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The Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF) investigated 22 incidents of shark-human interaction that occurred between 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2012 within Australian waters.

Upon review, 14 of these incidents represented confirmed cases of unprovoked shark interactions directed towards humans. The total of 14 cases is above the 10 unprovoked encounters recorded in 2011 but only slightly above the decade average of 12.5 unprovoked cases per year.

Australian Shark Encounter Statistics for 2012:

State

Cases Recorded

Fatal

Injured

Uninjured

NSW

5

0

3

2

QLD

1

0

1

0

SA

1

0

1

0

WA

5

2

2

1

VIC

1

0

1

0

TAS

1

0

1

0

NT

0

0

0

0

TOTAL - Unprovoked

14

2

9

3

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL - Provoked

8

0

5

3

 

 

 

 

 

All Cases

22

2

14

6

An ‘unprovoked encounter' is defined as an incident where a shark is in its natural habitat and has made a determined attempt to bite a human without the human provoking the shark. A ‘provoked encounter' usually occurs when a human purposely or accidently attracts a shark or initiates physical contact with a shark, e.g. a diver injured after grabbing a shark, a fisherman bitten while removing a shark from the water or hook, interactions with spearfishermen while spearing fish, a wader steps on a shark, etc. Encounters with small water craft (eg kayaks) is not included in this summary and are included under provoked cases. The ‘uninjured’ category represents bites to surfboards, etc where the person was not injured.

NSW and Western Australia each had 5 unprovoked shark attacks interactions with two fatalities occurring in WA (down on the 3 WA fatalities experienced in 2011).

Activities & injuries of victims:

In 2012 there were 12 unprovoked cases (86%) involving encounters with surfboard riders. Other activities included a SCUBA diver (7%) and a snorkeller (7%).

There were two fatalities, 8 cases where injuries were recorded and the victim survived; 4 were severe injuries and 4 were minor injuries. No injury to the victim occurred in 4 cases involving bites to surfboards.

Species of sharks involved in attacks:

White sharks were involved with 8 of the 14 cases of unprovoked encounters. Seven involved surfboard riders (one x fatality) and one fatal bite on a SCUBA diver. A Tiger shark was involved in 2 encounters, one on a surfboard rider and a snorkeler. A Bull shark injured 2 surfboard rider and an unidentified Whaler shark bumped a surfboard.

Time of the year attacks occurred:

Shark encounters occurred from January to March and June to July (total of 11 cases), one occurred in October and 2 in December. Six cases occurred in the cooler winter months and 8 in warmer summer months.

Average number of unprovoked shark attacks:

The average number of unprovoked shark encounters varies each year but has increased in recent decades since the 1990s. In the 1990s the average rose from 6.5 per year to 12.5 cases per year for the last decade. The small numerical growth in shark interactions in 2012 (17 cases) does not necessarily mean that there is an increase in the rate of shark encounters; rather it most likely reflects the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the opportunities for interaction between the two parties. The figures for Australian shark encounter injuries and fatalities remain very small in comparison to other recreational water activities undertaken at the 11,900 (approx) beaches around Australia’s 35,000+km coastline (eg, drownings at beaches, harbours and rivers averaged 121 per year).

Circumstances affecting shark / human interactions:

The number of shark-human interactions occurring in a given year correlates with human population increases and the amount of time humans spend in the shark’s environment. As Australia’s population continues to increase and interest in aquatic recreation rises, it would realistically be expected that there will be an increase in the number of shark encounters.

Year-to-year variability in local economic, social, meteorological, oceanographic conditions and fishing pressure significantly influences the local abundance of humans and sharks in the water and, therefore, the odds of encountering one another can be up or down. As a result, short-term trends in the number of shark encounters - up or down - must be viewed with caution. The ASAF prefers to view trends over longer periods of time (e.g. by decade) rather than trying to assign too much significance to sometimes high year-to-year variability.

There are a number of influences that can affect shark / human interaction each year such as good or bad surfing conditions, water clarity, use of wetsuits in cooler months (allowing longer periods in the water throughout the year). Others include the occurrence of large schools of fish (fish schools attract sharks and other predators to an area), media coverage of a recent shark attack event (may keep some people from the water), fishing activities (which may attract sharks), reduced shark numbers from targeted shark fishing (eg finning) or from shark nets can influence the opportunity for shark-human interactions. People generally are becoming more aware of water safety and more knowledgeable of shark behaviour making many people cautious when in the water.

Precautions to minimise risk:

While there are more people going into the water more often and staying longer, humans may also be getting smarter about reducing their risk of encountering a shark and staying safe at the beach. There are a number of Shark Smart public education programs (http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/info/sharksmart) issued by State and Federal Governments, offer factual information on shark behaviour and risk reduction. Several organisations such as the Australian Water Safety Council and Surf Life Saving Australia also have safety awareness programs.

The Australian Shark Attack File has a number of "do's and don'ts" that people should consider when planning their day at the beach or undertaking other water related activities. These considerations will assist in staying safe and will help reduce the risk of shark / human interactions. These considerations include:

  • Swim at beaches patrolled by Surf Life Savers (they are there to keep an eye on your safety, to look for signs of danger and to assist if you get into trouble).

  • Do not swim, dive or surf where dangerous sharks are known to congregate.
  • Always swim, dive or surf with other people (the mere presence of a companion may deter a potential attack and your companion can assist you if you get into trouble).

  • Do not swim in dirty or turbid water (there is little chance of seeing a shark in these conditions).

  • Avoid swimming at dusk, dawn or at night (many predatory sharks are active during these times and in low light conditions you may not be able to see an approaching shark).

  • Avoid swimming well offshore, near deep channels or along drop-offs to deeper water (sharks are more likely to inhabit the deeper water).

  • Avoid entering the ocean near a river mouth, especially after a rainstorm (rain can wash food items into the sea that might attract fish and sharks).

  • If schooling fish congregate in large numbers, leave the water (sharks can be feeding on the baitfish schools).

  • Be careful wading through shallow water kelp beds as Wobbegong sharks are highly camouflaged and known to hide amongst the kelp and one could easily step on these sharks without knowing they were there.

  • Do not swim near people fishing or spear fishing (these activities can attract sharks).

  • Dolphins in the area do not indicate the absence of sharks (dolphins and sharks sometimes feed together and some larger sharks feed on dolphins).

  • Kayakers should raft up together if a large shark is seen in the area (this makes for a larger object that a shark may not be interested in).

  • Do not swim with pets and domestic animals (sharks can be attracted to the disturbance animals make in the water).

  • Look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or wharf (people have jumped on top of sharks).

  • Wearing shiny jewellery can reflect light that resembles the sheen of fish scales (sharks can be attracted to the reflected light).

  • If a shark is sighted in the area leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible.

The ASAF has developed important cooperative relationships with all the State and Territory Fisheries, shark research scientists and surf life saving organisations around the country, leading to increased documentation of human/shark encounters from all regions of Australia over the past 30 years. The ASAF shares data with the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) held at the Florida Museum of Natural History which reports annually on the global number of shark encounters. For additional information on worldwide shark encounters, visit the ISAF web site at: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/sharks.htm

Further information can be found on the ASAF web pages including updated shark encounter statistics and educational material about shark behaviour and conservation. For more information please visit the Taronga Conservation Society Australia (TCSA) web site at : http://www.taronga.org.au/animals-conservation/conservation-science/australian-shark-attack-file/latest-figures

Prepared by the Curator, Australian Shark Attack File

For Taronga Conservation Society Australia