Why Do Sharks Attack Humans?

After the recent deaths, some researchers are starting to wonder if certain sharks are developing a taste for humans. Jose Leonardo Castillo, chief shark investigator for Mexico's National Fishing Institute, recently announced that he and his colleagues are investigating this possibility, since criminal activity has resulted in bodies being dumped in the areas where the two surfers in Mexico died. It could be that, after repeatedly consuming other human flesh, one or more sharks could associate people with food. Even if the food-human link is indirect, it likely explains most shark attacks in general. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains that sharks do not normally hunt humans, but if they do attack, it is usually a case of mistaken identity. Assuming a large, predatory shark has not been exposed to human flesh before, it is probably used to biting into thick-tissued, fatty sea lions, seals and similar-bodied prey. Sometimes sharks will investigate potential food items by taking a taste. Unfortunately, given their many rows of sharp teeth, a few shark species can cause an individual to bleed to death after a single bite. The problem is compounded in lakes, rivers and estuaries, where freshwater sharks, such as bull sharks, often share water space with humans who are swimming, boating, fishing or engaged in some other form of recreation that might put them face to face with a shark.

How 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.

Ways of Preventing Shark Attacks

The NOAA Fisheries Service offers the following tips on minimizing the risk of shark attack:

  • 1) Stay in groups and do not wander away from your companions, since sharks are more likely to attack individuals.

  • 2) Avoid being in the water during early morning and late afternoon, since sharks actively feed at those times.

  • 3) Never go into the water if you are bleeding, even if the cut or injury is minor. Sharks possess very keen senses, and blood could attract one from several feet away.

  • 4) Don't wear shiny jewelry when in the water. The glisten mimics fish-scale sheen and visually labels you as shark prey.

  • 5) Stay away from sport or commercial fishermen when in the water, as their catches could attract sharks.

  • 6) Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing in murky waters, since sharks easily perceive color contrasts.

  • 7) Refrain from excessive splashing, which could mimic the movements of injured or disoriented prey fish and animals.

  • 8) Sandbars, steep drop-offs and estuary inlets tend to be shark hangouts, so avoid swimming in these places.

While fear of sharks is well founded, the greater fear should be of shark extinctions, since no one really knows what could happen to ocean ecosystems without the managing presence of these elasmobranches. Since everything from total ocean system collapse to food shortages for humans, due to diminished fish catches, has been theorized, hopefully such fear can fuel conservation action before any of these unthinkable scenarios come to pass.

Sharks Are NOT Monsters

In the maximum respect of human lives that are lost as a result of a shark attacks, we should consider the phenomenon in an objective way. The shark attacks against swimmers, divers and surfers are very sporadic and exceptional episodes. The statistics are very clear: all over the world, there are about 70 to 100 attacks per year, and of those about 5-15 are deadly. All of the attacks often consist in a single bite. Deaths happen due to blood loss, shock or the inability to receive immediate help.

The causes that generate a shark attack are numerous and they are only rarely attributable to a predatory intent. The defense of the territory, the poor visibility in the water, errors of assessment of the animal that exchanges a human for its usual prey, the alteration of environmental factors are what underlie most of the attacks. The situation is aggravated by excessive capture of natural prey of sharks by humans, the presence of waste, often food waste that end up at sea and which serve as pasture for carnivorous fishes and the bad habit: to amuse the tourists dedicated to diving, to draw the sharks in the sea, leaving abundant food.

Sharks are certainly potentially dangerous animals, like all the great terrestrial predators, and should be approached with caution and respect. However, their bad reputation is made by detractive campaigns, which often neglect to mention the current global situation: commercial fishing, the practice of finning and bycatch, exterminate every year close to 100 millions of sharks. At this rate, the consequences on the marine ecosystem will be very serious and difficult to predict. The positions occupied by sharks in the food chain makes them, in fact, animals fundamental to the maintenance of the balance of the marine ecosystem.

The intensive use of marine waters for recreational activities around the world has increased the possibility of interaction between man and shark, but in every recreational activity, the participant must be conscious of the risks and the attack of a shark is a potential danger which should be known by anyone who frequents the ocean(s).

One of the ways that the shark has to "touch" the things around it is with the mouth. Of course, many sharks have sharp teeth and just the touch, inevitably leave its mark, but this does not mean that the shark wants to hurt us, with this behavior it seeks to understand the nature of what it faces.

The diet of sharks does not include humans. If it is not, considering their predatory skills, the statistics would be very different. The truth is that sharks rarely attack humans, but these attacks make news, while those of other species often go unnoticed. Animals like snakes, bees, wasps, jellyfish, lions, elephants, hippos, crocodiles and scorpions are responsible for many more accidents each year.

In the book "Sharks, Silent Hunters of the Deep" Ron and Valerie Taylor wrote: "Few creatures of the earth are so much feared and little understood as sharks. The lions attacked the man, but they (rightly) protected within reserves and called the "king of the savannah." Sharks attack (occasionally) man and their name becomes synonymous with savagery and cruelty and the public requires or, at best, is indifferent to their extermination."

Unfortunately, sharks have the ability to feed our ancestral fears and the media feed our fear of these animals too often leaving out key information useful to understand why an attack has occurred. If the same attention was placed to the problem that now affects many species of shark on the brink of extinction, we would probably learn to see these animals in a different way. The perception of sharks as killers animals has spread due to the enormous mediatic emphasis received through fictisious films, like the series "Jaws" in which these animals were presented as real monsters. It should be remembered that the same creator of "Jaws," Peter Benchley, was later dedicated to the attempt to erase the image of the shark as a monster.

My advice is to treat the news that are spreadout with more attention and to reflect critical sense on the concepts that are expressed: we often read or hear on television the expression "shark-infested waters", the sharks do not "infest "waters, but they live there and they are essential to maintain in balance the relations of the marine ecosystem.Sharks do not invade our territory, but we invade their territory, often in a way very intrusive. The key thing to do is to respect their habitat.


Posts and Pages

  • Why Do Sharks Attack Humans

    After the recent deaths, some researchers are starting to wonder if certain sharks are... Read more...

  • Basics and Tips

    Any location with consistent, steady side-onshore winds (10 to 35+ knots), large open... Read more...

Sharkwind is Social!