These fascinating predators are usually presented as creatures coming from the depths of the ocean to hunt and kill humans. But shark attack statistics show that the reality is different.
They reveal that shark bites aren’t as common and deadly as shown in the press. Most attacks are just sharks exploring their territory or mistaking a human for one of the species they like to eat.
But let’s see some of the most exciting numbers on shark attacks.
Top Shark Attack Statistics: Editor’s Pick
- The odds of getting bitten by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067.
- There were 73 unprovoked shark bites on humans in 2021 alone.
- The US tops the list of the highest number of shark attacks recorded.
- Over half of the US shark attacks happen in Florida.
- Surprisingly, death by selfie is more common than being eaten by a shark.
- Great white sharks are the most frequently implicated species in shark attacks.
- There are over 100 million shark deaths per year around the world.
- Shark finning and overfishing are pushing sharks to the brink of extinction.
- Worldwide, Australia is in second place regarding the number of shark attacks.
Curious to learn more about where, why, and how often sharks attack? Read through these eye-opening facts and figures to discover the truth about why these marine animals turn on humans.
Why Do Sharks Attack People
Besides the venomous snake bite, shark attacks account for one of the most common phobias. Even though shark attacks happen, they’re not as common as you think.
However, they still happen, so let’s see how many shark attacks per year there are, why they happen, and when.
1. The odds of a shark attack are 1 in 3,748,067.
Despite popular belief, shark attacks are pretty rare. There is a higher chance of dying from fireworks than getting eaten by a shark—one in 340,733.
People are also 47 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than a shark bite, a risk surfers take every time they hit the waves during storms.
2. There have been 73 unprovoked shark attacks and bites on humans in 2021.
Unprovoked shark bites are defined as shark attacks where humans didn’t create any incitement or provocations. There were a total of 137 aggressive human-shark interactions last year, with 39 being labeled as human-initiated.
3. People are more likely to drown than getting bitten by a shark.
The odds of death by drowning are one in 1,134—considerably higher than death by shark bites. Other causes of death more common than shark attacks include traffic accidents, a champagne cork, and a cold.
4. Surprisingly, death by selfie is more common than being eaten by a shark.
In the period between 2011 and 2017, 259 people around the world died in 137 selfie-taking-related accidents. For comparison, only 50 people were killed by sharks in the same period, according to the data on the average number of shark deaths per year.
5. 51% of shark attacks involve board sports and surfing.
Boardsports usually take place in surf zones where sharks are known to swim. Also, board sports cause a lot of splashing, i.e., the kind of water disturbances that might attract sharks.
Swimmers were involved in 39% of shark attacks, snorkelers and free divers account for 4% of all attacks, while body surfers make up 6% of incidents.
6. Shark attacks are most likely to occur in September.
When do sharks attack? Analysis of the number of attacks in Florida from 1926 to 2018 shows people are most likely to encounter a shark in September. Data shows there were 103 attacks in September—significantly more than in other months of the year.
Although it’s commonly believed that sharks hunt during dusk and dawn, research indicates that the most dangerous time to be in the water is from 2–3 pm.
7. Several factors contribute to shark attacks on people.
The number of people in the water is directly connected to the number of bites. This could explain why most incidents occur in popular destinations for water activities.
Take the French Reunion Island as an example. It has witnessed a significant rise in tourism and an increase in shark attacks.
Another reason, experts say, is the growing number of seals, one of sharks’ favorite prey. The seal population has increased in Australia and off Cape Cod in the US.
8. Climate change also contributes to shark attacks on humans.
Water pollution, habitat disruption, and a shift in prey distribution due to global warming cause sharks to gather in certain hotspots around the world and thus increase the chances of human-shark interactions.
9. Sometimes, sharks are just curious.
Shark’s mouth serves as a sensory organ. It allows them to examine an unfamiliar object by biting it. So sharks might bite people to check if they have the same fat content as some of their favorite prey, which we don’t.
The conclusion from analyzing shark attack statistics is that humans are too bony and don’t have enough meat and fat to satisfy sharks’ appetites.
10. There are three kinds of shark attacks.
As previously stated, sharks don’t always bite to kill. Here are the three most common interactions toward humans:
- “hit-and-run” attacks, which typically take place in surf zones and are the result of poor visibility. In these attacks, sharks usually just bite their prey and—deeming it unsavory—swim away;
- “bump and bite,” associated with feeding intentions, in which sharks first bump into the victim and then bite it repeatedly;
- “sneak” attacks, where biting, unlike with “bump and bite,” happens suddenly and without any warning.
11. Boats and post-mortem bites account for the remaining attacks.
In 2019, 12 of the remaining 35 shark attacks involved motorized vehicles (up from nine in 2018).
One involved post-mortem bites (down from four in 2018), and one implicated a diver in a public aquarium. Three incidents most likely didn’t involve a shark and were classified as “doubtful.”
US Shark Attack Statistics
The number of shark attacks has been varying over the years—but the US coasts stay among the most shark-infested waters. Let’s see the latest data.
12. The US tops the list of the highest number of unprovoked shark attacks recorded.
The US accounted for 64% of the total worldwide attacks in 2021, with an estimated 47 cases.
This is 42% higher than in 2020—expectedly, due to more severe COVID restrictions in that period and limited movement of people.
13. 60% of US soil attacks happened off the coast of Florida.
Known as the shark bite capital of the world, Florida is the state with the highest number of bites historically. In 2021, Florida recorded 28 unprovoked attacks, none of which were fatal. The state also accounts for 38% of all unprovoked interactions in the world.
14. Volusia County, Florida, witnessed over 300 unprovoked shark attacks over the years.
Experts explain the numbers with murky water due to rain runoff. A shark attack isn’t uncommon in Cocoa Beach (Brevard County) either, with over 155 recorded cases.
Volusia County accounted for 63% of Florida’s total number of unprovoked bites in 2021, with an estimate of 17.
15. There were a number of shark attacks in Hawaii and California.
In addition to Florida, most shark attacks happened in California and Hawaii.
Hawaii had six shark attacks in 2021, all without any fatalities. Meanwhile, California recorded three attacks, with one person falling victim to the animal.
Other states on the list are South Carolina with four bites and North Carolina with three attacks last year.
16. There was a fatal shark attack in Massachusetts for the first time since 1936.
The one deadly attack took place in Cape Cod in 2018, when a 26-year-old boogie boarder died after being bitten by a shark, presumably a great white. This was the first fatal shark bite in the state of Massachusetts in over 82 years.
Where Do the Most Shark Attacks Occur Worldwide
Don’t worry; shark attacks don’t occur everywhere around the world. Here are the most common locations outside the US.
17. Worldwide, Australia is in second place regarding the number of shark attacks.
There were 12 unprovoked shark attacks in 2021 in the Land Down Under. Out of those, three were fatal attacks. This is lower than Australia’s average of 16 attacks a year over a five-year period.
Australian shark attack statistics indicate that most attacks occurred in New South Wales—six, with two being fatal. In Western Australia, one person died out of a total of four shark attacks.
18. Brazil has had 107 shark attacks and 23 casualties from 1931–2019.
Stats show that other countries where shark attacks are frequent include South Africa and the Mascarene Islands.
During the same period, South Africa had 255 attacks, 54 of which were fatal.
Moreover, the Mascarene Islands (Reunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues) had 46 attacks, 27 of which weren’t fatal.
19. Gansbaai in South Africa is one of the most dangerous shark beaches.
Also known as Shark Alley, this area is home to a colony of 60,000 seals. The great white sharks are known to hunt them.
Data shows there are around five to 10 attacks every year. Most of them happen due to sharks’ curiosity rather than their hunt for humans.
On the other hand, being one of the most dangerous shark beaches comes with economic benefits. Tourists have been swarming to South Africa for a chance to go cage diving with great whites, boosting the local economy.
20. Two fatal attacks occurred in the Bahama Islands and Reunion Island in 2019.
One of the deadly attacks occurred off Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. Surfing and water activities are limited there due to the risks of shark attacks.
This was the 24th incidence and the 11th fatal attack on this island since 2011.
The other fatal incident involved a 21-year-old California resident who had been snorkeling on Rose Island in the Bahamas.
Shark Attack Statistics by Species
Researchers have also discovered that not all shark pieces attack humans. Let’s see what the statistics say about different types of sharks and the likelihood of them attacking humans.
21. Only 5% of over 500 known species of sharks have been involved in attacks on humans.
Most shark attacks on humans involve three species: the great white shark, the tiger shark, and the bull shark.
All shark species differ in the way they hunt, where they live, and their motivations. Bull sharks, for example, hunt in shallow and murky water because they rely more on smell and electroreception than sight, the data suggest.
22. The data on the great white shark attacks reveals the species is involved in most human-shark interactions.
What is the most dangerous shark in the world? Great white sharks are the most intimidating and deadliest. The species is believed to be responsible for 314 unprovoked attacks from 1580–2015, 80 of which were fatal.
These sharks typically eat seals or whales and usually hunt in open waters. Although, judging by some facts, they are known to come close to the shore, as well.
23. Great white shark’s bite force is over 4,000 lbf or 18,216 N.
The strength of their bite is relative to the shark’s size. Interestingly, female great whites grow 15–16 feet, which is larger than males (11–13). The largest identified reach up to 20 feet in length. The species is also among the fastest sharks, with a cruising speed of 25 mph and bursts of 35 mph.
23. Tiger sharks are the second most dangerous sharks in the world.
Tiger sharks have killed 34 people and are responsible for 95 unprovoked nonfatal attacks.
Unlike great whites, who are known to release their prey after they find it uneatable, tiger sharks have a less discerning palate. This means they’re not in the habit of swimming away once they catch their dinner.
24. Bull shark attacks usually occur in shallow waters.
And what is the most aggressive shark? Bull sharks may be the least known species, but they are potentially the most dangerous and aggressive. Because they swim where we swim, the chances of humans interacting with bull sharks are pretty high.
25. There have been no fatalities from hammerhead shark attacks on humans.
Only 16 cases of human interactions with this species of shark have been noted from 1900 until today. The majority of attacks by hammerheads happened in Florida. Elsewhere, one occurred in California, one in Australia, and two off the Pacific Islands.
26. The whale shark is the biggest one in the world.
They might be the largest, but they are less dangerous to humans than some of the smaller shark species. Growing to 60 feet in length, whale sharks only eat plankton.
The shortfin mako—known as the fastest shark in the world—is also not considered dangerous to people. Some fatal attacks have been attributed to this shark, although in most incidents, some other shark species was responsible, most likely a great white.
How Many Sharks Are Killed by Humans Each Year
Statistics show that people kill much more sharks than sharks kill people. It may sound unbelievable, but the numbers don’t lie.
26. There are over 100 million shark deaths annually around the world.
This translates to around 11,000 sharks being killed across the world every hour. On the other hand, there have been 1,400 shark attacks in the US from 1837–2017, only a handful of which were fatal.
27. The demand for shark fin soup causes most shark killings.
Shark finning is a cruel and vicious method of killing sharks. After the fin is cut off, the rest of the body is thrown back into the ocean, where sharks bleed to death.
When we look at the number of sharks killed by year, we see that 1.3–2.7 million of the sharks killed for fin soup belong to the endangered scalloped hammerhead species and the smooth hammerhead, currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.
28. Shark finning and overfishing are pushing sharks to the brink of extinction.
Sharks are not created for massive fishing because they have low reproductive rates and mature slowly. Therefore, overfishing can destroy an entire population.
Shark population statistics show that certain shark species in Australia have declined by 75–90% due to shark culling. Stats show a growing number of interactions, thus initiating authorities’ deliberate killing of sharks.
29. Sharks are vital to the health of the ocean and the planet.
As apex predators, sharks keep certain species from becoming too invasive and thus support diversity in the seas, protect coral reefs, and balance the food chain.
Sharks also consume sick and weak animals, maintaining the ocean’s health, and we all know how important that is.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the odds of being attacked by a shark?
The odds of getting attacked or bitten by a shark are 1 in 3,748,067. Dying by falling, tripping, or slipping are way higher at 1 in 127.
Do most shark attacks happen in 3 feet of water?
Divers naturally get more attacked in deep waters, unlike swimmers and surfers whose interactions with sharks happen a lot closer to the coast.
Most divers’ accidents with sharks happen 31–40 feet in the water, while swimmers and surfers get attacked 6–10 feet in.
What beach has the most shark attacks?
The ISAF has named New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, Florida, “the shark bite capital of the world.”
In 2019, nine shark attacks occurred there, consistent with the annual average for shark bites in the area. In other words, 43% of all incidents in Florida happened in this county.
What are sharks attracted to?
Sharks are believed to react more to sound and smell rather than sight. Some theories propose sharks are attracted to certain sounds made by a surfer in trouble, a sick fish, and the smell of blood.
The presence of blood, however, isn’t enough to provoke a shark attack unless combined with other elements, like splashing in the water or wearing jewelry (which looks like the scales of fish that sharks eat).
Some scientific tests have shown that sharks can distinguish colors, giving rise to “yum yum yellow” theories. Although these theories aren’t scientifically proven, avoiding wearing bright colors in the water might be best.
How far can sharks smell blood?
To be clear—sharks can’t smell a singular drop of blood from a mile. That’s an often repeated myth. They do have a strong sense of smell, however, smelling blood from hundreds of meters away.
What to do if a shark is circling you?
The first and most important thing about reducing the risk of a shark bite is not to panic.
Try to use anything you have as a weapon for striking their sensitive gills and eyes. If you don’t have a weapon, use your hands and feet. Hit as hard as you can and be as hostile as possible.
Sharks aren’t bears, so playing dead won’t work. The best chance of escaping a shark attack is to fight back as well and viciously as possible.
Should you be afraid of sharks?
The short answer is no. As with other animals, it’s more likely that they’re more afraid of us than we are of them.
Sharks have attacked humans, and some attacks are fatal, but so have other animals like mosquitoes, cows, and horses. Also, many interactions between sharks and humans haven’t ended with bites or attacks.
Sharks aren’t the dangerous creatures of movies and scary stories. If anything, shark attack statistics show that the number of fatal and nonfatal attacks is declining.
These magnificent fish have survived four mass extinctions of species. Yet, they have trouble surviving humans. More and more sharks are hunted for their fins, caught in nets, and killed.
They are already on the list of endangered species, and their numbers are dwindling. So rather than people worrying about getting attacked by sharks, it’s sharks that should worry about humans and their harmful activities.
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