Shark Attacks by Different Species

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Shark Attacks by Species
Common Name (Species) — Non-Fatal Unprovoked Attacks — Fatal Attacks — Total
Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) — 292 — 59 — 351
Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) — 103 — 39 — 142
Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) — 93 — 26 — 119
Requiem sharks (Carcharhinus spp.) — 46 — 5 — 51
Blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus) — 35 — 0 — 35
Sand tigers (Carcharias taurus) — 36 — 0 — 36
Wobbegong (Orectolobus spp.) — 31 — 0 — 31
Spotted wobbegong (Orectolobus maculatus) — four — 0 — 4
Ornate Wobbegong (Orectolobus ornatus) — three — 0 — 3
Hammerhead — sharks (Sphyrna spp.) — 18 — — 0 — 18
Bronze whalers (Carcharhinus brachyurus) — 15 — 1 — 16
Spinner sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna) — 16 — 0 — 16
Oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) — 12 — 3 — 15
Blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) — 14 — 0 — 14
Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) — 9 — 4 — 13
[Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Shortfin Mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) — 9 — 1 — 10
Mako sharks (Isurus spp.) — 8 — 0 — 8
Lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) — 10 — 0 — 10
Grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) — 8 — 1 — 9
Nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) — 9 — 0 — 9
Sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus) — five — 0 — 5
Cookiecutter sharks (Isistius brasiliensis) — five — 0 — 5
Sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) — five — 0 — 5
Whitetip reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus) — five — 0 — 5

Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezi) — four — 0 — 4
Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) — three — 0 — 3
Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) — one non-fatal attack and 1 — 2
Dusky — sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus) — one non-fatal attack and 1 — 2
Porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus) — two — 0 — 2
Tope sharks (Galeorhinus galeus) — one non-fatal attack and 0 — 1
Port Jackson sharks (Heterodontus portusjacksoni) — one non-fatal attack and 0 — 1
Guitarfish (Rhinobatos spp.) — one non-fatal attack and 0 — 1
Atlantic angel sharks (Squatina dumeril) — one non-fatal attack and 0 — 1
Leopard sharks (Triakis semifasciata) 1 — 0 — 1

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


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.

20120518-bull sharkkr_-_NOAA_Photo_Library.jpg
bull sharks like this involved in some attacks, See separate article

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

Great white shark, tiger sharks and bull sharks are responsible for most shark attacks and fatalities. According to the Fort Myers News-Press: Great white sharks have been the aggressors in 177 documented attacks, 34 percent of which were fatal. Bull sharks tallied the second-most bites, with 175 attacks and an 18 percent kill rate. Tiger sharks attack less than bulls (125 total) but kill more frequently (30 percent). The attacking species, however, is typically not known (692 reports). No fatalities were reported in the next five species of biting sharks: blacktip reef shark, nurse shark, spinner shark, the bronze whaler and the lemon shark, according to the file. Sandtiger sharks (three documented attacks with one being fatal) and mako sharks (11 attacks and an 18 percent fatality rate) are rare biters of humans but are also quite dangerous. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the least likely sharks to bite you are: whitetip sharks, dog sharks, juvenile sharks, porbeagle sharks and the dusky shark (all with 1 documented attack). [Source: Chad Gillis, Fort Myers News-Press, June 9, 2023]

Shark expert George Burgess said bull sharks, makos and oceanic whitetips as the three of the most aggressive shark species. Attacks on humans by these sharks are rare because they are deep-water fish, usually found in the open sea. Species, such as great whites, tiger sharks, sandtiger sharks, hammerheads and nurse sharks are easily identified. Cases involving difficult to identify species, such as requiem sharks of the genus Carcharhinus, are seldom correctly identified by victims or witnesses and even police and investigators. Thus lists of attacks are 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.

Identifying the Species in Sharks Attacks

Currently, the main ways to identify which shark species is responsible for an attack is to examine the bite wounds of victims, and take eyewitness accounts of the attack. These methods can be inaccurate if eyewitness accounts are missing details or not correct, or if bite wounds do not have clear tooth and jaw patterns. Sometimes a tooth from a shark is left in a victim’s wound after an attack. That helps a lot to identify a species. [Source: Francesca Giammona,, July 12, 2021]

According to an article in Forensic Science International: Genetics: Species identification often relies on direct visual observations of the shark by the victim or witnesses. Such identifications may be ambiguous due to the lack of knowledge of the diagnostic characters used to identify shark species, and to altered or insufficient observations in a traumatic situation. They can sometimes be supported by photographs or behavioural analyses performed by shark specialists based on testimonies, but therefore rely on the quality of the photographs and the accuracy of the testimonies. Furthermore, characteristics of the wounds, through jaw size, interdental distance, or, in rare cases, teeth embedded in human tissues, can help identifying the species and the size of the shark implicated. [Source: Nicolas Oury, Sébastien Jaquemet, Gwénola Simon, Laurie Casalot d, Géry Vangrevelynghe, Fanch Landron, Hélène Magalon, Forensic Science International: Genetics, Volume 54, September 2021]

Assignments to the species for the sharks involved in attacks are thus difficult and often disputable, and may be influenced by individual experiences, and knowledge of previous attack history at the site. Additionally, observations and wound characteristics only bring limited information about the individual such as an estimate of its size and rarely discriminant marks. Only the capture of a shark, with human remains attributable to the victim in its stomach, allows a posteriori species (and obviously individual) identification.

Using DNA Testing to Identify the Species in Sharks Attacks

In recent years new methods of identifying the sharks responsible for attacks that analyzes genetic material have been developed. French Researchers examining shark attacks in Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean collected DNA from two shark bites there and employed DNA barcoding and microsatellite genotyping. [Source: Francesca Giammona,, July 12, 2021 , Paper: Oury, Nicolas, et al. “Forensic genetic identification of sharks involved in human attacks.” Forensic Science International: Genetics (2021)]

On how DNA barcoding works, Francesca Giammona, a PhD candidate at Wake Forest University, wrote: . First, a sample is taken from the organism (or wound) that needs to be examined. All of the DNA in the sample is then extracted from all other materials present (ex. parts of tissue, hair, or muscle). Then, only the DNA of interest (shark DNA in this case) is isolated and amplified so there are many copies of it. The DNA sequences of these many copies are then analyzed to determine the specific species the DNA is from.

DNA barcoding is generally used to identify what species a particular sample of DNA may be from. It relies on “barcoding regions” – areas of the DNA where the sequence is known for many species. These barcoding regions are similar enough between species that they can be easily identified as being from the barcoding region, but different enough that each species has several unique DNA barcoding segments. In analyzing shark bite DNA, researchers first isolated shark DNA from victim bite wounds, and then looked at the barcoding regions of their samples. By comparing the barcoding regions of the samples with DNA from barcoding regions of known shark species, they were able to match the unknown shark samples to species, and identify the types of sharks responsible for the attacks.

Microsatellite genotyping involves examining short sections of DNA that repeat over and over on particular, known locations on DNA strands. These short, repeating DNA segments are called microsatellites. Every living thing has these microsatellites, but the location and specific DNA microsatellite sequence will vary between species, and even individual organisms. With this method, researchers first narrowed down the list of potential shark species they believed lived near the area of the attacks, as obtaining this information allowed them to lessen the amount of data needed to collect and compare. Then, they looked for the microsatellites present in their shark bite wound samples. They then matched the microsatellites from their samples to microsatellite samples from known shark species that typically live in the area of the attacks. Researchers determined the sharks that caused the attacks by observing which microsatellites matched between the bite wound samples and known shark species.

Sharks caught in Queensland's Shark Control 1997-June 2014

In the two shark attack bites examined in the French researchers in Reunion Island, DNA barcoding and microsatellite genotyping both concluded that two different bull sharks were responsible. Microsatellite genotyping is a little more specific than DNA barcoding because it can also be used to compare the DNA of samples to see if they are from the same individual. As a final step here, researchers compared the microsatellites between the two shark attack samples to see if they were from the same individual shark. Using microsatellite genotyping, they were also able to tell that the two attacks were not caused by the same exact shark.

Minor Attacks by Lesser-Known Species of Sharks

Florida has relatively minor 20-30 of hit-and-run attacks per year, Evidence suggests that the blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) [possibly spinner (Carcharhinus brevipinna) and blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus)] sharks are the major culprits. Blacktip sharks are likely responsible for the majority of bites in Florida, which has consistently had the highest bite count of any geographic area for the past several decades. Blacktip sharks bit 28 people between 1958 and 2019 (the majority in Florida). All but one resulted in relatively minor, and non-fatal, bites. These relatively small sharks hunt in warm waters near shorelines where they use the shallows to avoid predators of their own, including great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) and bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas). [Source: Jerald Pinson, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, January 24, 2022

According to the Washington Post, Florida's Brevard and Volusia counties, including tourist hot spots such as New Smyrna Beach, routinely lead the US in the annual number of shark strikes because they have a a huge number of surfers and swimmers and are in the migration routes of blacktip and sandbar sharks. Together they made up 15 of the 53 recorded US attacks in 2011 year, though most of these tend to be minor scrapes since the species there are less dangerous than those found in other areas.

On the sharks found off Long Island in New York, Christopher Paparo, manager of the Marine Science Center at Stony Brook-Southampton, told CBS News: The most common ones that are interacting with people these days are sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks and dusky sharks." [Sources: CBS News, July 16, 2022. [Sources: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

Sand tiger sharks are fearsome-looking creatures that swim around with their mouths open, exposing rows of spike-like teeth. In reality they are generally nonthreatening. In the summer of 2022, juvenile ones were implicated in some minor attacks in Long Island, New York, which saw a record number of eight attacks. Scientists believe the attacks were mostly from juvenile sand tiger sharks drawn close to shore by an influx of baitfish. “If fish are especially dense where people are swimming and visibility is poor, then it is more likely that young sharks, which lack the experience of older animals, will mistake a swimmer’s foot for their intended prey,” Gavin Naylor, a marine biologist at the University of Florida who runs the International Shark Attack Files (ISAF) at the Florida Museum of Natural History told The Guardian. [Source: Richard Luscombe, The Guardian, February 7 2023]

In December 2019 a shovelnose shark bit a man in shallow waters off the Great Barrier Reef at at North West Island in Queensland. Australia.. He suffered minor injuries to his right hand and leg. Sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) have accounted for five non-fatal attacks and 0 fatal attacks for of total of 5 attacks. In 2010, a teenage New Zealand girl bitten by a shark bashed it over the head with her body board until it let her go, she said. Associated Press reported: Lydia Ward, 14, was in waist-deep water with her brother at Oreti Beach on the country's South Island when the shark — believed to be a broad-nosed seven gill shark — grabbed her hip. She said she did not notice the shark until the attack was under way. "I saw my brother's face and turned to the side and saw this large gray thing in the water so I just hit it on the head with a boogie board," Ward told National Radio, adding that she had read about a surfer who fought off a shark attack with her board. "That's what she did, and that's what you're meant to do." The last time the species attacked a human at Oreti Beach was in 1999, and the young girl victim required 60 stitches. [Source: Associated Press, February 2, 2010]

Cookie-Cutter Shark Takes Bite from a Long-Distance Swimmer

Cookie cutter bite on a tuna

Cookiecutter sharks (Isistius brasiliensis) have accounted for five non-fatal attacks and zero fatal attacks. The name "cookiecutter shark" refers to its feeding habit of gouging round plugs, as if cut out with a cookie cutter, out of larger animals. The sharks usually attack other sea animals, such as fish and whales, and feed mainly at night. They live in open ocean tropical waters and usually don't encounter humans. Marks made by cookiecutter sharks have been found on a wide variety of marine animals as well as on submarines and undersea cables. [Source: Wikipedia, International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Live Science reported: For one man, a long-distance swim, ended in a painful altercation with a cookie-cutter shark. One of the few documented cases of the small shark taking a scoop of meat from a living human. The attack occurred in the waters between Hawaii and Maui on March 16, 2009, as the victim was trying to cross the Alenuihaha Channel. The long-distance swimmer was making the 30-mile trek across the channel at sunset when he felt the shark take a bite out of his chest, then his left calf as he left the water.

"Not only is it painful, but it presents a difficult circumstance for recovery in the sense that there has to be plastic surgery to close the wound and you have permanent tissue loss," study researcher George Burgess, of the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. "They have the biggest teeth of any shark in relation to the size of their jaws.They look like the cartoon sharks you see with oversized teeth."[Source: Jennifer Welsh, Live Science, July 2, 2011]

Because the sharks are small, cookie-cutter shark bites aren't that powerful; so the skin-scooping shark bites can probably be avoided by wearing a thick wetsuit when swimming in the open ocean at night, John O'Sullivan, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said in a statement. "These animals are very small and very aggressive in behavior. People say, 'Thank God these things don't get big,'" O'Sullivan said. The details of the attack have been published this week in the journal Pacific Science.

Great White, Tiger Shark and Bull Shark Attacks

Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) are responsible for more serious shark attacks than any other shark species. They have accounted for 292 non-fatal attacks and 59 fatal attacks for of total of 351 attacks. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Some places post higher figures for great white shark attacks and fatalities. By one estimate there have been 311 verified deaths from great white shark attacks. One reason for the difference between this figure and the lower figure above is that the figure above only counts unprovoked attacks. Provoked attacks that are not included include attacks associated with spearfishing, fishing and chumming (attracting sharks with bloody fish part). Attacks on surfers are considered unprovoked attacks.

Tiger shark named Scarface

Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) are said to the world’s most dangerous sharks after great white sharks. Tiger sharks are one three species of sharks along with great whites and bull sharks involved in a large number of attacks on humans. Tiger sharks have accounted for 103 non-fatal attacks and 39 fatal attacks for of total of 142 attacks. Between 1876 and 2001, tiger sharks were involved in 83 recorded unprovoked attacks, 29 of them fatal. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are considered by some to be the nastiest of all sharks. They are often found in places where people hang out. Bull sharks have accounted for 93 non-fatal attacks and 26 fatal attacks for of total of 119 attacks. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Attacks by Hammerheads, Makos and Blue Sharks

Blue sharks are regarded as non aggressive but potentially dangerous. Between 1876 and 2001, they were involved in 15 recorded unprovoked attacks. Each year over 6 million blue sharks are caught by fishing vessels, mainly for their fins.

Hammerhead are regarded as shy sharks but have an unpredictable temperate. They usually flee at the sight of a diver or swimmer and divers regularly swim with large schools of them. Between 1876 and 2001, hammerheads were involved in 18 recorded unprovoked attacks. In September 2015, a man in his 20s was attacked by a three-meter (10-foot) hammerhead shark while dangling his legs over the side of a kayak near Malibu, California. The shark reportedly bit the kayaker's foot straight down to the bone. Luckily, he was able to flag down a nearby fishing boat and they were able to control the bleeding and arrange for him to be airlifted to a nearby hospital.

Mako sharks (Isurus spp.) have accounted for 8 non-fatal attacks and zero fatal attacks. Shortfin Mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) have accounted for nine non-fatal shark attacks and one fatal attack for of total of 10 attacks. Mako sharks are popular targets of sport fishermen and many of the attacks associated with them are provoked attack connect with fishing or chumming the water with bloody fish parts to attract them. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Requiem Shark Attacks

requiem sharks, image from Shark Research Institute

Requiem sharks are among the top five species involved in shark attacks on humans; however, due to the difficulty in identifying individual species, a degree of inaccuracy exists in attack records. Requiem sharks (Carcharhinus spp.) have accounted for 46 non-fatal attacks and 5 fatal attacks for of total of 51 attacks. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023, Wikipedia]

Requiem sharks are sharks of the family Carcharhinidae in the order Carcharhiniformes. They are migratory, live-bearing sharks of warm seas (sometimes of brackish or fresh water) and include such species as the tiger shark, bull shark, lemon shark, spinner shark, blacknose shark, blacktip shark, grey reef shark, blacktip reef shark, silky shark, dusky shark, blue shark, copper shark, oceanic whitetip shark, and whitetip reef shark.

According to International Shark Attack Files: Due to the similarity of small coastal species in this group in tooth shape, body size, and appearance, it is often difficult to assign a species in bite cases. Based on life history traits, ISAF suspects blacktip sharks (C. limbatus) account for the majority of these requiem bites in Florida. However, these cases lack enough evidence to be conclusive.

According to Sharksider: Over half of all shark attacks are attributed to Requiem Sharks. Though since the different species tend to resemble each other, these reports are not completely accurate. Requiem Sharks are typically aggressive hunters with a varied diet, so often times they will attack if provoked or even just curious about humans as a food source. They also tend to live along coastal shores where humans tend to swim. So the frequency of attacks is not necessarily because of the nature of Requiem Sharks, but more because of the circumstances of human interactions.

In fact, an estimated 60 percent of all Requiem Shark attacks are the product of provoked attacks. Especially since Requiem Shark meat is highly valued for its flavor all over the world. Most Requiem Shark attacks happen as a product of commercial fishing or because a spear hunter was prodding the shark, and not because these sharks were specifically hunting humans. So even though they account for a high percentage of shark attacks, they are not really a threat to humans.

Bronze Whaler Shark Attacks

Bronze whalers are a dangerous and common shark found mostly off Australia and South Africa. They have been involved in a number of attacks. Bronze whalers (Carcharhinus brachyurus)have accounted for 15 non-fatal attacks and 1 fatal attacks for of total of 16 attacks. These sharks are well-known in Australia. In December 2004, a man was killed by what was thought to be a tiger shark of bronze whaler while spearfishing at Opal Reef on the Great Barrier Reef near the Yorkeys Knob area, north of Cairns. The Lancashire Telegraph reported: Mark Thompson, 38, suffered massive blood loss, caused by deep leg wounds, and a cardiac arrest after being attacked by the shark off the Queensland coast. A police spokesman said he was around 15metres from the boat when the shark, believed to be a tiger shark, attacked. Friends dragged him out of the water but he died soon afterwards. His body was taken back to shore by a rescue helicopter scrambled to the scene. [Source: Lancashire Telegraph, December 17, 2004; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

The Bronze whaler (Carcharhinus brachyurus) is known in most places as the copper shark and also called the narrowtooth shark. It is a species of requiem shark found mostly at temperate latitudes in the northeastern and southwestern Atlantic, off southern Africa, in the northwestern and eastern Pacific, and around Australia and New Zealand, with scattered reports from equatorial regions. This species can be found from brackish rivers and estuaries, to shallow bays and harbors, to offshore waters 100 meters (330 feet) deep or more. A large species reaching 3.3 meters (11 feet) in length, the copper shark is difficult to distinguish from other large requiem sharks. It is characterized by its narrow, hook-shaped upper teeth, lack of a prominent ridge between the dorsal fins, and plain bronze coloration. [Source: Wikipedia]

bronze whaler

In 2020, well-known diver in Fiji, Mark Wakeham, was bitten by a bronze whaler shark. The Fiji Times reported: It is believed that a six foot bronze whaler shark bit Mr Wakeham twice while he was free diving after 8am at the Frigate Reef Passage, located at the West end of Beqa. “Mark is a well-known spear fisherman and surfer in the area. He was bitten badly on his right arm,” Pacific Harbour resident Ronnie Hyer said. The shark bit him and it went and came back to bite him again. This hardly happens because on the first bite the shark will know that it is not food and will then go away. “The shark must be really hungry to come back and bite him again on the same arm. There have been several shark bites in the last two years, but it is rarely reported.”[Source: Wati Talebula, Fiji Times, December 2, 2020]

As for the attack, Mr Hyer claims that the shark had attacked Mr Wakeham because there was no shark feeding. Shark feeding in the Beqa waters, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, is a popular attraction for many tourists who visit the country and enjoy diving. Mr Hyer claimed: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, shark divers are not feeding sharks anymore and I think this is why this attack happened.” However, this was disputed by Aqua-Trek Beqa operations manager, Jona Baro. “Sharks are everywhere and they will only come when we feed them. And for people to say that it is because of us is wrong,” Mr Baro said. “When we are not there, they are hunting food somewhere else, when we are there then they will come.” Beqa Adventure Divers’ operations manager Andrew Cumming labelled the claims as “rubbish”.

Professional diver Captain Jonathan Smith said sharks would move out of their normal hunting grounds when overpopulated. The problem is not only the feeding, but because they have been attracting a lot of sharks and the feeding has stopped there is not enough food for all of them,” he said. “They are used to hand feeding and there was always food for them and now there is no food for them. What makes it worse is that the shark is used to humans. Sharks are generally afraid of humans and these sharks are used to being hand fed. They expect humans to have their food all the time so when they see you, they will come to you for food. I have swum in the harbour with bull sharks and bronze whalers, but they don’t harm us. But when you have food on you, they will come for you.”

University of the South Pacific Head of Marine Science and shark expert Rico Ciro said: “Sharks are predators and if attracted by the movement of the diver, they could potentially attack simply to test if the animal moving, in this case a human, could be a good prey.”

Lemon Shark Attacks

Lemon sharks

In early 2022, a woman snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas was bitten by a lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), which rarely attack humans. The incident marked only the 11th known unprovoked attack from this species. [Source: Jerald Pinson, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, February 6, 2023]

Lemon sharks have a powerful bite and may attack humans if provoked. In 1993 in Monroe County off Key West a snorkeler was bitten by a lemon shark. In early January 2020 a nine-year-old girl was attacked by a shark off the Great Barrier Reef near North West Island in Queensland. Australia. She suffered a bite wound to the back of her leg and puncture wounds to her foot. A lemon shark was suspected of that attack.

In June 2013, man fishing in the Florida Keys bitten by lemon shark in what is regarded as a provoked attack. According to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office: A 58 year old man from Cape Coral was airlifted to Miami today after being severely bitten on the hand by a 4 foot Lemon shark. Walter Kefauver and his 18 year old nephew, Cody Ellis, were on board an 18 foot Action Craft flats boat in the vicinity of Snipe Point when the incident took place. They had just caught a Bonefish and decided to try to catch a shark. They baited their hook with a piece of Barracuda and managed to hook a 4 foot Lemon shark. [Source: News Release,Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, June 6, 2013]

After reeling it in to the boat, they were attempting to remove the shark from the hook when it lunged at Kefauver, biting deep into his left hand near his wrist. Ellis called 911 for help, then brought his uncle into the Shark Key boat ramp where paramedics were waiting. Kefauver was taken to Lower Keys Hospital, then airlifted to Miami. Although the injury was not reportedly life threatening, the damage to his hand was extensive and the local hospital was not equipped to handle its treatment.

Nurse Shark Attacks

nurse sharks

On some list nurse shark are ranked fourth in documented shark bites on humans, likely due to careless behavior by divers, swimmers and snorkelers who overestimate nurse sharks calm, sedentary disposition. If harassed or cornered nurse sharks will bite but otherwise they generally leave humans alone.

The International Shark Attack Files at the Florida Museum of Natural History only records unprovoked shark attacks on humans. According to its reckoning nurse sharks have accounted for nine non-fatal unprovoked attacks and zero fatal attacks for of total of 9 attacks since 1876, which is not so many especially when one considers how often the fish are enountered . [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

Nurse sharks have bitten a number of people who have harassed them or accidentally startled them. When provoked they will attack and often hold on to the victim with unyielding pit-bull-like grip. Describing one such attack in the Florida Keys, WPLG reported: A Homestead man ended up with 16 stitches after a nurse shark clamped onto his foot while he was working on a dock. Andres Garcia was in the water in Key Largo when he said the shark bit down and grabbed on and wouldn't let go. [Source: Ian Margol and Michelle Solomon, WPLG October 16, 2020]

In 1998, a 16-year-old Illinois boy was bitten by a nurse shark off Marathon Key in the Florida Keys after he grabbed the shark's tail. The unrelenting shark wouldn't let go of the boy's chest, and stayed attached to the boy until he reached a hospital where doctors cut the animal's spine to kill it. The boy was scuba diving with his father near Marathon, when he saw a three-foot nurse shark swimming near him and grabbed its tail, emergency workers said. The shark bit his chest and wouldn’t let go. Burgess doesn't count such incident in his statistics, he said, because it was a provoked attack. The child taunted the animal. He puts that one in a different file, he said: “S for Stupid.'' [Source: Reuters]

Reef Shark Attacks

Whitetip reef sharks are regarded as not dangerous. They are attracted by boat engines, presumably by an opportunity for a free meal, often show up when fish are speared and occasionally bite divers in such encounters but are generally not aggressive. In April 2001, a surfer was bitten on the left hand by a small white-tip reef shark in 10-foot waters off Ewa Beach in Hawaii White tips have been overfished. Many have been harvested for their fins.

whitetip reef shark

Blacktip reef sharks are regarded as inquisitive but not dangerous. They occasionally bite divers, surfers and waders, seemingly accidentally, as they chase schools of bait fish near the shore but are generally not aggressive. Between 1876 and 2001, they were involved in 14 recorded unprovoked attacks.

Describing an attack by a gray reef shark, Curtsinger wrote: the shark "tore open my left hand, I remember feeling as if I'd been hit by a sledge hammer. Such was the shock, I don't recall the actual bite." The incident took place in 1973 in waters off a South Pacific atoll. "It was 20 feet away and closing. I saw it sweeping its head back and forth; its back was arched like a cat's. The shark was speaking to me, but at the time I didn't know the words...The shark came at me like a rocket. I had time only to lift my hand, the shark ripping it with its teeth. As I swam frantically toward the boat, I saw that each dip of my hand left a cloud of blood in the water. the shark struck again, raking my right shoulder. At that moment a friend in a dingy rescued me." Now Curtsinger sometimes wears a steel mesh diving suit or a protective plastic "shark scooter."

Describing another attack by a gray reef shark that he believed was injured, photographer Mike deGruy said, "I raised my camera and took a picture and it ripped up my right arm and then my left scuba fin. Luckily, it grabbed my fin and not my thigh. I came to the surface spewing blood everyplace. I swam with my left leg back to the boat...Three quarters of the way to the boat, I felt I might make it." Suddenly he wondered: "Why am I not being eaten? Then, it was like an epithet. 'Phil!' They're eating Phil!" His diving partner Phil was seriously injured. DeGruy required 11 operations over a year and a half to repair the damage that was done to him.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark Attacks

Oceanic whitetip sharks are considered the fourth most dangerous sharks for people. They swarm in the waters off Cat Island in the Bahamas and have killed swimmers in the Red Sea. Most of the shark attack deaths after the sinking of the Indianapolis in World War II — and event immortalized in Quint’s soliloquy in “Jaws” — were attributed to Oceanic whitetips. Oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) have accounted for 12 non-fatal attacks and 3 fatal attacks for of total of 15 attacks. [Source: International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, 2023]

In December 2010, The Guardian reported: “A 70-year-old German tourist died after being mauled by a shark off the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh — the latest in a series of shark attacks in the Red Sea over the past five days. The attack was thought to have been carried out by a oceanic white tip shark. Attacks by oceanic white tip sharks are extremely rare and shark attacks of any kind are very unusual in the Red Sea. According to security officials quoted by the Associated Press, the German woman's arm was severed in the attack and she died within minutes. The week before three Russians and a Ukrainian were badly injured. The Egyptian authorities had said they were confident that the capture and killing of two sharks had eliminated the threat to swimmers. A 48-hour ban on entering the water had been lifted yesterday but all watersports, except for diving sites, have been closed again following attack on the German. [Source: Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, December 5 2010]

In 2019 a French tourist was severely injured in a rare shark attack off the coast of Tahiti. Newsweek reported: The 35-year-old woman was swimming in the waters off Moorea island on a whale-watching trip on Monday, according to Radio New Zealand, when she was attacked by an oceanic whitetip shark that ripped into her chest and arms. The woman was airlifted to a hospital in Tahiti and was reported to have lost both hands and a lot of blood, according to firefighter Jean-Jacques Riveta. "Luckily for her, there were two nurses on the scene who could deliver first aid," he told AFP. [Source: Soo Kim, Newsweek, October 22, 2019]

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 March 2023

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