A number of factors are affecting how many shark attacks and fatalities occur each year, and most of them have little to do with sharks and more to do with humans, according to shark experts.
The reasons help to explain why shark attack statistics fluctuate so much from year to year. A report released by the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File earlier this week, for example, found that there were 10 human fatalities worldwide due to shark attacks, which is higher than the 10-year average from 2003-2012.
The U.S., on the other hand, only had one fatality- in Hawaii- and 47 shark attacks nationwide. This was lower than the 2012 total of 54.
“Shark attack rates, in general, have been rising every decade since the 1900s and yet there has been a sharp decline in the shark population,” George Burgess, curator of the Shark Attack File, told Discovery News. “Sharks are highly migratory animals that act predictably, so other forces are at work.”
Social and economic factors are two big drivers. A lousy economy usually helps keep shark attacks down.
“If the economy’s bad,” Burgess explained, “people won’t have money for vacations at the beach, and they won’t be as likely to gas up their car to go surfing.”
Our population continues to rise, however, as does our mobility.
“The more off the beaten path we go, the more likely shark attacks will occur,” he said.
Globalization, tourism and population growth worldwide have all led to shark attacks in historically low-contact areas. These include places like Reunion Island, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Solomon Island and the small island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The latter saw its first recorded shark attack in 2013.
Cage diving, where tour organizers attract sharks with bait, also can increase the chances for attack.
“We have previously analyzed data to see which sharks are hanging around shark tours with cage divers on Oahu, and one of the things we noticed was that you’d get a spike in how many tiger sharks are seen in October, which would match our predicted model that you’re having an influx of big, pregnant females coming from the northwestern Hawaiian Islands,” said Yannis Papastamatiou, a marine biologist with the Florida Museum of Natural History.