How Many People Have Died From Shark Attacks?

March 22, 2024

One statistic has long stood at the center of shark attacks’ fear-mongering: worldwide, an average of 10 people die from them each year. But the number doesn’t tell the full story about humans’ complicated relationship with these magnificent, if deeply feared, ocean predators. In fact, it’s much more likely that a person will die from something like a car accident or a hurricane.

The International Shark File calculates its death tolls by tallying “unprovoked bites,” defined as incidents in which sharks attack humans without human provocation. That’s a pretty broad definition, and it can include non-fatal, provoked bites. The database also excludes sharks that have been intentionally lured into a dangerous situation, such as sharks being chased by fishermen. It also doesn’t count bites that are part of a fishing expedition or that occur in shark-fished areas.

Last year, the number of unprovoked shark attacks doubled, from five to 10, with a disproportionate number of fatalities occurring in Australia. Surfers were the most common victims, but swimmers and waders were not far behind. Spear fishers also saw a spike in attacks, accounting for 9% of the total bites but two of the seven confirmed deaths.

Still, comparing year-on-year bite statistics isn’t a good way to assess long-term trends. The number of lethal shark attacks was roughly in line with the recent five-year average, and more bites may be a reflection of increased numbers of humans entering the water, rather than more aggressive sharks.

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