SHARK WEEK IS ONCE AGAIN UPON US, AND WITH IT, a string of 8 shark attacks off the coast of North Carolina. That number is uncharacteristically high for that region — the most in over 80 years — and has understandably been met with a lot of concern by the public.
The proper response, however, is not to panic about your trip to the beach. Dying as a result of a shark attack is still astoundingly rare: your chance as an American of dying in a shark attack is around 1 in 3.7 million. You were far more likely to die this past weekend in a firework accident (1 in 340,773), or by being struck by lightning (1 in 79,746).
For whatever reason, though, shark attacks seem to cause a media feeding frenzy more than those other similarly dramatic ways of dying ever do, and, unlike with fireworks and lightning, we have a way to retaliate against the perceived culprits of these attacks. And while sharks only kill an average of 12 humans worldwide per year, we kill a staggering average of 11,417 sharks per hour.
Most of the shark deaths are a result of bycatch (when fishermen catch unintended species in their nets) or through the absurdly cruel and unethical practice of shark finning. In other words, they are extremely preventable deaths. And sharks are incredibly important to their ecosystem as apex predators.
“Fundamentally, shark attack is driven by the number of humans in the water than the number of sharks,” George Burgess, of the International Shark Attack File, told NPR in an interview. On top of this, shark attacks have been becoming less fatal over time, thanks to both medical advances and to increased beach safety.
If you’re still worried about shark attacks, you can take steps to prevent an attack: most attacks occur against surfers, and there are wetsuits and surfboards available which are “invisible” to sharks, as well as other deterrent technologies. You can also protect yourself by staying in a group (as sharks are more likely to attack loners), staying out of the water around twilight (when they are most active), and by not wearing shiny jewelry (which can resemble fish scales).
But really, the best thing to do is put it into perspective: it’s very unlikely that you’ll be attacked by a shark, and if you educate yourself, you are going to be able to avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations.