This graphic depicts only confirmed unprovoked incidents, defined by the International Shark Attack File as “incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurs in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark. Incidents involving…shark-inflicted scavenge damage to already dead humans (most often drowning victims), attacks on boats, and provoked incidents occurring in or out of the water are not considered unprovoked attacks.”
As you can clearly see from the graphic above shark incidents are clearly on the rise in Hawaiian waters on recent years, but an unprecedented 10 non-fatal shark incidents occurred in 2012 alone, more than any previous year in over three decades. 2013 started off with 3 incidents before the end of February and two of them occurring at different locations off the island of Maui on February 21st at 6:00pm.
It is not known exactly what is causing the sudden increase in shark incidents in Hawaii. Even though incidents of sharks biting people are rising they are still relatively low, averaging only 3 to 4 per year.
One factor may include changes in the weather due to seasonal changes. As you can see from the chart at the right, more incidents occur between October and December than any other time of the year.
Our activities in the water may also be a factor. Certain water activities have a higher than average number of shark incidents, like surfing and swimming as this chart shows.
One theory is that many sharks “hunt” from underneath and attack prey at the surface of the water like seals. With swimmers and surfers on the surface of the water, this makes them prime candidates for this type of hunting behavior.
But what about scuba diving? Does scuba diving lead to higher or lower shark incidents? Are diver vs. shark incidents more fatal?
According to the International Shark Attack File – a compilation of all known shark attacks that is administered by the American Elasmobranch Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History, approximately 20% of shark attacks on divers are fatalities.
This is a surprisingly high percentage when comparing it to other water activities, however the number of shark attacks on divers is extremely low compared to other water activities. One reason that more of the incidents result in fatalities could be that they happen when the diver is under water which could have lead to drowning. The diver vs. shark incident reports and statistics do not state how many of the divers died as a result of drowning because diver drowning is not asked on the ISAF reports being filed.
So, with all of this information, what can we do to make ourselves safer when diving? The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources offers the following Shark Safety Tips:
- Swim, surf or dive with other people, and don’t move too far away from assistance.
- Stay out of the water at dawn, dusk and night, when some species of sharks may move inshore to feed.
- Do not enter the water if you have open wounds or are bleeding in any way. Sharks can detect blood and body fluids in extremely small concentrations.
- Avoid murky waters, harbor entrances and areas near stream mouths (especially after heavy rains), channels or steep drop-offs. These types of waters are known to be frequented by sharks.
- Do not wear high-contrast clothing or shiny jewelry. Sharks see contrast very well.
- Refrain from excessive splashing; keep pets, which swim erratically, out of the water. Sharks are known to be attracted to such activity.
- Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present. Leave the water quickly and calmly if one is sighted. Do not provoke or harass a shark, even a small one.
- If fish or turtles start to behave erratically, leave the water. Avoid swimming near dolphins, as they are prey for some large sharks.
- Remove speared fish from the water or tow them a safe distance behind you. Do not swim near people fishing or spear fishing. Stay away from dead animals in the water.
- Swim or surf at beaches patrolled by lifeguards and follow their advice.
Remember, shark incidents involving scuba divers are extremely low. If you look at worldwide averages, of the average of 5 fatalities worldwide that happen each year, only 1 in those 5 worldwide would have been a diver (20%).
Now lets put that into some perspective. According to the National Safety Council, in 2000 alone in the United States 46,749 people died in “Transport Accidents”.
Looking at those kinds of numbers, I think I am a lot safer in the water with the sharks.