There was a spike in deadly shark attacks reported globally in 2023, with one country bearing the brunt of incidents, a new report shows.
The overall number of fatal incidents last year remained relatively low, but it was still twice the previous year’s total, according to the latest iteration of the International Shark Attack File — a database of global shark attacks run by the University of Florida.
The new report, published Monday, noted that a “disproportionate” amount of peoplelast year when compared with other countries around the world.
Along with the tally of fatal shark attacks, which jumped from five to 10 between 2022 and 2023, researchers also charted an increase in the number of non-fatal global shark attacks over that same time period. In 2023, there were 69 confirmed shark attacks worldwide, which was higher than the previous five-year average of 63 attacks.
“This is within the range of the normal number of bites, though the fatalities are a bit unnerving this year,” Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said in a statement.
The International Shark File arrived at the numbers of both fatal and non-fatal attacks by tallying what it calls “unprovoked” bites on humans. Unprovoked bites are “incidents in which a bite on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark,” reads a definition on the Florida Museum of Natural History’s website. The museum is located at the University of Florida.
Australia accounted for only 22% of the world’s unprovoked shark attacks last year, but it accounted for 40% of unprovoked shark attacks that ended in death, according to the file. In total, 15 unprovoked attacks took place in Australia in 2023, which is similar to the country’s five-year annual average. Four of the attacks were deadly, and three took place at the same remote beach off the Eyre Peninsula in southern Australia, which draws surfers despite being known to have white sharks in its waters. Australian surfers tend to bear the brunt of fatal shark attacks, researchers said.
Outside of Australia, two deadly shark attacks happened in the U.S. last year, while, Egypt, and New Caledonia each confirmed one. Authorities in Mexico reported early this year that a young fisherman on Dec. 29 while diving for scallops off the Pacific Coast.
Non-fatal shark bites were reported in Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, New Seychelles, Turks and Caicos, Ecuador and South Africa, in addition to the U.S., which recorded 36 bites in total. That’s more bites than any other country, which researchers say is “consistent with long-term trends” and actually slightly lower than the 41 unprovoked shark bites recorded nationwide in 2022. Almost half of the U.S. attacks happened in Florida, but it wasand another in California that proved deadly.
A shark attack that does not meet the criteria for an unprovoked bite may be classified as “provoked” instead. Provoked bites are those that “occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way,” according to another definition shared online by the museum.
“These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, bites on spearfisherman, bites on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net and so forth,” the definition continues.
Of the 120 alleged interactions between sharks and humans that researchers say they investigated in 2023, a total 22 provoked bites were confirmed in addition to the 69 unprovoked bites. Four of the provoked shark attacks were deadly.
Of the remaining cases investigated in 2023 that did not meet criteria for “provoked” or “unprovoked” bites, nine involved “boat bites,” where sharks bit either a motorized or non-motorized marine vessel, according to the museum. Another two were classified as “scavenge” incidents, where sharks bit a human who was already dead.
Details were unclear for one case where “no classification could be made,” and 16 more cases were classified as unconfirmed, in some instances because the injuries involved could not be clearly attributed to a shark bite as opposed to a bite from some other large fish or a cut from something sharp in the water. Cases could also be unconfirmed because a victim drowned and their body was never recovered, the museum said. Researchers at the International Shark File said they would continue to investigate those cases “as data becomes available.”
In general, the shark attack file noted that the “risk of being bitten by a shark remains extremely low.” Surfers and other beachgoers participating in board sports were the most common targets of shark attacks in 2023, followed by swimmers and waders and, lastly, snorkelers and free divers.
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