look at the International Shark Attack File: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/odds/compare-risk/.
The risk sharks pose also varies between shark species. There are around 450 different species of shark alive today and the vast majority of these are absolutely no threat to human beings. They either inhabit environments it is very unlikely you will ever visit, have teeth which are so small or formed in such a way, that they cause us no real harm, or are very shy and would be more afraid of you than you are of them!
There are several species of sharks which are usually responsible for attacks upon humans when they occur. These include the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) ( and the tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) (International Shark Attack File).
Where do most shark attacks occur?
These comparatively dangerous shark species are not found at every beach in the world and therefore, the risk of fatal shark attack is very different depending where you are (International Shark Attack File).
The highest number of shark attacks each year occur in the USA, Australia and the Republic of South Africa. However, if we calculate the rate of shark attacks in order to account for the population density of a country (that is to say, how many people out of the whole population are attacked by a shark), the Bahamas and New Caledonia have high rates of shark attack compared to their relatively small populations (Midway et al, 2019).
This does not mean that if you are swimming in these countries that you are at risk of being attacked. South Africa and Australia especially have significant beach protection procedures implemented in order to ensure shark attacks remain uncommon.
Are shark attacks becoming more common?
You may have heard that shark attacks are increasing globally... this is because in these reports, you are being told the total annual number of attacks, which does not consider the global population. The population of human beings is growing exponentially every year, so if we calculate how many shark attacks occur as a percentage of how many human beings are alive (shark attack rate), we find that shark attacks are not becoming more common and may even be decreasing in some areas (Midway et al, 2019).
A recent study analysing all shark attack data available up until 2015 found that shark attack rates were not increasing in the majority of countries they assessed. The researchers even found that the rate of sharks attacks has decreased in several areas, including Brazil, Fiji, Mexico and New Zealand (Midway et al, 2019).
However, this study did report that in some countries- the USA and Australia especially- shark attack rates have risen somewhat since the 1990s. The scientists concluded that this is due to increasing ocean use. More and more people participate in recreational activities in the water in recent decades and therefore, more people come into contact with sharks. This inevitably causes the shark attack rate to rise (Midway et al, 2019).
To learn more, you can check out, Myth Busted: Shark Bite Rates are NOT Rising (They're Falling!).
But is important to note that the vast majority of these shark 'attacks' are not-fatal. An "unprovoked shark attack" is defined as an incident in which a shark bites a human or their equipment (dive gear, surf board, boat etc.). In 85% of incidents where a person is attacked by a shark, they live to tell the tale!
And it is still incredibly unlikely that you will ever be attacked by a shark. On average, each year 6-10 people are killed by sharks globally. This means you are more than 47,000 x more likely to be killed in a car accident! If you ever cross a road or travel in a car, you are taking a much higher risk than that posed by sharks!
Midway SR, Wagner T & Burgess GH (2019). Trends in global shark attacks. PLoS One, 14:2, e0211049. Access online.
The International Shark Attack File (2020). Florida Museum. Access online.
By Sophie A. Maycock for SharkSpeak.