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Shark Attack Deaths Dramatically Rising, New Data Show

ISAF reports that deaths from shark attacks rise dramatically
ISAF reports there has been a dramatic increase in shark attack deaths. Credit: Terry Goss / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2023, there were more unprovoked shark attacks globally, leading to more deaths compared to the year before.

Based on the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) at the University of Florida, there were 69 unprovoked shark bites in 2023. This number is higher than the average of 63 attacks over the past five years but still follows the overall trend.

Last year, ten unprovoked attacks turned deadly, which is twice as many as the previous year. Most of these tragic incidents happened in Australia, making up 40 percent of all fatalities, even though Australia only had 22 percent of the total attacks.

In addition to Australia, there were confirmed deaths from shark attacks in the United States (2), the Bahamas, Egypt, Mexico, and New Caledonia.

Non-fatal bites also occurred in Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Turks and Caicos, Ecuador on the Galápagos Islands, and South Africa, according to ISAF.

Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, mentioned that the number of bites falls within the usual range, but the increase in fatalities is concerning.

USA experienced 52 percent of all shark attack incidents globally

In the United States, there were 36 unprovoked attacks, making up 52 percent of all incidents globally. Moreover, two of these attacks, one in California and another in Hawaii, resulted in fatalities. Florida continued to have the highest number of shark bites among all states, with sixteen reported attacks.

The ISAF focuses mainly on unprovoked attacks in its annual report. These attacks occur when a shark, without any human provocation, attacks someone while in its natural habitat.

This excludes instances in which humans intentionally approach sharks or swim where bait is being used to attract fish. Unprovoked attacks are essential for understanding shark behavior, according to ISAF.

“We’re biologists, and we want to understand the natural behavior of the animals—not the unnatural behavior,” Naylor said.

ISAF’s records noted 22 more attacks last year that were provoked either intentionally or unintentionally. Spearfishing was the most common activity of victims during provoked attacks.

Three fatalities of surfers in Southern Australia

In 2023, there were three deaths at a single remote surfing spot off the southern coast of Australia. The Eyre Peninsula, famed for its rugged, virgin beaches and incredible surf breaks, attracts surfers despite its challenging accessibility and navigation.

The area is also inhabited by seal colonies and has a large population of white sharks, as reported by ISAF.

“If a white shark is going after a seal and the seal knows it, the white shark hasn’t got a chance,” Naylor said. “Seals are really agile, so the only ones that get caught are the ones that are goofing off and flopping around on the surface minding their own business. And that’s kind of what a surfer looks like.”

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