Friday 9 February 2024

Ten fatal Shark attacks recorded globally in 2023.

The International Shark Attack File, which is maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History, recorded ten fatalities caused by unprovoked Shark attacks around the globe in 2023, double the number recorded in 2022. A total of 69 unprovoked attacks were recorded, which is in line with the five year average of 63. Four of the ten fatalities occurred in Australia, with two in the United States, and one each in the Bahamas, Egypt, Mexico and New Caledonia. Non-fatal attacks were recorded in the United States, Australia, New Caledonia, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Costa Rica, Colombia, New Zealand, the Seychelles, the Galapagos, and the Turks and Caicos islands.

There were a total of 69 confirmed unprovoked shark bites (green dots) and ten fatalities (blue dots) in 2023. Florida Museum.

The International Shark Attack File also recorded 22 provoked Shark attacks, defined as attacks caused by a Human provoking a Shark in some way, although these statistics are considered less useful for scientific purposes, as they do not relate to the Sharks' natural behaviour. While these were the result of multiple forms of Human behaviour, the most common targets of provoked attacks were spear fishers.

Three of the four fatalities in Australia happened off the Eyre Peninsula, a remote location in South Australia, noted for its wild beaches and spectacular surf. This area is also home to several Seal colonies, and a large number of Great White Sharks. Seals are extremely fast and agile swimmers, and Sharks have little hope of chasing them down in active pursuit, but they can sometimes be caught splashing around on the surface, by a Shark attacking directly from below. Unfortunately, a surfer paddling a board on the surface can look very like a Seal to a Great White Shark, leading to occasional attacks on surfers. The Sharks typically break of after a single exploratory bite, enough to determine that the surfer is not a Seal, but they are large Animals and can cause considerable damage with a single bite. 

The Eyre Peninsula is home to several beaches with substantial surf breaks, such as this one at Sleaford Bay. Mackfish/Wirestock/Adobe Stock/Florida Museum

Surfers are the most commonly attacked group globally, accounting for 42% of all bites. Many beaches in Australia have excellent beach safety programs, including rapid responders for Shark attacks. The Eyrie Peninsula, however, lacks any such support, and its remote location mean that help, if summoned, is unlikely to arrive quickly, and it is hard to evacuate Shark attack victims to medical facilities quickly.

Seven unprovoked bites, of which three were fatal, came from Great White Sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, in 2023. John Sears/Florida Museum.

The fourth Australian fatality was caused by a Bull Shark attack in a brackish river close to the coast ow Western Australia, the second of three species of Sharks known to have caused fatalities in 2023. An attack on the Red Sea coast of Egypt was carried out by a Tiger Shark, which was observed to return and attack its victim several times. This is typical of Tiger Sharks, which are an open water species, spending most of their lives in waters where prey is rare, and which are therefore more willing to take unfamiliar prey. The geography of the Red Sea, with a deep ocean trench close to shore, brings large pelagic Sharks (and other Fish) close to beaches with tourists, sometimes with fatal consequences.

While Shark attacks are alarming, they are extremely rare, with less than a hundred happening each year globally. Where rises in the number of attacks are observed, this is invariably as a consequence of more people entering the water, rather than Sharks becoming more dangerous. Some combinations of events can place Humans at greater risk of being attacked by Sharks, such as hot weather on holiday weekends. 

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