Shark Attacks: What Are the Odds?

//

Guest commentator Debbie Salamone is Communications Manager at the Pew Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast.

There’s nothing like a good shark attack story. I should know. I was a journalist for 21 years near Volusia County, Florida — the shark bite capital of the world. I even made sure someone phoned my newspaper to report my own shark attack as I was pumped full of morphine and wheeled into the operating room.

Sharks always seem to be taking the rap as man-eating villains –- in the media, movies and books. So let’s get a little perspective. Your chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

On average, there are about 65 shark attacks worldwide each year; a handful are fatal. You are more likely to be killed by a dog, snake or in a car collision with a deer. You’re also 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning and three times more likely to drown at the beach than die from a shark attack, according to ISAF.

Even digging a sand hole is more dangerous…

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that from 1990 to 2006, 16 people died by digging until the sand collapsed and smothered them. ISAF counted a dozen U.S. shark deaths in the same period. Clearly, you’d be safer in the water, with the sharks.

Still not convinced? Consider another ISAF statistic: In one year in the U.S., sharks injured just 13 people while nearly 200,000 were hurt in accidents involving ladders, toilets and chainsaws.

And in an older, but memorable study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, researchers tracked vending machine deaths from 1977 to 1995. Thirty-seven people were killed when they toppled a vending machine to get a reluctant quarter or cola — an average of about two per year, or twice the number killed by sharks in the US. Just when you thought it was safe to get a Dr. Pepper…

You get the picture.

Even when they do happen, most shark attacks are “hit and run” — the shark takes a bite, realizes it made a mistake and moves on to something more delicious. That’s what happened to me. Devastating injuries and brutal attacks are much more unusual.

Sharks may not appear as the most cuddly creatures on Earth, but they are worth saving for the health of the entire ocean ecosystem. Learn more about the threats to sharks and the importance of preserving them at www.pewsharks.org. And if you’re still afraid to go back in the water, more comforting statistics on the risk of shark attacks are available at ISAF.