Australian Shark Attack File - Annual Australian Shark Attack Report Summary for 2013

Australian Shark Attack File

Annual Report Summary for 2013

The Australian Shark Attack File (ASAF) investigated 14 incidents of shark-human interaction (less than the 22 incidents recorded in 2012) occurring between 1st Jan to 31st Dec 2013 within Australian waters.

Upon review, 10 of these incidents represent confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks. The number of  unprovoked cases in 2013 are below the 14 unprovoked encounters recorded in 2012 and below the decade average of 13 unprovoked cases per year.

Australian Shark Encounter Statistics for 2013:

State

Unprovoked Cases Recorded

Fatal

Injured

Uninjured

NSW

3

1

1

1

QLD

2

0

2

0

SA

0

0

0

0

WA

4

1

2

1

VIC

1

0

1

0

TAS

0

0

0

0

NT

0

0

0

0

Total - Unprovoked

10

2

6

2

 

 

 

 

 

Total - Provoked

4

0

4

0

 

 

 

 

 

Total - All Cases

14

2

10

2

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’ encounter occur when a human attracts 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. No encounters with small water craft (eg kayaks) were recorded in 2013. The ‘uninjured’ category represents bites to surfboards where the person was not injured.

Activities & injuries of victims:

Western Australia recorded 4 unprovoked shark encounters with one fatality. Three incidents occurred in NSW (with one fatality), two in QLD and one in VIC.

In 6 cases where injuries were recorded and the victim survived; 2 were severe injuries and 4 were minor injuries. In 2 cases no injury to the victim occurred in the encounter (both involved bites to surfboards).

In 2013 there were 6 unprovoked cases involving encounters with surfboard riders resulting in 2 fatalities (1 x surf board rider & I x body boarder). Other activities of victims included swimming (1), Hookah diving (1), snorkelling (1) and SCUBA diving (1).

Species of sharks involved in attacks:

White sharks were identified as being involved in 4 of the 10 cases of unprovoked attacks 3 of these involved attacks on surfboard riders (one fatal) and one on an abalone hookah diver. A Tiger shark was involved in 2 attacks on surfboard riders (one fatal). Wobbegong sharks inflicted minor injuries to a SCUBA diver and a surfer when he stepped off his board in shallow water, a Grey Reef Shark bit a snorkeler inflicting minor lacerations and an unidentified shark inflicted minor injuries to the hand of a person swimming.

Time of the year attacks occurred:

One shark attack occurred in January, May, June, July and two incidents occurred in October, November and December. Three cases occurred in the cooler winter months and 7 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 13 cases per year over the last decade.

The figures for Australian shark bite injuries and fatalities remain very small in comparison to fatalities and injuries occurring in 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 average 121 per year) during 2013.

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 humans 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 even though there was a drop in unprovoked shark interactions in 2013.

Year-to-year variability in local economic, social, meteorological, oceanographic conditions and fishing pressure significantly influence 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 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, water clarity and use of wetsuits in cooler months and locations (allowing longer periods in the water throughout the year). Other influences 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 captured in swimmer protection nets can influence the opportunity for shark-human interactions. People are generally becoming more aware of water safety and becoming more knowledgeable of shark behaviour making many cautious when in the water which also helps 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 Shark Smart public education programs issued by State 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 one 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 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).
  • 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 the Curator, Australian Shark Attack File for Taronga Conservation Society Australia