Why are we so afraid of shark attacks?

The actual risk of being attacked by a shark is extremely low. World wide there are about 70-100 attacks per year, with only 7-10 being fatal.

Considering that that 75 million people visit beaches and swim in the ocean every year in the US alone, those numbers of incidences are extremely low.

You may have heard about the fact that cows and ants kill more people than sharks, and that toilets, buckets and room fresheners injure thousands more every year than sharks, but to give a more direct comparison, here are all the ocean related statistics:



For the US, including Hawaii, the chance of drowning is more than 1000 times greater than that of dying from a shark attack. According to the CDC, from 2005-2009, there were an average of 3,533 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. An additional 347 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents. Australia averages over 200 drownings per year


are responsible for 15-30 times more deaths each year than all unprovoked shark attacks worldwide.



The average number of deaths caused by rip currents per year is 21. This compares to one death by shark when deaths are averaged over the longest available databases for each, some going back as far as 1852.


Even the beach is more dangerous than sharks. From 1990 to 2006 there have been 16 death on average in the US per year by sand caving in on kids that dig and play in sand holes on the beach. 



If you want to find out exact shark attack numbers and details, check the International Shark Attack File



Most sharks are shy creatures and will leave the area when humans enter the water.

The larger species that are usually indicated in human attacks are the bull shark, tiger shark and great white shark.

Bull sharks tend to hang out in the same areas that humans use. Shallow, near coastal areas and river mouths. So they are more likely to encounter humans than other species.

Bull sharks also have a high level of testosterone, which may make them more territorial. A bite is most likely preceded by threatening behavior, but cannot be seen if the person is wading or swimming. 

Reef sharks can have similar poses to warn the intruder to leave their territory. If divers respect these signs and move on there usually is no danger of an attack. 

Sharks have keen instincts for hunting. A bleeding fish is naturally irresistible as a potential easy meal. Spear fishermen have been bitten because they may tie their catch to their belts while continuing the hunt. The shark tries to get to the fish and ends up biting the person that is attached to the bleeding fish. If the fish is instead attached to a trailing line, the fish may still be lost to the shark, but at least the diver will not be harmed. 

Surfers are some of the most frequent victims of shark attacks. Most often the attack consists of a single bite. The sharks generally do not consume the victim, but the blood loss can be significant. The attacks can usually be classified as an “investigative” bite.  Sharks unfortunately investigate with their mouth. Once they find out what this object floating on the surface is, they will release it and loose interest. That’s why some shark bites are only puncture wounds where the shark bit down once and then let go. 

Tiger sharks and great white sharks hunt by using techniques of stealth and surprise, much like lions do on land. In turbid, low visibility water such as breaking waves, they may look at the silhouette of a surfer and assume it is a seal or turtle. Additionally the splashing and paddling gives the same appearance as an injured animal, which is easy prey. To hunt seals, the sharks have to rush in fast and injure the animal before they can swim away. In an actual pursuit, a seal will be much too agile and fast for a shark to follow. If the surfer is mistaken for a seal, he can be attacked in a rush attack, but after the initial bite the victims are often left alone. Surely that doesn’t make it any less frightening and horrible, but the knowledge can help you in choosing where and when to surf. 


In the end there is nothing that will absolutely protect you from an attack, except staying out of the ocean. When we enter the water, we have to accept it as a wilderness experience. And there will always be dangers present. 



There is safety in numbers. Avoid swimming near deep channels, in murky water or where shallow water suddenly becomes deeper. Do not swim alone, or at dusk or after dark, when sharks are feeding actively and likely to be closer to the shore.

You can check out this page for more detailed information

FLMH - Avoiding attacks