Shark Attacks: Fatalities, Where and Species

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There are three ways a shark can strike: the sneak attack, the hit-and-run and the bump-and-bite. The hit-and-run is the most common. It involve a single bite for defensive of investigative purposes rather than an attempt to kill. For example, a shark sees a human foot, thinks it’s a fish and bites but when it realizes its not the usual prey it swims away. Marine analyst Greg Pickering told Reuters, “Sharks are opportunist feeders. They hear is in the water. We should like a thrashing fish or animal in the water, and they react to that instinctively and go to take a bite.”

According to one study Saturday afternoons in July are the most likely times to get bitten by a shark while Tuesday mornings at dawn in February ar the least likely. In one survey, 1,000 respondents were asked if they would be willing to be bitten by a shark. Fifteen percent said they would indeed agree to be attacked by a shark if it turned out to be a "cool story," but that's only if they have no permanent injuries. [Source: Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press, June 9, 2023]

Most sharks hunt alone. Nico Booyens, a marine biologist and director of research at the Shark Research Unit in South Africa, told Live Science. "Different shark species have different hunting techniques, but many sharks are solitary predators that rely on their senses of sight, smell and electroreception to locate their prey. When a shark has located its prey, it will often use its sharp teeth and powerful jaws to bite and tear chunks of flesh from the prey. Some sharks, like the tiger shark [Galeocerdo cuvier], are known for their ability to swallow their prey whole, while others, like the bull shark [Carcharhinus leucas], will attack and bite their prey repeatedly until it is weakened or immobilized." [Source: Lydia Smith, Live Science, May 10, 2023]

See Great White Sharks, Bull Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks.

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida ; Tracking Sharks, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal

Shark Attack Data

20120518-640px-Shark threat display.png
Shark threat display
Shark Attacks Worldwide
Year — Total Bites — Fatal — Non-fatal
2012 — 83 — 7 — 76
2013 — 77 — 10 — 67
2014 — 73 — 3 — 70
2015 — 98 — 6 — 92
2016 — 81 — 4 — 77
2017 — 89 — 5 — 84
2018 — 68 — 4 — 64
2019 — 64 — 2 — 62
2020 — 57 — 10 — 47
2021 — 73 — 9 — 62
TOTAL — 761 — 60 — 701
[Source: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) is considered the most reliable source of shark attack information. Housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History with its roots in an effort by the U.S. Navy’s to find an effective shark repellent after numerous servicemen in downed aircraft were attacked during World War II., it started collecting reports on shark attacks in 1958 and devotes most of its attention to “unprovoked attacks.” Some data, especially when there are no survivors or witnesses, is taken from newspaper clippings. Many of the entries are from the victims themselves, who are asked to fill out an eight-page survey that includes questions about water conditions, victim activity and characteristics of the shark’s attack
For many years ISAF was overseen by marine biologist George Burgess. According to National Geographic in 2019: “The group has documented 6,200 accounts of shark-human incidents, including historical accounts going back all the way to the 1500s. Though ISAF reports on incidents across the globe, Tyler Bowling, the program manager, says people are much less likely to report a shark attack from a smaller country with limited phone and Internet access, or if they are engaging in risky behavior when the attack occurs. [Source: Jenny Howard, National Geographic, July 3, 2019; [Source: Colleen Sharkey, Shark Sagas, June 9, 2013]

Shark's Bad Rap

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Many scientist feel the shark's bloodthirsty reputation is undeserved. Sharks generally eat fishes, mollusks and crustaceans. Few sharks hunt mammals, and normally they are not aggressive and shy away from men. One zoologist has gone as far as labeling them "chinless cowards."

Most sharks are not dangerous to humans — people are not part of their natural diet.. Sharks evolved millions of years before humans existed and therefore humans are not part of their normal diets. Sharks are opportunistic feeders, but most sharks primarily feed on smaller fish and invertebrates. Some of the larger shark species prey on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals. Sharks have been known to attack humans when they are confused or curious. If a shark sees a human splashing in the water, it may try to investigate, leading to an accidental attack. [Source: NOAA]

Worries about shark attacks are nothing new. On Captain James Cook's third voyage to the South Pacific in 1777, while ship passed through the channel at Rangiroa in the Tuamotus. His mid shipman James Trevenen wrote in his journal, "On every side of us swam sharks innumerable, and so vicious that they bit our oars and rudder, and I actually stuck my hanger [saber] into the back of one while he had the rudder in his teeth." In the 1960s NASA officials were even worried during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions when sharks were spotted circling floating spacecraft.┲

Shark Attack Fatalities

Sharks killed an average of four to six people annually worldwide. In 2022, five of the attacks worldwide were fatal – down from nine deaths in 2021 and 10 in 2020. An annual report by the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File found that an average of five people per year are killed by sharks, while fishing fleets kill up to 70 million sharks per year.

The odds of being attacked by a shark have been estimated at 1 in 100,000,000 and the chances of being killed by one is 1 in 300,000,000. Far more people die from bee stings, Christmas tree lights and bites from pigs. You are much more likely to die in your own bathtub or at the hands of your spouse than you are to die by the teeth of a shark. The year 2000 was a particularly nasty year for shark attacks: 11 people were killed worldwide. By contrasts about 1,000 people are struck by lightning each year in the United States alone. For every American killed by sharks 37 are killed by snakes and 45 are killed by pet dogs.

According to Shark Files: Historically the death rate was much higher than today, but the advent of readily available emergency services and improved medical treatment has greatly reduced the chances of mortality. Actual numbers of shark attacks certainly are going up each decade because of increasing numbers of bathers in the water, but there is no indication that there is any change in the per capita rate of attack. Short-term trends show both fatal and non-fatal bites to be decreasing. The total number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide is extremely low, given the number of people participating in aquatic recreation each year.[Source: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

Provoked Shark Attacks

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Lists of shark attacks often list unprovoked attacks only. Provoked attacks include attacks associated with fishing, spearfishing and chumming (using blood and animal parts) to attract sharks. While surfing is not considered provoking a shark, spearfishing is as the release of fish blood can attract sharks. “Provoked” attack also include activities such as grabbing or harassing a shark, or removing one from a fishing line.

The International Shark Attack File places a strong emphasis on unprovoked bites in its annual report and does not highlight attacks that may have been prompted by mitigating circumstances, such as fishing lines cast in the direct vicinity of the incident or the presence of chum in the water. There were 32 additional bites in 2022 — on top of the 57 unprovoked bites — that fit the ISAF’s criteria for having been intentionally or unintentionally provoked. [Source: Jerald Pinson, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, February 6, 2023]

In February 2022, Simon Nellist was killed by a great white attacked while swimming in waters near Sydney. The International Shark Attack Files classified the attack as "provoked" because people nearby were fishing, and was criticized for doing so. Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, which runs the files said that the “provoked” listing didn’t mean Nellist was responsible for his death. [Source: Alex Sundby, CBS News, May 6, 2023]

In a blog post, Naylor explained why the group classifies shark attacks at all. "Our criteria for classifying shark attacks are designed to filter the data collected so that we can better understand the natural behavior of the animals. Any activity that draws sharks into an area where they otherwise would not be, are excluded. We are interested in the influence of tides, temperature, salinity, moon phase, changing currents, seasonality, time of day and the effects that these parameters, both individually and in combination, have on different species of sharks," Naylor said. At the time of the attack on Nellist, several people were fishing from the shore cliffs, Naylor told the Times of London. He said in his blog post that fishing is "known to attract sharks" even if bait or chum aren't used.

Shark Attack Numbers Worldwide

Globally, about 10 people are attacked and killed by sharks each year, while falling coconuts kill around 150 people. According to a report by, based on 47 years of shark bite data,there are on average, about 100 documented shark attacks around the world each year, with Florida being the home of many of them. A total of 1,218 shark bites and attacks were recorded between 1975 and 2022, with approximately 14 percent of those being fatal. The vast majority of the recorded bites are unprokoved (94 percent) while a small number of attacks (6 percent) are provoked. [Source: Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press, June 9, 2023]

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bull sharks like this are involved in many attacks
According to Shark Files: Worldwide there are probably 70-100 shark attacks a year, with an average of 4 to 8 fatalities. In contrast people kill more than 100 million sharks, skates and rays annually. That means for every man killed by a shark at least 12½ million sharks are killed by human beings. It is is possible that many attacks go unreported. Information from developing countries is especially poor, and in other areas efforts are sometimes made to keep attack quiet for fear of bad publicity. There has never been more than a 100 reported shark attacks in a year. In the 1990s there was a total of 536 attacks. The average number of fatalities between 2000 and 2007 was five a year.

In 2022, the number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide decreased, tying with 2020 for the fewest number of reported incidents in the period between 2012 and 2022. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, there were a total of 57 unprovoked bites in 2022, most of which occurred in the United States and Australia. Of these, five attacks were fatal, down from nine deaths in 2021 and 10 the year prior. Since 2013, there has been an average of 74 unprovoked bites per year. 2020 was a notable exception, when COVID-19 related travel restrictions and beach closures likely resulted in fewer encounters between humans and sharks. The overall reduction in the number of bites last year may reflect the documented global decline of shark populations. “Generally speaking, the number of sharks in the world’s oceans has decreased, which may have contributed to recent lulls” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Florida Program for Shark Research. “It’s likely that fatalities are down because some areas have recently implemented rigorous beach safety protocols, especially in Australia.” [Source: Jerald Pinson, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, February 6, 2023]

Shark attacks decreased for the third consecutive year in 2020, falling to 57 unprovoked bites worldwide, compared with 64 bites in 2019 and 66 in 2018, But 2020 was the deadliest year since 2013, with 10 unprovoked bites resulting in fatalities, a stark departure from the average of four per year. International Shark Attack File (ISAF) experts confirmed great white sharks were involved in at least 16 unprovoked bites in 2020, including six of the year’s 10 fatalities: four in Australia, one in California and one in Maine. Of the remaining deaths, two were from tiger shark bites and two could not be identified to species. [Source: Natalie van Hoose, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, January 25, 2021]

Increases in Shark Attack

There were 92-98 shark attacks globally in 2015 the highest number ever recorded, according to researchers at the University of Florida, which has been collecting data since 1958. Six of the attacks were fatal. Theories on the increase include rising water temperatures caused by climate change making sharks change their habits, the El Nino weather pattern, which was particularly powerful last year, and the increasing popularity of watersports. [Source: AFP, September 6, 2016]

There were 55 unprovoked attack, including four deaths, in 2003 and 61 unprovoked attacks, including seven deaths, in 2004. There was only one confirmed fatality in 2007 and that was in New Caledonia in the South Pacific. There were 60 unprovoked shark attacks (3 fatalities) in 2002, compared to 79 (5 fatalities) in 2001, 85 shark attacks (11 shark fatalities) in 2000, 58 in 1999, 54 in 1998, 56 (11 fatalities) in 1997, 36 (6 shark fatalities) in 1996, and 72 attacks in 1995. Two thirds of the attacks were in United States waters. Increases have attributed to more swimmers not more sharks. In the summer 2001, a big deal was made about shark attacks but that year there were fewer shark attacks than the year before.

George Burgess, shark researcher and curator of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the Huffington Post in 2011 there has been a steady increase in shark attacks. "If one looks at the last eleven decades from 1900 through 2010, what one finds is that there is an increase in the number of attacks each decade, without fail, which would suggest to the casual viewer, that we're under siege," he said. [Source: Huffington Post October 31, 2011]

Shark attack risks: Red -- Danger; Yellow--Risk; Green -- Safe; Blue -- No Data,
not sure how reliable this is

According to the Huffington Post: The increase in shark attacks is easily explained by the increase in human population and growing popularity of water related sports and recreational activities. "The increase in shark attacks is largely a function of human demographics and growth. The number we get in any given year is purely a function of how many people went into the water," says Burgess.

There are, however, some new patterns emerging from Burgess' data on shark attacks. "There has been an increase” in shark attacks in 2011 “ in a number of areas where we have not traditionally had such attacks, undoubtedly by white sharks, most notably the three series of attacks in Russia in areas of cold water most of the time," he says. This, he explains is due to warming of waters, possibly associated with global warming, that are allowing sharks to expand their range farther north and south into waters that they normally do not go, and also because warmer water induces more people entering the sea. "Here in Florida where we have more shark bites than anywhere else in the world. These interactions are almost surely mistaken identity, because the animals involved are small — six feet or less in size — and species of sharks that are typically shrimp eaters that don't normally go after large prey items."

Where Shark Attacks Occur

Most attacks occur in nearshore waters, typically inshore of a sandbar or between sandbars where sharks feed and can become trapped at low tide. Areas with steep drop-offs are also likely attack sites. Sharks congregate there because their natural food items also congregate in these areas.

Of the three major kinds of unprovoked shark attacks by far the most common are “hit and run” attacks. These typically occur in the surf zone with swimmers and surfers the normal targets. The victim seldom sees its attacker and the shark does not return after inflicting a single bite or slash wound. In most instances, these probably are cases of mistaken identity that occur under conditions of poor water visibility and a harsh physical environment (breaking surf and strong wash/current conditions). A feeding shark in this habitat must make quick decisions and rapid movements to capture its traditional food items. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

“Bump and bite” attacks and “sneak” attacks, while less common, result in greater injuries and most fatalities. These types of attack usually involve divers or swimmers in somewhat deeper waters, but occur in nearshore shallows in some areas of the world. Some attacks take place in marine coasts and estuaries, which are a favorite feeding ground for a variety of fishes, which take advantage of the tides to scope out new food and rummage near the shallow seafloor for plants and invertebrates. These smaller fishes, in turn, attract sharks, which sometimes mistake humans for prey.

Shark Attack Total Numbers Worldwide

Shark Attacks By Region

About half of the world’s shark attacks are in the United States with a third of the world’s attack in Florida. According to a report by the United States tallied the most attacks (720) between 1975 and 2022, with a fatality rate of 6 percent. Australia and Africa report far fewer attacks, 261 and 72 respectively, yet both nations are home to waters that are much more deadly than those in the states. The fatality rate in Australia is 23 percent, while the kill rate in Africa is a whopping 38 percent, according to the site. Many attacks occur on the East Coast of Florida, buut the bites stop near the Georgia border, and they don't resume until the beaches of South Carolina. The southernmost tip of Africa is home of one of the world's great populations of white sharks, and the fatality statistics from show that these waters are dangerous for surfers and swimmers. Many great white shark attack there are fatal. [Source: Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press, June 9, 2023]

Shark Attacks by Country in 2022
Country — Total — Fatal
USA — 41 — 1
Australia — 9 — 0
Egypt — 2 — 2
South Africa — 2 — 2
Brazil — 1 — 0
New Zealand — 1 — 0
Thailand — 1 — 0
Worldwide — 57 — 5
[Source: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

Shark strikes in U.S. waters were slightly up in the summer of 2011, with 7 each in May and June, and 3 in July. The number of shark attacks in the United States declined to 28 in 2009 from 41 in 2008, according to a University of Florida report. George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File at the university, said there were 61 attacks worldwide in 2009 and 60 in 2008. The United Stated led the world in the number of attacks,, followed by Australia, with 20, and South Africa, with 6. The number of attacks in the United States has fallen in each of the past three years, Mr. Burgess said. (AP)

In 2007 there were 50 shark attacks in the United States, compared to 13 in Australia. None were fatal. In the U.S., there is one shark fatality on average every two years. (More people die at the beach getting buried in holes they dig in the sand.) Sharks killed only five Americans from 1959 to 1990. Because Australia has a bigger sharks that attack humans it has a higher fatality rate. Between 1990 and 2007 there were 19 fatal shark attacks in Australia compared to four in Florida.

In 2001, 82 percent of reported shark attacks occurred in North American waters, including 55 off the U.S., four in the Bahamas, two off Mexico and one off Cuba. Elsewhere, attacks occurred in South Africa (5), Australia (7), Brazil (3), Bahamas (four), Reunion Island (4), New Guinea (2), Tanzania (2), the Cape Verde Islands (1), the Marshall Islands (1), Mozambique (1), and New Zealand (1). In 2000 there were 11 deaths: three deaths were reported from Australia, two from Tanzania and one each in Fiji, Japan, New Caledonia, New Guinea and the United States.

In 1997 there were 34 shark attacks in United States; 5 in Australia; 4 in Brazil; 3 each in the Bahamas and South Africa; 2 each in Japan and New Guinea; and 1 each in Mexico, Fiji, Reunion Island and Vanuatu. In 1996 six shark attacks were fatal — two in Brazil and one each in Florida, South Africa, Australia and Mozambique. The big news was that South Africa had so many attacks. It had 17 shark attacks, compared to a yearly average of five over the past decade. Burgess said there were no reports of unusual oceanographic conditions, except for greater numbers of sardines, which could attract more sharks.

A number of attacks have occurred off the Brazilian port of Recife. In August 2011, two people were killed in the Seychelles and two were maimed in eastern Russia, causing panic and closing beaches in both places.

Shark Species That Attack People

Of the 538 species of shark only 13 species have bitten humans 10 or more confirmed times. About three dozen species have attacked humans in some form but only three attack with any frequency. They are great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks. Other species that have attacked humans include and oceanic white tips, makos, lemons, duskies, blues, zambezi, hammerheads, Australian bronze whalers, silkies and porbeagle sharks. Each potential man-attacker has a different diet, different methods of attack and different behavioral patterns. ┲

According to International Shark Attack Files: Positive identification of attacking sharks is very difficult since victims rarely make adequate observations of the attacker during the “heat” of the interaction. Tooth remains are seldom found in wounds and diagnostic characters for many requiem sharks – those in the Carcharhinidae family – are difficult to discern even by trained professionals. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History

Attacks involving easily identified species, such as white, tiger, sandtiger, hammerhead and nurse sharks, nearly always identify the attacking species, while cases involving difficult to identify species, such as requiem sharks of the genus Carcharhinus, seldom correctly identify the attacker. Thus the list is skewed to readily identified species. A number of requiem sharks in the genus Carcharhinus likely are involved in many more attacks than they are credited in this list and, if the list could reflect that reality, Carcharhinus bites would push such species as the sandtiger, hammerhead and nurse sharks towards the bottom of the list. Nonetheless, the white, tiger and bull sharks are the “Big Three” in the shark attack world because they are large species that are capable of inflicting serious injuries to a victim, are commonly found in areas where humans enter the water, and have teeth designed to shear rather than hold.

Image Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons, International Shark Attack File, South African Shark Spotters, Australia First Aid, Natal government, Queensland government, New South Wales government and West Australia government

Text Sources: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides and various books and other publications.

Last Updated June 2023

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