ISAF 2007 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary
"Death Total Lowest In Two Decades"
The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 112 alleged incidents of shark-human interaction occurring worldwide in 2007. Upon review, 71 of these incidents represented confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attack on humans. "Unprovoked attacks" are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurs in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark. Incidents involving sharks and divers in public aquaria or research holding-pens, shark-inflicted scavenge damage to already dead humans (most often drowning victims), attacks on boats, and provoked incidents occurring in or out of the water are not considered unprovoked attacks. "Provoked attacks" usually occur when a human initiates physical contact with a shark, e.g. a diver bit after grabbing a shark, a fisher bit while removing a shark from a net, and attacks on spearfishers and those feeding sharks. The 41 incidents not accorded unprovoked status in 2007 included 20 provoked attacks, two cases of air/sea disasters, five cases of sharks biting marine vessels, four incidents dismissed as non-attacks, zero scavenge incidents, and 10 cases in which insufficient information was available to determine if shark attack was involved.
The 2007 yearly total of 71 unprovoked attacks was higher than the 63 unprovoked attacks in 2006 and continues a gradual upswing in attacks since dropping to 57 in 2003. That three-year drop followed a high of 76 attacks that occurred in 2000. The significance of such short scale decreases and increases should not be overplayed as they are a characteristic pattern observed in historic shark attack data. When observed more broadly, the decadal number of unprovoked shark attacks grew at a steady rate over the past century. Overall, the 1990's had the highest attack total of any decade. That upward trend has continued: the previous decadal total was surpassed during 2007, eight years into the first decade of the 21st century.
The growth in shark attack numbers does not necessarily mean there is an increase in rate of shark attack, rather it most likely is reflective of the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans. The number of shark-human interactions occurring in a given year is directly correlated to the amount of time humans spent in the sea as well as the number of sharks. As the world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises (perhaps proportionately even faster than the population increase), we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks and other aquatic recreation-related injuries. If shark populations remain the same or increase in size, one might predict that there should be more attacks each year than in the previous year because more people are in the water. Shark populations, by contrast, actually are declining at a serious rate or are holding at greatly reduced levels in many areas of the world chiefly as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss, theoretically reducing the opportunity for these shark-human interactions. However, year-to-year variability in local economic, social, meteorological and oceanographic conditions also significantly influences the local abundance of sharks and humans in the same water mass and, therefore, the odds of encountering one another. As a result, short-term trends in the number of shark attacks - up or down - must be viewed with caution. Thus, the ISAF prefers to view trends over longer periods of time (e.g., by decade) rather than trying to assign too much significance to often high year-to-year variability.
In addition to increases in the number of hours spent in the water by humans, the ISAF's efficiency in discovering and investigating attacks has increased greatly over the past two decades, leading to further increases in attack number. Transfer of the ISAF to the Florida Museum of Natural History in 1988 resulted in greatly expanded international coverage of attack incidents and a consequent jump in the number of documented attacks. In the early 1990's the ISAF was able to develop important cooperative relationships with many Florida beach safety organizations and medical facilities, leading to increased documentation of attacks from a region that is a world leader in aquatic recreation. Fundamental advances in electronic communication (the Internet and email), a greatly expanded network of global ISAF scientific observers, and a rise in interest in sharks throughout the world, spawned in part by increased media attention given to sharks, have promoted more complete documentation of attack incidents in recent years. ISAF's web pages [flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/sharks.htm], which include electronic copies of the Attack Questionnaire in four languages as well as a plethora of statistics and educational material about sharks, comprise the most highly accessed shark site on the Internet. Our strong web presence regularly results in the receipt of unsolicited documentation of shark attacks. Many of these attacks likely would have been missed in the past because they occurred in communication-poor locales or areas lacking ISAF representatives.
The single fatality resulting from an unprovoked attack in 2007 was recorded from New Caledonia. This is the fewest number of fatalities in two decades (the previous low was 0 in 1987). The mean number of unprovoked deaths from 2000-2007 is 5.0 per year. The number of serious attacks in the current decade, as measured by fatality rate (7.6%), has been lower than that of the 1990's (12.3%), continuing the downward trend of the twentieth century. This reduction in fatality rate is reflective of advances in beach safety practices and medical treatment, and increased public awareness of avoiding potentially dangerous situations.
As in recent years, the majority (61%: 43 attacks) of unprovoked attacks occurred in North American waters. Traditionally, half of the world's attacks occur in United States (including Hawaii) waters. The total of 50 attacks in the U.S. waters was higher than the declines recorded in 2003-2006 (ranging from 30-40), returning to 2000-2001 levels of 53 and 50, respectively. Elsewhere, attacks occurred in Australia (13 - up from 7 in 2006 but similar to 2004-2005 totals of 13 and 10), South Africa (2), and New Caledonia (2), with single incidents reported from Fiji, Ecuador, Mexico, and New Zealand.
On average, one-third of the world's attacks and the majority of U.S, attacks are recorded from Florida. Following that trend, Florida (32) had most of the unprovoked attacks in the United States. Since dropping from 37 in 2000 to an eleven year low of 12 in 2004, there has been a gradual upswing in attacks back to former levels. Additional U.S. attacks were recorded in Hawaii (7, its highest since 2002), South Carolina (5), California (3), North Carolina (2), and Texas (1). Volusia County usually is the source of about half of Florida's activity and in 2007 had 17 bites, its highest total since 2002. This area normally has higher numbers of shark-human interactions as a result of very high aquatic recreational utilization of its attractive waters by both Florida residents and tourists, especially surfers drawn to the good breaks at New Smyrna Beach. Other Florida counties having attacks in 2007 were St. Lucie (4), Flagler (2), Sarasota (2), and Brevard, Broward, Collier, Martin, Indian River, Monroe, and Palm Beach (one each). The east coast of Florida historically has had more attacks than the Gulf of Mexico coastline because of the larger number of beach users, particularly surfers, utilizing its high-energy beaches.
Surfers/windsurfers (35 incidents: 56% of cases with victim activity information) and swimmers/waders (24: 38%) and were the recreational user groups most often involved in shark attacks in 2007. Less affected were divers/snorkelers (4: 6%). In eight attacks the activity of the victim was not ascertained. Surfers have been the most affected user group in recent years.
Getting species identification in shark attacks is difficult because victims seldom see the shark or, if they do, see it in sufficient detail to make an accurate identification (often difficult even for well-trained scientists). Therefore we get this information in only a small portion of our investigations. In 2007, we identified the attacking shark to species in a dozen incidents: white shark, Carcharodon carcharias (5), tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier (3), bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas (2), and bronze whaler, Carcharhinus brachyurus (2). In addition, one bite was attributed to an unidentified species of wobbegong and two bites were said to be "blacktip" sharks, a somewhat dubious identification inasmuch as many shark species have black tips on their fins.
If one is actually under attack by a shark, we advise a proactive response. Hitting a shark on the nose, ideally with an inanimate object, usually results in the shark temporarily curtailing its attack. One should try to get out of the water at this time. If this is not possible, repeat bangs to the snout may offer temporary restraint, but the result likely become increasingly less effective. If a shark actually bites, we suggest clawing at its eyes and gills, two sensitive areas. One should not act passively if under attack - sharks respect size and power. For additional safety tips, see:
The International Shark Attack File, internationally recognized as the definitive source of scientifically accurate information on shark attack, is a compilation of all known shark attacks. In existence since 1958, it is administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida under the auspices of the American Elasmobranch Society, the world's foremost international organization of scientists studying sharks, skates and rays. More than 4,200 individual investigations are currently housed in the ISAF, covering the period from the mid-1500's to present. Many of the data in the ISAF originate from the voluntary submissions of numerous cooperating scientists who serve worldwide as regional observers. Data submitted to the ISAF is screened, coded and computerized. Hard copy documentation, including original interviews and notes, press clippings, photographs, audio/video tapes, and medical/autopsy reports, is permanently archived. Biological researchers and research physicians study investigations housed in the ISAF. Access to ISAF data is granted only after careful screening on a case-by-case basis. Direct access by the press and general public is prohibited since much data, including medical records, is sensitive in nature and is given in confidence. Requests for summary information and non-privileged data are made to the ISAF director, George H. Burgess.
For additional information on sharks and shark attack, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History's shark
research web site at: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/sharks.htm
George H. Burgess
Director, International Shark Attack File
Florida Program for Shark Research
Florida Museum of Natural History
University of Florida
P O Box 117800
Gainesville, FL 32611
© International Shark Attack File|
Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida