Whilst researching the recent post on the effectiveness of the Queensland shark culling program I came across a great database cataloging global shark attacks. For Australia there have been 904 unprovoked shark attacks since 1790, of those, 259 (29%) have been fatal. Thirty-seven percent of the shark attacks have been in New South Wales. Not that NSW necessarily has a high proportion of vicious shark species, but rather the numbers reflect the high number of bathers enjoying the great NSW beaches.
Figure 1:The number of unprovoked shark attacks by region (source data from the shark attack database)
Figure 2:The number of unprovoked shark attacks by region for each decade – click on a region to see the underlying data (source data from the shark attack database)
When do most attacks occur?
We cannot control for the relative exposure (number of beach goers) to see where you are are more likely to get taken by a shark, but we can look at the activities that shark victims where engaged in when taken. There are a total of 791 unprovoked attacks for which an activity has been recorded. I have lumped these activities into swimming, surfing, diving, fishing and boating (Figure 3). I am not surprised that most attacks are on swimmers (there are a lot more of them). But I am surprised that 45% of attacks on swimmers are fatal compared to 20% of attacks on other activities. I expected to find that diving (including snorkelling, spearfishing) and surfing would have a lower survivability because these activities often take place in isolated locations with limited access to speedy medical support. Surfers die in under 10% of shark attacks (diving 29%).
Figure 3: Shark attacks by activity
What is really disturbing about the database is the epically bad day that some of these victims had:
- in 1880, a worker fell off the Hawkesbury bridge in Sydney only to be killed by a shark – tough day.
- in 1927, Bernard Grill was attacked by a shark (not fatally) in the Brisbane river while attempting to save a drowning man.
- in 1929, Edward Hobbs fell from the wharf into the water in Ross River (Townsville) and was fatally attacked.
- in 1937, also in the Ross River (Townsville) William Tennant was fatally attacked while swimming across the river after he had been refused passage on the ferry.
- in 1953, Neil Tapp was attacked (not fatally) as he swam out to warn bathers that a shark had been spotted.
- in 1959, Jeffrey Sasche was attacked (not fatally) at Surfers Paradise (Gold Coast) whilst coming last in a surf race – all round bad day.
- in 1996, Darren Good was attacked by a shark at Charles Street Wharf, Sydney after diving in naked to win a bet.
Before you get worried about going for a surf, for the period from 2010-2015 there where 16 fatal shark attacks compared to 7,508 road fatalities in Australia.
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