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In-depth: The Truth About Shark Attacks

"Shark Bait!"
by Robin Marks

That's what some people call surfers at Santa Cruz, California, and other spots around the world reputed to have sharks lying in wait. But how appropriate a label is it? Let's look at the numbers.

More:
Reducing the Risk of a Shark Encounter: Advice to Aquatic Recreationists,
International Shark Attack File, Florida Museum of Natural History (at flmnh.ufl.edu)

Between 1926 and 2004, there were a total of six confirmed shark attacks in the Santa Cruz area, none of them fatal. In fact, in 2004, there were only 30 shark attacks in the entire United States, and only two of them resulted in death. In contrast, that same year in the United States more than 32,000 people were killed in car accidents, 3,900 died in fires and 22 were killed by dogs.

Dive team underneath a shark
Despite sharks' fierce reputation, you're more likely to be killed by a dog than by one of these formidable creatures.
Click to enlarge
The word "attack" is actually an inaccurate description of a shark encounter. The few species of sharks that might harm humans don't charge angrily toward unsuspecting beachcombers. They are looking for food, and to determine whether something is prey, they take a nibble -- which, unfortunately, can be fatal to a human. A savvy surfer knows that clawing at a shark's eyes and snout and giving it a wallop on the nose will deter it, giving the surfer time to return to shore.

It's common sense that humans aren't shark food; we're not built like seals and sea lions. Sharks prefer an energy-providing layer of fat to the flesh of us comparatively lean humans. In fact, great white sharks have been known to spit out human tissue, not finding it desirable enough to even bother swallowing.

Sources:

flmnh.ufl.edu: "International Shark Attack File," Florida Museum of Natural History

www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov: Auto collision statistics: U.S. Department of Transportation

usfa.fema.gov: Fire statistics: U.S. Fire Administration

flmnh.ufl.edu: "Sharks," Ichthyology at the Florida Museum of Natural History

time.com: "Summer of the Shark," Time.com