Dangers of shark attack

Small risk: Publicized incidents raise public fears, but the numbers don't justify it.

September 05, 2001

SHARK attack is probably the greatest fear for humans swimming and surfing in ocean waters. (Thank Hollywood for that.) But it is not the greatest danger by far, despite the recent public fixation on gruesome injuries and two deaths in Virginia and North Carolina.

Drownings, heart attacks and even coral and seashell lacerations produce more deaths and serious injuries than shark bites.

The number of reported shark attacks this summer is actually smaller than normal: three worldwide deaths so far in 2001, compared with eight last year.

Media focus and expanded global reporting draw greater attention to the incidents. But these episodes largely reflect the fact that more humans are spending more time in ocean recreation, increasing exposure to risk.

Most of the reported unprovoked shark attacks on humans are in the United States waters, and nearly half each year occur in Florida.

Sharks swim all along the East Coast, their migratory patterns fluctuating.

It's not uncommon to see an Ocean City fishing boat return with a hooked shark. But attacks on humans in the middle and north Atlantic coasts have been rare; the series of fatal attacks in 1916 off New Jersey inspired the best-selling novel Jaws and movie spin-offs.

In actuality, sharks are in far more danger from man. Some 25 million sharks are killed for meat and skin each year, some species hunted to the verge of extinction.

Entering the ocean environment entails risks that can't be eliminated. Shark attack remains a remote danger. There's nothing new in those untamed waters, except for a lot more people.

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