Shark attacks

Much attention is placed on the danger that sharks represent to humans. Our hearts are with all attacks survivors and victims, most of whom are ocean lovers like ourselves. However, it is essential to place the threat that sharks represent to humans in perspective. On this page, we offer insights into the causes, frequency and nature of shark attacks. We also offer advise on how humans can be responsible water users. 

Quick Q&A

Why do sharks attack?

Sharks do not normally hunt humans. When they do attack a human, it is usually a case of mistaken identity. Shark sometimes mistake humans for its natural prey, such as fish or a marine mammal or sea turtle, and most often will release the person after the first bite. The majority of shark bites are “hit-and-run” attacks by smaller species, such as blacktip and spinner sharks. They mistake thrashing arms or dangling feet as prey, dart in, bite, and let go when they realize it’s not a fish. The “big three” species — bull, tiger, and great white sharks –are big enough to do a lot of damage to a human and must be treated with respect and caution.

Is there an increase in shark attacks?

In 2001, there were 76 recorded unprovoked shark attacks in the U.S., versus 86 in 2000. According to the International Shark Attack File, the numbers of shark bites from year-to-year seem to be directly associated with increased numbers of humans swimming, diving and surfing in the ocean. Some shark populations have been on the decline since the mid-1980s, when the commercial fishery for sharks became a booming industry. Current regulations are working to reverse the trend of declining shark populations in the U.S., although some species are still depleted, and to maintain the shark populations that are healthy.

How can I reduce the chance of been attacked?

Please remember, that shark attacks are incredibly rare, and as always you remember that when entering the water, ensure you are safe from rip currents, rough seas, and boat traffic as you are far more likely to encounter trouble from these dangers than a shark. However, sharks are predators, and there are a few things (other than staying out fo the sea) that you can do to minimise the chance of bite

  • Always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack an individual. Do not wander too far from shore — this isolates you and decreases your chance of being rescued.
  • Avoid being in the water early in the morning and during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active and searching for food.
  • Do not enter the water if bleeding.
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
  • Avoid waters being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
  • Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid bright colored clothing — sharks see contrast particularly well. Refrain from excess splashing.
  • Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs — these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
  • Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And do not approach a shark if you see one.
  • Chat to locals about sharks. Sharky waters are often well known, and beaches where sharks frequent can easily be avoided by asking a few questions.
  • If you are entering waters known for an abundance of large sharks, consider using personal safety devices such as the SharkShield or Sharkbanz. 

Why should we bother with protecting sharks?

Sharks are awesome creatures whose biology has remained virtually unchanged for millions of years. Just as humans strive to protect other living creatures from becoming threatened or endangered, it is our duty as stewards of the Earth to protect all ocean life, including sharks. As top predators in the sea, sharks provide a valuable balance to the marine ecosystem. People are one of only a few species that prey on sharks (killer whales and other sharks are others), killing over a hundred million per year. We must support and abide by fishing regulations that were put into place to ensure that sharks will thrive in the ocean for millions of years to come.

How common are shark attacks?

More people are killed each year by electrocution by Christmas tree lights than by shark attacks. Think about the things you would do to minimize your family’s risk of being harmed by Christmas tree lights. You’d unplug the lights at night and never leave them unattended. You’d keep your tree moist to prevent a fire. Maybe you’d educate your children about the potential of electric shock if they improperly plugged in the lights. Similarly, you can take precautions that minimize your risk of encountering a shark when visiting the beach this summer:

How do sharks attack people?

According to author Murray Suid and George Burgess, a senior biologist and director of the International Shark Attack File, there are four basic types of shark attacks on humans. The first and, by far, the most common are provoked attacks. These occur when people in some way touch, or otherwise disturb, sharks. Fishermen removing sharks from their nets, for example, might lose a finger or limb if not careful. Sometimes divers have taunted or tried to grab a shark, with not-surprising consequences.

Unprovoked attacks can happen in three principal ways. The most frequent of this type are hit-and-run attacks — when the shark grabs, releases and leaves the scene. The shark could be investigating the individual, thinking he or she was its usual prey. It might also perceive the individual as a threat, similar to how a more aggressive, yet fearful, dog could attack anyone who mistakenly treads on its turf. The two other types of unprovoked attacks are sneak attacks, when a deep-sea shark moves upon a diver unawares; and, finally, bump-and-bite attacks, when a shark head-butts a person before it takes a bite.

“Ok, our relationship (eds. note: sharks and humans) has been a little trying over the past. But many of your best and brightest are running or developing awesome bather protection programs designed to allow both humans and sharks to live in peace! learn and support these programs – we will all benefit”.

SHARK ATTACKS STATS

Although shark bites around the world are extremely rare, the fact is that they still do occur and that the number of shark bites is on the rise. 2015 saw the most unprovoked shark attacks ever recorded, 98, compared to the previous record of 88 unprovoked shark attacks in 2000. (Interestingly, in 2015 there were half the number of deaths (six) compared to 11 deaths in 2000.

South African Stats

RSA SHark Attack stats

Since records started for South Africa in 1905, there have been a total of 248 unprovoked attacks in South Africa. Of these most of them (103) have occurred in the Eastern Cape, 90 in KZN and 55 in the Western Cape. 

There are three species of shark in South Africa which are responsible for the majority of attacks – tiger, bull (or Zambezi) and white sharks.

Global Stats

Globa shark attack stats 1

2015 saw the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks ever recorded in a single year – 98 attacks, with 6 deaths

Although shark attacks occur throughout the world, there are three main hotspots where they occur – the United States of America, Australia and South Africa. The above map illustrates the top 10 countries with the highest number of shark attacks. 

BE SHARK SMART

Despite the odds being low that you will encounter a shark while surfing, diving or swimming, any marine recreation activity along South Africa’s coastline carries the risk of an unplanned encounter with sharks. A list of basic principles have been provided that if followed will not only decrease your chances of encountering a shark, but increase the odds of a safe ending for both shark and humans.

General Principles

BE AWARE

If you are not fully aware of all of the risks of bathing in the ocean and are not prepared to take these risks, do not go into the ocean

GROUPS

Sharks, like all predators, are more likely to identify a solitary individual as potential prey, so try to remain in a group.

LOW VISIBILITY

Sharks are primarily visual hunters which would normally allow them to correctly distinguish you from their preferred prey species. Therefore, avoid entering the ocean when it is murky, during darkness or twilight hours.

DON’T PANIC

When encountering a shark remain as calm as you can. Do not panic! Panicked, erratic movements are likely to increase the shark’s curiosity, draw it closer to you and possibly send signals similar to an injured or distressed prey.

PROTECT YOURSELF

When encountering a shark, use any equipment (camera, surfboard, etc.) you may be carrying to create a barrier between yourself and the shark.

ALERT OTHERS

If you see a shark, calmly alert other ocean users around you. Remain in or create a group, and leave the water in a calm and swift, but smooth, manner. Alert the lifeguards. 

For surfers

BE WATCHED

Preferably use surfing beaches where shark spotters and trained lifeguards are stationed. Surf during the hours that the shark spotters and lifeguards are on duty.

READ OCEAN

Don’t surf in areas where bait and game fish are running, where seals are present or seabirds are diving. Sightings of dolphins or porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks.

PROTECTION DEVICES

Consider wearing a personal shark shield. Research other safety devices and see if scientifically tested solutions are viable for you

For skiers and kayakers

AVOID HOTSPOTS

Avoid paddling in areas known to be frequented by white sharks, such as near seal colonies and in areas where they congregate inshore in the summer months.

STAY STILL

When approached by a white shark stop paddling and sit still. It is the movement of the kayak that the shark is the most interested in.

LARGE CRAFT

Use a large kayak, as it seems that the bigger the craft the less likely a white shark is to venture an investigatory bite.

For SCUBA & free divers

STAY DOWN

If you encounter a white shark while scuba diving stay motionless on the bottom until the shark has satisfied its curiosity and moves on. It appears that the water column is the most dangerous place to be and surfacing quickly in close proximity to a great white could put you in danger. 

GOOD VISIBILITY

Free divers and snorkelers are most vulnerable when on the surface or when ascending from a dive. So only dive when the water is clear enough to see the bottom and be vigilant.

USE KELP BEDS

In the Western Cape, remain within the confines of the kelp bed whenever possible. White sharks are unlikely to enter the dense kelp growth.