Stab Magazine | Florida Is The World Capital Of Non-Fatal Shark Attacks
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Florida Is The World Capital Of Non-Fatal Shark Attacks

Yet, it doesn’t receive the Peter Benchley treatment.

news // Mar 29, 2017
Words by James Royce
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Earlier this week, a 58-year-old Floridan gent was bitten on the foot while surfing off New Smyrna Beach. He was about 30m offshore, and injuries were minor. He was able to make it back to the beach on his own, opting out of a hospital visit to treat the injuries.

It seems like stories like this occur throughout the Sunshine State on a weekly basis. Because, they do. In fact, according to the University of Florida (possibly bias, but with credible academic backing), 32 recorded shark attacks occurred (zero fatal) in 2016 – an average of about .6 nibbles a week.

Compared to the number of attacks in other locations — 15 in Australia, 10 in Hawaii, and one in South Africa — in the same year, this is quite a substantial figure. By the numbers, this’d kinda make Florida the shark attack capital of the world, right?

That’s the thing, though. When asked about sharkiest waters on Earth, most surfers will point to Reunion Island, Australia, South Africa, Northern California, or even Madagascar before glancing at Kelly Slater’s homeland. Those that direct their fingers towards America’s most south-eastern state are either residents, or educated outsiders. Why is this?

California Florida Australia

Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. 

Well, after a little research, the answer becomes clear. While standing on top of the podium in regards to the quantity of attacks, they are “lacking” in one specific area: Number of fatal, or serious, attacks.

Let’s roll out the numbers. Over the past decade; there have been 21 attacks total in Reunion Island, six of which were fatal; 33 attacks in California, three of which were fatal; 41 attacks in South Africa, 13 of which were fatal; and 139 attacks in Australia, 15 of which were fatal. Compare that to the 244 bites in Florida, only one of which resulted in a death, and we see a break in the pattern.

Reunion Hawaii South Africa

Courtesy of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the culprits themselves. The most common shark species found in the warm Florida waters are blacktips (common, and kinda scary), bonnetheads (small, not that scary), bulls (extremely scary), hammerheads (should be scary, but look goofy), lemons (similar to car models in terms of doing mostly psychological damage), nurses (relatively tame), and tigers (remember Quint’s narrative in Jaws?). All sharks, so all scary, but largely balanced in terms of naturally aggressive and non-aggressive species.

Juxtaposed to other regions, which are heavy in regards to hostile bull sharks, tiger sharks and great whites, and we can see a clearer picture as to why something like three attacks happening in two hours can fly largely under the radar. Or, as a more targeted example: Why Eric Geiselman can do flips cooly over fin-shaped speed bumps, without so much as a noticeable concern.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/4oiSrJ1oDuo

See those black spots during the flyover shot at 2:12?

It’s an odd dynamic, and doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon. So, consider this your lesson in the relationship between saltwater ecosystems, media relations, and unfortunate aquatic encounters. The more you know.

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