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Annual Report Summary for 2015

The Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF) investigated 33 reported incidents of shark-human interaction within Australian waters occurring between 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2015. Upon review, 22 of these incidents represent confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks. The number of unprovoked cases in 2015 is above the 11 unprovoked encounters recorded in 2014 and is above the decadal average of 13 unprovoked cases per year. 

Australian Shark Attack Statistics for 2015:

State

Unprovoked Cases Recorded

Fatal

Injured

Uninjured

NSW

14

1

8

5

QLD

4

0

1

3

SA

1

0

1

0

WA

2

0

2

0

VIC

1

0

1

0

TAS

0

0

0

0

NT

0

0

0

0

Total - Unprovoked

22

1

14

7

Total - Provoked

11

1*

9

1

Total - All Cases

33

2

23

8

* = Fatal case TAS, Maria Island

Last Update 20/1/2016

NSW recorded 14 unprovoked incidents (resulting in one fatality) while 4 incidents occurred in QLD, two in WA, and one in SA & VIC.

There was one provoked fatality in 2015 involving a hookah diver in TAS.

Definitions:

An ‘unprovoked’ encounter between a human and a shark is defined as an incident where a shark is in its natural habitat and has made a determined attempt to bite a human without any human provocation. A ‘provoked’ incident occurs when a human attracts or initiates physical contact with a shark, e.g. a person is bitten after grabbing a shark, a fisherman bitten while removing a shark from a hook, interactions with spearfishermen while spearing fish or the shark, a person steps on a shark, etc. The ‘uninjured’ category represents bumps or bites to surfboards where the person was not injured. The criteria for inclusion can be viewed in full on the ASAF web pages on the Taronga Zoo web site.

Activities & Injuries of Victims:

Of the 22 unprovoked cases in 2015 there were 18 cases involving 15 incidents with surfboard and body-board riders (one fatal), 2 involving swimmers and one while snorkelling. There were also 4 incidents recorded involving small water craft (e.g. kayak, surf skis, rowing scull).

There were 14 cases where injury occurred to the surviving victim; 10 of these cases sustained severe injuries, and 4 involved minor injuries. In the remaining 7 cases no injury to the victim occurred in the encounter (e.g. bump or bite to the surfboard or ski).

Species of sharks involved in attacks:

Great White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias)were identified as being involved in 16 of the 22 cases of unprovoked attacks with 13 involving attacks on surfboard riders and 3 on surf skis. The Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) was involved in 2 attacks (a surfer and a rowing scull). A Wobbegong shark (Orectolobidae sp.) inflicted minor injuries to a swimmer in shallow water and a Grey Nurse shark (Charcharis taurus) bit a surfboard rider on the foot. A Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)was implicated in one incident involving a swimmer (no injury occurred) and there was one case where a snorkeller on the Great Barrier Reef was bitten by an ‘unknown’ tropical species of shark.

Time of the year attacks occurred:

Six unprovoked shark attack cases occurred in July, three attacks were recorded for January and February and two incidents occurred in the months of June, August and September. A single shark attack occurred in the months of April, May, October and November. Fourteen 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 attacks varies each year and has increased in recent decades. In the1990s the average was 6.5 unprovoked cases per year rising to an average of 13 cases per year over the last decade. The 22 cases reported in 2015 are above the decadal yearly average.

Shark attacks in perspective:

The figures for Australian shark bite injuries and fatalities remain very small in comparison to fatalities and injuries occurring while undertaking other recreational water activities at the 11,900 (approx) beaches around Australia’s 35,000+km coastline.

The Royal Life Saving Society National Drowning Report 2014 notes an average of 292 deaths per year for people drowning over the last 10 years in Australia. During the period 2004- 2014 the Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2014 states that 78 rock fishermen drowned over the last 10 years (an average of 7.8 per year). There were 176 diving related deaths in Australia 2002-2009 - an average of 23 per year (Provisional Report on Diving Related Fatalities in Australian Waters 2002-2009). The average fatalities from shark attacks over the last 50 years is just under one per year (0.9).

Circumstances affecting shark / human interactions:

The number of shark-human interactions occurring over the last few decades closely correlates with human population increases and the amount of time people spend in the sharks’ 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, the presence of aquatic biomass and fishing pressure can influence the local abundance of humans and sharks in the water throughout the year, therefore, the odds of encountering one another can be up or down in any given year. 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 year-to-year variability.

There are a number of influences that can affect shark / human interaction each year such as good or bad surfing and swimming conditions, use of wetsuits in cooler months (allowing longer periods in the water throughout the year) and increasingly in isolated locations. Other influences include the occurrence of large schools of fish (fish schools attract sharks and other predators to an area), fishing activities may attract sharks, reduced shark numbers from targeted shark fishing (sharks captured in swimmer protection nets) and even media coverage of a recent shark attack may keep some people from the water and can all influence the risk of shark-human interactions.

People using the ocean are becoming more aware of water safety and more knowledgeable of shark behaviour, making many people cautious when at the beach or in the water which also helps to reduce interaction.

Precautions to minimise risk:

While there are more people going into the water more often and staying longer, people may also be getting smarter about reducing their risk of encountering a shark and staying safe at the beach. There are a number of public education and awareness programs issued by State government fisheries (e.g. Shark Smart  http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fisheries/info/sharksmart) and Federal Governments which 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 encounter 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 (some 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 or kelp beds as Wobbegong sharks are highly camouflaged and known to hide amongst the kelp, increasing the risk of stepping on one of 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 that non-aquatic animals make in the water).
  • Look carefully before jumping into the water from a boat or wharf (people have jumped on top of sharks).
  • Avoid 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 Australian State Fisheries, shark research scientists and surf life saving organisations around the country, leading to increased documentation of encounters from all regions of Australia over the past 30 years. The ASAF shares data on shark encounters with the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) held at the Florida Museum of Natural History which also reports annually on the global number of interactions. For additional information on sharks and 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 Australian 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 John West, Curator, Australian Shark Attack File for Taronga Conservation Society Australia.