The general worldwide trend towards more intense utilisation of coastal marine waters for recriational activities has also increased the chances of shark-human interactions with a resulting increase in the number of reported shark encounters. As the population of Australia increases, many more people are entering coastal waters for recreational throughout the year.
Population increase since 1900:
1900 = 3.7 million
1950 = 8.3 million
1990= 17 million
2011 = 22.7 million
The Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF) has been accumulating and recording information on shark encounters for over 32 years with the aim to gather all known information on shark/human encounters in Australian waters, provide source material for research, media and education relating to the causes of attacks on humans and publish analysis of the acquired data. The Australian Shark Attack File is based at Taronga Zoo (Sydney) and works closely with the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).
Encountering a shark is a potential risk whenever someone enters the marine environment and must be acknowledged by people who swim, surf, dive or otherwise use the ocean for recreational activities. There is always a risk in any recreational activity undertaken however, injury or death from a shark bite is very low. In the last 50 years there have been 50 unprovoked fatalities (average of 1 per year) from shark encounters in Australian waters. Some years there are no fatalities recorded and in other years there have been up to 5, but the average remains around one per year. Shark encounters must be put into perspective, on any given summers day there are many thousands of people entering the water at our beaches, harbours and rivers and with an estimated 100,000,000 beach visitation a year (SLSA Newsletter 2010) and the numbers continue to grow with increasing population, it is inevitable someone somewhere will encounter a marine animal (including sharks).
Criteria for inclusion
A ‘unprovoked shark encounter' is defined in the ASAF as any human–shark interaction that meets the following criteria.
Any human/shark interaction where the person is alive and in the water at the time of the incident and :
· there is an unprovoked and determined attempt by a shark to bite a person, or
· injury is inflicted by a shark during an attempt to bite a person, or
· imminent contact was averted by diversionary action by the victim or others (and no injury to the human occurs), or
· the equipment worn or held by a person is bitten or damaged by a shark during a determined attempt, or
· there is a shark bite to a small water craft where a person is in or on the craft such as a kayak, surfboard or small dinghy.
As part of a world wide study into shark behaviour, analysis of data from the Australian Shark Attack Files may help to identify the existence, or absence, of common factors relating to the cause of shark encounters with humans.
Incidents classified as ‘provoked’ are not included in these web pages. The provoked category relates to circumstances where the person pursosely or accidently initiates contact with a shark while involved in fishing for, spearing, stabbing, feeding, netting or handling a shark, or where the shark was attracted to the victim by activities such as fishing, spear-fishing and cleaning of captured fish.
More research needed
This ASAF is aimed at understanding and documenting the behaviours of sharks when they interact with humans. This information will contribute to a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding human/shark interactions and may help people stay safe when entering the water. Factual information about these encounters will also assist in the conservation of shark species and their environment through education and support for specific research projects. There is an urgent need to learn much more about the shark's biology and normal behaviour as well as in circumstances of human interaction and more support from governments for research into tracking sharks long-term must be undertaken as soon as possible.
Anyone who has experienced an encounter with a shark in Australian waters can send in an account of their experiences to the Australian Shark Attack File for consideration using the contact details below: