Shark attacks always make the news. And by reading about it in the newspapers, it is easy to get the impression of an increasingly present danger. This is not the case, at least according to the latest “International Shark Attack File” from the University of Florida, a publication that maps the number of incidents involving these large predators of the seas every year: in 2023, in fact, there were a total of 69 unprovoked attacks against humans, a number, it is true, slightly higher than the average of the last five years, but still consistent with long-term trends.
The situation is different if we talk about deaths: last year there were 10, a much higher number than the five recorded in 2022, which according to American researchers, however, reflects the stochastic nature of the parameter (each attack is different from the other, and therefore is difficult to establish how likely it is that such an accident will prove lethal), but also probably of a growing presence of the great white shark near beaches (especially in Australia) which are very popular among surfers.
And in fact, surfing lovers are the main victims of attacks, representing 42% of those attacked in 2023. And Australia is the black-shirted nation in terms of deaths, given that it was the scene of just 22 % of attacks in 2023, but 40% of fatal ones. For the rest, the victims are divided between the United States (with two deaths), the Bahamas, Egypt, Mexico and New Caledonia. Non-lethal attacks also occurred in Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, New Zealand, Seychelles, Turks and Caicos Islands, Ecuador and South Africa.
Most of the shark bites that are recorded every year are what is called a “test bite”, an attack that is carried out not to kill prey, but to explore an interesting object (having no hands or other tactile devices, for these animals the bite represents the only means of interaction with the world). For this reason, it is usually only the larger species, such as white sharks and tiger sharks, that cause victims, because their test bite can often be enough to kill an unfortunate swimmer.
As the authors of the report explain, the main factors that determine the number of annual attacks are temperatures and number of swimmers. Two variables connected to each other, which explain how the global population of sharks or their aggressiveness is not increasing, but simply the number of people present in the waters where these fish are at home, and where there is always a percentage (even if absolutely minimal ) risk of being bitten.
The recommendations of the authors of the International Shark Attack File to minimize the dangers are to pay attention in particular in summer, when sharks are more active and the number of swimmers increases dramatically, to stay close to the shore when swimming in areas known for the presence of potentially dangerous sharks, do not swim at dawn or dusk and avoid producing too much splash while in the water.