A new record for shark attacks around the world, and especially in the United States, was set last year. According to scientists, the increasing encounters between sharks and humans are due to the warm El Niño waters and global warming. The increase in shark attacks has prompted the Florida Museum of Natural History to advise people on how to react in case of an unexpected shark encounter.
Tuesday’s report by National Geographic, is based on a summary by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), published by the Florida Museum of Natural History. Last year set a new number of shark attacks with six human fatalities and a total of 98 unprovoked shark attacks. In comparison to 2014, last year had 26 more shark attacks. In contrast to the previous decade, there were 40 more encounters.
“’Unprovoked attacks’ are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark, ‘Provoked attacks’ usually occur when a human initiates physical contact with a shark, e.g. a diver bitten after grabbing a shark, attacks on spearfishers and those feeding sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, etc.”
North American waters had the most unprovoked shark attacks in 2015 with 59 unprovoked attacks in the United States (including seven in non-North American Hawaii) setting a new record. The six fatalities that occurred took place in Reunion, where two people died, and Australia, New Caledonia, Hawaii, and Egypt.
With more and more people spending time in the ocean, the increase in encounters between humans and sharks is no surprise:
“Surfers and others participating in board sports were most often (49% of cases) involved in 2015 incidents. Less affected recreational user groups included swimmers/waders (42%) and snorkelers (9%); notably there were no attacks on SCUBA divers in 2015. Surfers have been the most-affected user group in recent decades, the probable result of the large amount of time spent by people engaged in a provocative activity (kicking of feet, splashing of hands, and ‘wipeouts’) in an area commonly frequented by sharks, the surf zone.”
When encountering a shark, the International Shark Attack File advises to respond proactively, meaning hitting the shark on the nose (if possible with an object) and to use the time to get away from the predator. Repeated blows to the shark’s snout may be a temporary defense but since the shark might get more aggressive, it is best to get away while possible.
With warmer waters bringing more sharks closer to people, it is to be expected that the shark attack record will only increase in the future. If a shark should actually get a chance to bite, ISAF advises the following: “If a shark actually bites, we suggest clawing at its eyes and gill openings, two sensitive areas. One should not act passively if under attack as sharks respect size and power.”