After three consecutive years of global declines, the number of shark bites increased in 2021, with a total of 73 unexplained incidents.
The data, published this week by the International Shark Attack File of the Florida Museum of Natural History, included 39 provoked shark bites and nine deaths that occurred throughout the year.
The number of unexplained bites in 2021 is in line with the global five-year average of 72, but contrasts sharply with the 52 confirmed bites recorded in 2020, which was the lowest documented percentage in more than a decade. While the exact reason for the reversal is unclear, ISAF Director Tyler Boling attributes some trend to beach closures linked to COVID-19 restrictions.
“Shark bites have decreased dramatically in 2020 due to the pandemic,” Pauling said. “Last year was more common, with average bites from a variety of species and deaths from white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks.”
The number of unexplained killer shark encounters also remained high in 2021, with the majority occurring in the South Pacific. There were six confirmed deaths in Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand, while individual incidents occurred in South Africa, Brazil and the United States. Great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) were the main cause of unexplained deaths.
While the IFAS investigates all reported shark bites, it emphasizes unprovoked ones, which are defined as incidents that occurred in the sharks’ natural habitat without human provocation. These help researchers understand the natural behavior of animals, which can help develop mitigation measures.
The United States continues to lead in the annual number of shark bites, which reached 47 in 2021, accounting for 64% of global cases. All but five occurred along the Atlantic coast.
As in previous years, Australia had the second highest number of stings globally, with a total of 12 stings, down from the five-year world average of 16 stings. Australia also recorded three deaths, which, although down from six last year, was still the highest toll of any country in 2021. Brazil and New Zealand each had three stings, while Canada, Ecuador and Saint Kitts and Nevis were followed by individual accidents.
Shark bites resumed in South Africa in 2021 after no incidents were reported the previous year. Great white sharks are thought to be common off the coast of Cape Town, but after a group of killer whales (Orcinus orca), which are known to feed on sharks, migrated to the area in 2017, white shark sightings became rare.
“We don’t know how often killer whales kill white sharks, but when they do, they seem to prefer the fatty liver and leave the rest behind. However, as of 2021, great white sharks appear to have migrated east, and there are more now along The wild coast of South Africa,” Boling said. As a result, three shark bites were reported in the country in 2021, one of which was fatal.
Despite the relaxation of restrictions on travel and leisure due to the coronavirus, reports of shark bites remain sporadic as medical responders and examiners continue to deal with a large number of deaths from the virus. As a result, the number of unconfirmed shark bites in 2021 was high for the second year in a row, with 14 presumed incidents still under investigation and one unidentified event.
While the past year has seen a significant increase in shark bites and a significant number of deaths, both are still within the long-term averages. As more people flock to the warm beaches, shark encounters are becoming more common, especially in Florida, which has the second highest rate of population growth in the United States. However, the deaths, in the long run, are becoming less frequent.
Surfers and sharks share an ideal environment
“The overall decrease in mortality from shark bites is likely due to a combination of improved beach safety protocols around the world, and a decrease in the number of sharks of various species in the waters,” said Gavin Naylor, director of research in the UCSD Shark Program. coastal”. Florida Museum. “The increase in 2020 and 2021 is almost certainly due to increased numbers of white sharks, which increased in several locations, likely in response to a boom in the numbers of seals feeding on them.”
The majority of the people (51%) of the sharks were surfers or snowboarders, who spend a lot of time in the water in and around their breaks. This thin strip of water, where oncoming waves that may have traveled hundreds of miles will eventually crash into the high coastal sea floor and crash, creating the perfect environment for surfers and sharks alike.
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