Shark attacks down as sharks become scarce

Red Sea Sharks Oceanic whitetip
Red Sea Sharks Oceanic whitetip

The miniscule number of shark attacks occuring around the world has fallen for the fourth year running – perhaps because the chances of encountering a shark are becoming increasingly remote.

Every shark attack attracts world-wide publicity, yet statistics show that you are far more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a shark. Divers tend to be very keen to encounter sharks, but the falling number of attacks could signal that shark encounters are becoming increasingly scarce as many shark populations are being fished to near extinction.

Unprovoked shark attacks world-wide were running at
79 in 2000,
68 in 2001,
63 in 2002, and fell to
55 in 2003.

Shark attacks resulting in death represent a small proportion of these attacks: 11 deaths in 2000, 4 in 2001, 3 in 2002 and 4 in 2003.

Considering the many millions of people entering the seas in the course of a year, these figures are miniscule. Statistics from Australia – a country widely associated with the danger of shark attacks – show that people who are in the water are far more likely to die of drowning; an average of 300 people drown each year, with another 11,500 having to be rescued. Sharks account for an average of one death per year in Australia.

Florida, USA, regularly has the largest number of shark attacks world-wide, though very few prove fatal. Florida is on the eastern side of the Gulf of Mexico, and a recent report into the number of oceanic white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico has concluded that their numbers have reduced by 99% since the 1950s.

The report was produced by professors Julia K Baum and Ransom A Myers and funded by the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation at the University of Miami

Oceanic white tips were one of the most common tropical sharks, but according to Baum and Myers their numbers have been decimated by fishing. The study also found that the number of silky sharks was down by 90 percent, and mako sharks by 79 percent.

Myers also hit the headlines last May with a report into the world-wide decline in large predatory fish, including sharks.

A spokesperson for the Blue Water Fishermen's Association questioned the scientists' methods and dismissed the report as ‘random speculation', while a fishery management specialist at the National Marine Fisheries Service criticised the report as misleading.

But while officials argue about the exact degree of shark population decline, nobody disputes that there are fewer sharks around. And that means fewer sharks to dive with.


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