Photo: Foto-Foto-Foto-Foto/Shutterstock

2024's Shark Attacks Are Alarming, but Sharks Don't Want to Eat Humans

Wildlife Sustainability News
by Suzie Dundas Jun 12, 2024

An increase in shark attacks around the world so far in 2024 has lit up newspaper headlines, but experts have long said that sharks aren’t really to blame.

On July 7, there were four attacks from (probably) three sharks across the US: one near Oahu, HI; and three in Destin, FL. Two of the Florida victims were near each other and probably attacked by the same shark. None of the attacks were fatal.

In March, there were two additional shark incidents in Oahu. One person received minor cuts to their foot, while the other was uninjured as the shark bit his surfboard. Earlier this year, a swimmer in Southern California received minor injuries from a shark bite, and in the Bahamas, a man fell off a boat and was attacked by sharks — not surprising, since he fell off a fishing boat that likely dragged a scent of blood and fish guts through the water.

In 2023, there were 104 confirmed shark attacks around the world, according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF). Of those, 14 were fatal and 69 were unprovoked (i.e. not instigated by human interactions). The TSAF calculates a five-year average of roughly 63 unprovoked attacks per year, so 2023’s total is right in line with that estimate. The US has the most attacks of any country by sheer numbers, with about half occurring in the US. Of the US shark attacks, Florida has the most. Florida also has the most coastline of any US state, other than Alaska.

After most of the 2024 shark attacks to date, officials temporarily closed the beaches. When beaches re-open following shark attacks, there’s usually signage advising beachgoers to be extra careful. Sometimes, officials will use helicopters to scare sharks away from shore, and may have patrol boats near shore to easily come to swimmers’ aid if another shark-related incident should occur.

@britneycantrell0520 #sharks #panamacitybeachflorida #lagunabeach #baycountyflorida #sharksoftiktok #2024 #sharkattack #CapCut #palazzo ♬ original sound – Britney

Of the 2023 shark attacks around the world, the USAF says “Surfers and those participating in board sports accounted for 42% of incidents. Swimmers and waders accounted for 39%. Snorkelers/free divers accounted for 13%.” That make sense, as most sharks attack from below, and it’s very difficult for a shark to tell the difference between a person on a board and a fat seal or sea lion when they look straight up at the surface from below. Most sharks do “test bites” first when they can’t tell what something is, which is why most shark attacks aren’t fatal — as soon as a shark gets a mouthful of a surf board, person, or swimsuit, it realizes it isn’t a fish or a seal, and swims away.

Are 2024’s numbers above average? There have been 22 so far in 2024, and since summer just started in the northern hemisphere, it’s possible the year could end up a little above average — though it could also be well below average.

Irresponsible reporting threatens shark populations

2024 shark attacks - nice whale shark

Most shark species are harmless to humans, including the massive whale sharks. Photo: Max Topchii/Shutterstock

Ever since the movie “Jaws” — which director Steven Spielberg said he regrets in some ways, as it led to a global hatred of sharks – people have had an unrealistic fear of sharks. Like any other species, sharks need to eat, and attacks on humans aren’t for any purpose other than that — they’re not trying to hurt humans, and probably don’t even understand what humans are.

While there have been many recent balanced articles spreading the word of experts that shark attacks are still extremely, extremely rare, some articles haven’t been so responsible. A Florida publication recently published an article in which it interviewed a fishing boat captain, quoting incorrect and harmful statements. His printed quotes say that shark populations are up more than they were 50 years ago (nearly all shark species in Florida have declined by about 70 percent, though some researchers do think some Pacific coastal species are slowly recovering), states that they aren’t actually endangered, and calls sharks “mean,” saying they’ll eat whatever they can around them.

Stories like this create an irresponsible hatred of sharks, which are a cornerstone species essential to the food web and overall ocean health. And a healthy ocean is essential for a healthy planet.

On social media, some users have posted videos that look frightening. But fortunately, knowledgable commenters are there to help out, as with a video posted by @ocean_therapy on TikTok. Commenters were quick to point out that the shark in the video was a nurse shark (a non-aggressive, common reef species often described as harmless), and that in Florida, sharks are part of the landscape. “Beautiful creatures! They are kind to share their homes with so many humans,” wrote one viewer.

@ocean_therapy Replying to @no uvu this was the end of july last year. #sunsetladyontiktok #30a #emeraldcoast #santarosabeach #summer #waltoncounty #shark #sharkattack #oceanlife #sharkweek #florida ♬ son original – Sp3ed._up._S0ng🌄

When reading stories about shark attacks, it’s important to remember that sharks aren’t the enemy. The more people there are in the water, the more encounters with sharks are going to happen, even if the overall chance of getting bit is still roughly one in four million. Sharks do not purposefully attack humans. There are more than 300 species of sharks, only 30 of which have ever been suspected of biting humans, per NOAA.

Humans have killed so many sharks that their populations are a fraction of what they once were, and it’s created a false sense that shallow beaches are for humans. But when you step foot into the ocean, you’re entering shark territory, and it’s important to not let floating piers, flashy beach toys, and easy availability of paddleboards and jet ski rentals lure you into thinking it’s entirely safe. Other ocean hazards are far more dangerous, including rip currents (82 deaths in the US alone in 2023), toxic algae blooms (which killed more than 1,000 sea lions and dolphins in June 2023 in California alone), and even jellyfish, thought to kill about 1,000 people per year.

I’m a diver, and I’ve encountered lots of sharks in the wild. I always respect them and give them their space. The ocean is their territory, not mine, and I accept the very small risk of a bad encounter when I go into the ocean. And while the risk can be mitigated by behavior like not swimming at dusk and dawn, not swimming in murky water, and not swimming near schooling baitfish or active fishing areas, it’s always still. there — as it should be, since we need to preserve healthy ocean ecosystems.

While that may sound like something easy to say for someone who hasn’t had a shark-related incident, it’s the same viewpoint being echoed by some of the few people who have. That includes Anika Craney, who was attacked by a shark in Australia in 2020.

“I still love sharks,” she yelled to camera crews while being wheeled into the hospital for emergency repairs to her leg. “Sharks are beautiful!”

Discover Matador

Save Bookmark

We use cookies for analytics tracking and advertising from our partners.

For more information read our privacy policy.