While there are instances of sharks attacking humans, it’s an incredibly rare occurrence.
While news stories can make it seem like sharks are vicious creatures that intentionally hunt humans, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
However, even though you are ten times more likely to be bitten by a New Yorker than a shark, there are still around a dozen shark attacks in the US each year.
Why do sharks attack humans?
Let’s look at why these attacks on humans occur, and how you can prevent them.
Do Sharks Actually Attack Humans?
Humans are not part of a shark’s natural diet, so they won’t go out of their way to attack or eat us.
When sharks attack humans, it’s usually a case of mistaken identity or a panic response on the shark’s behalf.
How Common Is It For a Shark to Attack a Human?
It is extremely rare for sharks to attack a human.
The odds of being attacked by a shark are 1 in 11.5 million.
The odds of being killed by a shark are 1 in 264.1 million.
How Many Shark Attacks Are There Per Year?
According to the Florida Museum, the average number of shark attacks on humans per year is 72.
The 72 shark attacks only factor in unprovoked shark attacks.
Do Sharks Want to Attack Humans?
No! As far as scientists understand, sharks have no desire to attack or eat humans.
There are many instances of sharks spitting out or vomiting up human flesh, suggesting they do not enjoy the taste or substance in any capacity.
Reasons Sharks Attack Humans
So if sharks don’t want to attack or eat humans, why do shark attacks happen at all?
As mentioned, when a shark attacks a human, it’s often a case of mistaken identity or provocation rather than a natural hunting incident.
Do Sharks Mistake Humans for Seals?
Yes, this is a common reason sharks attack humans.
While sharks have powerful vision, sometimes surfers can look like seals or sea lions from beneath the water.
This can lead to investigative bite attacks, where sharks will ‘taste’ something before committing themselves.
Do Sharks Attack Swimmers?
Yes, sharks sometimes attack swimmers.
Surfers and swimmers who venture beyond certain points on the shore, such as past a coral reef break or a steep drop-off, are the most likely to be victims of a shark attack.
But sharks will not go out of their way to attack a swimmer or surfer.
Do Sharks Attack Humans When They Smell Blood?
No, sharks will not attack a human because they smell blood.
While sharks can detect blood in the water, many myths surround this fact.
Contrary to popular belief, sharks do not enter a manic killing frenzy when they detect blood.
Related: How to survive a shark attack
Which Types of Sharks Attack Humans?
Of the over 300 shark species, only about a dozen have ever been involved in a documented attack on humans.
The three sharks most commonly involved in attacks are tiger sharks, great white sharks, and bull sharks.
Great White Sharks
Great white sharks are the most common shark involved in human attacks.
Their main preys are seals and sea lions, so most cases of a great white attack are a case of mistaken identity.
While these attacks are often a mistake, a bite from a great white can be fatal, as they’re one of the most powerful and feared apex predators.
Tiger sharks are often involved in human interactions because they typically inhabit areas where people swim.
Unlike great whites, tiger sharks tend to stay closer to the shore, making the chances of a human encounter higher.
Tiger sharks are extremely aggressive animals and instinctually respond with an attack.
Bull sharks also tend to swim in the bay and estuaries that humans swim in.
They’re also a curious species, meaning they’ll often take inquisitive bites or venture close to humans to investigate the unfamiliar creature.
Which Sharks Are Friendly?
Great whites, tiger sharks, and bull sharks are naturally aggressive, making human encounters dangerous.
But other sharks are friendly!
Leopard sharks are one of the gentlest and friendliest shark species, as they typically stay toward the ocean floor and become most active at night.
So if you encounter one during the day, they’re likely laying still on the ocean floor.
The zebra shark is another small bottom dweller that tends to steer clear of humans.
They only prey on smaller sea creatures, like snakes, eels, or small fish.
And they tend to swim around humans without any aggression or curiosity.
Scientists believe hammerheads do not bother humans because they have sensitive heads with extensions that can detect bioelectric fields.
This ability allows them to identify different creatures, including humans, from a distance and avoid them.
Unlike great whites and bull sharks, they don’t need to get close and take a bite to identify a creature.
Angel sharks aren’t necessarily friendly, as they will attack a human if provoked or touched.
But otherwise, they have a mild disposition and low aggression, so they won’t attack a human unless defending themselves.
Despite being one of the largest shark species, whale sharks are gentle and typically leave humans alone.
They are not aggressive animals, and they survive off krill, so a large creature like a human does not interest them.
Where Are Shark Attacks Most Common?
Since only a few sharks tend to attack humans, the areas where those species’ habitats are where shark attacks are most common.
Below are the four locations where shark attacks are most common.
South Africa has seen some of the most shark attack fatalities.
The area has experienced around 250 attacks and more than 50 fatalities.
Great white sharks tend to swim around South Africa, but scientists are unsure why they reside here.
The US state of Florida has seen an extraordinarily high number of shark attacks.
The state has had more than 820 shark attacks, but only 11 have been fatal.
One of the reasons attacks are so common in Florida is that they have a large population of sharks and several species.
Many tiger sharks reside off the coast of Florida in the warm waters, and they’ll take inquisitive bites if a human gets too close.
There have been 67 shark attacks in North Carolina and three fatalities.
What is odd is that the great whites that now live in this area did not reside there a few decades ago, making North Carolina a new hot spot for shark attacks.
Australian waters are riddled with sharks, making it a common location for shark attacks.
The continent has seen more than 500 attacks and over 100 fatalities.
And the encounters occur with several different species, but most prominently with great whites.
Notable Shark Attack Cases
A few notable shark attacks have occurred in human history, making for dramatic and horrifying news stories. Below are three of the most notable.
1. Jersey Shore Attacks (1916)
During an intense heatwave, several sharks gathered along the Jersey Shore and killed four humans throughout a single summer.
2. Rodney Fox (1953)
Rodney Fox, 13, was fishing off the coast of Australia when a great white pulled him into the water.
Miraculously, he survived, but he needed over 400 stitches to fix the wounds and had severe scars for the rest of his life.
3. USS Indianapolis (1945)
The USS Indianapolis sank during the final days of WW2, leaving hundreds of sailors floating in the water among the debris.
The survivors floated in the sea for days, and many became victims of shark attacks.
This was the largest mass shark attack documented in history.
What Does a Shark Bite Feel Like?
Those who survived shark attacks describe the bite as an intense sting that vibrates the body as it goes deeper and deeper.
Shark bites also tend to knock people around as they get caught in the powerful mouth of the shark.
What Are Sharks Afraid Of?
Sharks aren’t afraid of much, but they will avoid large pods of dolphins and steer clear of whale sharks who can attack with their tail.
But most of all, sharks are afraid of humans, as they hunt sharks and tend to overpower them with technology.
Preventing Shark Attacks
If you’re nervous about a shark attack, keep these tips in mind for preventing them and being aware of a shark’s presence.
Also, learn what to do if you believe a shark attack is looming.
How Can You Tell if a Shark Is Near?
Aside from identifying a shark fin breaching the water, the best way to tell if one is near is how other animals behave.
A shark may be nearby if birds and fish are acting up or fleeing the area.
What to Do if a Shark Is Circling
If a shark circles you, maintain eye contact with it and keep your body facing the predator.
They prefer the element of surprise.
Try not to make sudden movements, and if they begin to approach, take a defensive position with your arms forward to punch them or deter their bite.
But your main goal should always be getting out of the water.
Easy Ways to Prevent a Shark Attack
Follow these tips to prevent a shark attack:
- Do not splash excessively
- Do not stay in one spot too long
- Do not enter the water if you know or suspect sharks are present
- Enter and leave the water slowly
- Do not swim in low light
- Swim with a buddy
- Steer clear of areas with seals and sea lions
- Pay attention to the behavior of other animals like birds and fish
Frequently Asked Questions
For more information, read the frequently asked questions below!
Has a shark ever saved a human?
Yes! There are instances where a shark guided a human to safety who was adrift in the ocean.
And some sharks even recognize and bond with certain scuba divers!
Do sharks like the taste of humans?
No, evidence indicates that sharks dislike the taste of human flesh and will spit it out or vomit if they eat it.
Sharks don’t want to get involved with humans, but it happens.
Avoid shark-infested waters and never try to interact with a shark, as this often leads to an attack.
These majestic creatures have no malice, they’re just looking for their next meal, so don’t get in the way!
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