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Q1.        What Are The Current Number Of  Shark Attacks In Australia:

See Australian Shark Attack File 2015

Q2.        What Water Related Activities Attract Most Shark Attacks:      

Last 100 years:

#

Swimming

248

Surfing on a board

157

Spear fishing  

3

Snorkelling     

22

SCUBA, Hard Hat & Hookah Diving

33

Boat (surf ski, kayak, etc)

38

Shallow water

31

Note: Only those cases that have recorded activities of victims at the time of the shark attack. Last updated July 2015.

 Please note that unless otherwise indicated figures on Australian shark attacks relate to unprovoked attacks as per the ASAF Criteria for Inclusion.

The Criteria for Inclusion:

 All reports of shark attack in Australian waters are assessed against the Australian Shark Attack File criteria for inclusion:
 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 to bite,  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.

Unprovoked: Where a person is not engaged in provocative activities and a determined attempt is made by a shark to bite or harass a person.

Q3.        How is the Species of Shark in an Attack Identified?

Species of shark can be positively identified either through direct examination of the bite, identification of the captured shark, forensic assessment of the bite marks, teeth or tooth fragments recovered, or identification by a credible witness. The ASAF establishes the most likely shark species or family through a review of the physical and behavioural description of the shark from the victim, witnesses, or other available reports.

 This information is compared with previous incidents from the same or similar locations with similar circumstances and when the species had previously been identified, including:

-       Physical description of the shark from victim, witnesses, media reports (colour, size, eye shape, markings, etc)

-       Review of reported behaviour prior, during and after the attack (direction of attack, force of attack, if it stayed around, etc)

-       Review of the location and site description

-       Time of year the attack occurred

-       Environmental parameters such as water temp, depth, salinity, visibility, etc

-       Comparison with known distribution patterns of Australian shark species

-       Influence other animals may have had on the attack (e.g. prey species) near the site at the time

-       Considered opinion from experts in the field of shark research is also sought

Q4.        Why Do Shark Sightings Seem To Increase Each Year:  

 Any observed increase in the number of sharks at various locations can occur without it being an indicator of increasing population. For example, if the seal population, a White Shark’s natural seasonal food source, were to dramatically increase, whites could become aware of this increase in their food source over time and become far more visible by congregating near the seal colonies.  While there might not actually be an increase in the overall numbers of whites, relatively and locally they may appear more abundant.  In this situation there would be fewer sharks elsewhere.

 As White Sharks have been protected in Australia for around 20 years it may be too early to see any significant increase in population numbers. A number of natural pressures on the White Shark population can hamper their capacity to recover from low numbers quickly, including their long maturation, slow growth, they are long lives and give birth to only a few offspring every 2-3 years that are susceptible to natural mortality in their first year. The CSIRO are currently using genetic analysis to see if White Shark populations are in recovery and possibly to what extent.

 View CSIRO research.

 For more information, visit Changing Patterns of Shark Attacks in Australian Waters.

Q5.        What Is The Risk Of Shark Attack:

 The risk posed by shark attack has been compared to all sorts of things, including death due to car accidents, lightning, bee stings, domestic dogs and falling coconuts. Risk of death or injury due to shark attack is far less than any of these. However, it’s not particularly useful to compare terrestrial and marine death/injury statistics since there are many more people on land than in the water. A far more realistic comparison is to compare rates of deaths from drowning at the beach, swimming, surfing, SCUBA diving, fishing and other water related activities. Of all the risks that humans face in the sea, shark attack is the least likely of them.

Shark attack is a random event that occasionally occurs around our coastline. The more people that go into the water the more risk of encountering a shark or other marine animals. Conservatively, if 100,000 people went into the water at a beach, harbour or river just once per week around Australia’s 35,000+ km of coast over 52 weeks and there is one fatality per year then the risk of shark attack would be 5.2 million to 1. In reality there are many more people that go into the water each year (Surf Life saving Australia estimated 100 million beach visits in 2010) and the risk of dying from a shark attack is more likely rated at 50-60 million to one.

 Further information:

National Coastal Safety Report 2007

82 drownings on coastal beaches 06-07 season

(fatal shark attacks = 0).

National Coastal Safety Report 2008

88 drownings on coastal beaches 07-08 season (fatal shark attacks = 1).

National Coastal Safety Report 2008 & Beachsafe  Newsletter, Issue 17, 2009

NSW Rock-fishing fatalities 1969 – 2000 (32 years) = 218 (NSW fatal shark attacks = 2)

Beachsafe  Newsletter, Issue 17, 2010

Average 87 drowning deaths per year

Beachsafe  Newsletter, Issue 17, 2010

100 million beach visits per year around Australia.

Royal Safe Saving Society National Drowning Report 2014

A 10 year average of 292 downing deaths per year (Australia wide)

 Q6.        Are There More Sharks Attacks Occurring Each Year: 

 See Changing Patterns of Shark Attacks in Australian waters.

 Q7.        Which Month is the Most Likely Time for a Shark Attack to Occur:     

 Total unprovoked attacks recorded per month in Australia 1791 to August 2015:

Month:

Attacks:

Fatalities:

January

138

38

February

48

18

March

75

20

April

43

13

May

19

5

June

23

8

July

23

7

August

24

9

September

29

11

October

45

9

November

63

17

December

96

29

Q8.         What Species Of Sharks Are Dangerous To Humans in Australia?      

 There are over 510 shark species world-wide with 182 species inhabiting Australian waters. Of those species only a very small number are known to be dangerous to humans. Analysis of the Australian Shark Attack File data indicates that the vast majority of shark attacks and 99% of all fatalities come from three main species of sharks, the White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), and Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas),

 For more information, see Known Dangerous Sharks.

More biological information can be found at the Australian Museum and CSIRO.

Q9.        Minimising The Risk Of Shark Attack:

 See the ASAF Minimising the Risk of Shark Encounters page.

Q10.        Why Do Sharks Attack Humans:

The motivation for shark attack is still unclear and is far more complicated than just satisfying its hunger. Figures show that the vast majority of shark attacks on humans consist of a single strike then the shark swims away. Wounds are typically single slashes or simple bite-and-release interactions resulting in little or no removal of flesh. It therefore seems likely that the vast majority of shark attacks have little to do with feeding and must therefore be motivated by something else.

 To properly interpret shark behaviour, especially in relation to human/shark interactions much more neurological and behavioural research will need to occur before we can properly interpret a shark’s behaviour in an attack situation.

 Analysis of shark attack cases by the Australian Shark Attack File, the International Shark Attack File and other researchers around the world over the last two decades indicate that curiosity, mistaken identity, hunger and possibly social defensive or aggressive behaviours all play a part in interactions with humans to some extent.

 Shark attacks are random events that have little in common apart from the human and shark being in the water in the same area at the same time. Attacks occur under different circumstances, involve different shark species and sizes, under different environmental conditions, in different places at different times of the day and year, with humans behaving differently in each incident. In most cases we know nothing of the shark’s behaviour or motivation prior to the attack.

 It may be that it is a combination of competing sensory stimuli that alerts the shark and initiates an inquisitive investigation that may lead to a hunting behaviour, bump or bite. Anywhere along this process the shark can abandon the investigation or attack behaviour. In most cases we know nothing of the shark’s behaviour just before the attack. It may well have been pursuing its prey or actively feeding prior to encountering the human. We may never know for sure.

 It must be said that just because a shark is in the water nearby it does not mean that it will attack. There are many instances where large free swimming sharks were observed to have swum past people in the water and took no or only a cursory, interest in them. Growing numbers of thrill seekers are diving with large predatory sharks outside of protective cages without being attacked. There is no doubt that sharks see more people in the water than people ever see sharks with the vast majority of victims unaware of the shark before the incident.

 For more information, see John West’s Shark Attack Theories.

Q11.        What Trends Do You Notice With Shark Attacks:          

 See Changing Patterns of Shark Attacks in Australian waters.           

Q12.        Are Sharks Populations Declining due to Overfishing & Finning:

 Overfishing is a serious threat to sharks all over the world, with many populations of shark already in world-wide decline. Scientists consider that populations of large predatory fish such as sharks, marlin, swordfish and tuna have declined dramatically since the 1980s. The high price, demand and status associated with shark fin soup in Asia has been one of the main drivers behind shark overfishing, with many millions of sharks killed for their fins each year. Australia has banned shark fin trade without an attached shark.

 Sharks are vulnerable to overfishing because they have long lives, require many years to mature and produce few young at a time and many only reproduce every second year, making it hard for populations to recover. The shark’s life history means that shark populations cannot increase rapidly and so sudden explosions in the numbers of sharks is not possible.

 Sharks have a low resilience to fishing pressure with a minimum population doubling time of up to to 14 years (www.fishbase.org). For sharks to recover to pre-fishing population numbers it may take many years, even decades, it is therefore important for shark fisheries to be managed to promote long-term health and viability of the species.

 For further information, see IUCN’s story: ‘A quarter of sharks and rays threatened with extinction.’ The findings are part of the first ever global analysis of these species carried out by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.

 Q13.        Why is it Necessary to have Sharks in the Ocean:

Sharks have critically important roles in the marine ecosystem – they are the ‘apex predators’ of the oceans. They have a huge impact on other marine organisms either directly or indirectly. Without them the whole marine ecosystem could collapse. There are many examples from nature where ecological imbalance has manifested itself as huge increases in the numbers of some species and then disastrous collapses and die offs because the ecosystem became unbalanced.  

 The shark’s role is like that of the lions of the Serengeti Plains of Africa who maintain the natural balance of the large herds of wildebeests, zebra, antelope, and other mass grazing herd animals. If the Lions were removed these herd animals would soon overpopulate to such an extent that they would eat all the grasses and natural food items and ultimately starve to death. The extreme size of the herds would be subject to interbreeding and disease and this would also lead to their ultimate demise. Similar scenarios will occur in the oceans if all sharks are killed off.

 As an example of the impact of overfishing the ScienceDaily (29.3.2007) reported on a study by a team of Canadian and American ecologists, led by world-renowned fisheries biologist Ransom Myers at Dalhousie University, who found that overfishing the largest predatory sharks, such as the bull, White Shark, dusky, and Hammerhead Sharks, along the Atlantic Coast of the United States has led to an explosion of ray, skate, and small shark prey species. "With fewer sharks around, the species they prey upon like Cownose rays have increased in numbers, and in turn, hordes of Cownose rays dining on bay scallops and have wiped the scallops out," says co-author Julia Baum of Dalhousie.

"This ecological event is having a large impact on local communities that depend so much on healthy fisheries," says Charles Peterson, a professor of marine sciences biology and ecology at the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-leader of the study.

View ScienceDaily paper here.

Q14.        Is the Water Quality Improving and Attracting More Sharks:   

Improved water quality due to better management of sewage and rainwater run-off, is occurring particularly in Sydney Harbour and along the east coast and may well be attracting more fish, which, in turn, would attract predatory fish including sharks. However, there is no evidence currently supporting an increase in shark populations, especially those that are considered dangerous to humans. Large sharks do occur and are still found in Sydney Harbour every year and research to track some shark species in an effort to qualify their movements during the summer months is being undertaken by NSW State Fisheries.

 See also J. West’s paper, ‘A Review of Sydney Region Shark Attacks.’

Q15.        Where Can I Get More Information On Sharks: 

 Biological and ecological details on various shark species is available from the Australian Museum.

 Resources Guide

 Print and online references

 Sharks and Rays of Australia. (2009). Peter R. Last and John D. Stevens. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. It has illustrations, distribution maps and detailed descriptions relating to identification, range and habits of all known sharks, rays and chimaeras in Australian waters.

 Sharks of the World. (2005). Leonard Compagno, Marc Dando and Sarah Fowler. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. This field guide by shark taxonomist Leonard Compagno and colleagues is the first book to illustrate all known shark species and contains a detailed section on shark biology and behaviour.

 Sharks in Question: the Smithsonian Answer Book. (1989). Victor G. Springer and Joy P. Gold. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne. An older reference book that is still relevant and accurately answers the most frequently asked questions on shark history, biology, physiology and behavior.

 Discovering Sharks. (1990). Edited by Samuel Gruber. American Littoral Society, Highlands NJ. This book includes contributions from many of the world’s top shark experts in shark research, covering chapters on the sensory world of sharks, their reproduction strategies, feeding behaviors and shark conservation.

 Global Perspectives on the Biology and Life History of the White Shark. (2012). Edited by Michael L. Domeier. CRC Press, New York. Papers from the International White Shark Symposiumin Hawaii with new insights into white shark behaviour, physiology, migration patterns, habitat preferences and reproductive biology.

 Field Identification Guide to Western Australian Sharks and Shark-like Rays. (2002). R. McAuley, D. Newbound, and R. Ashworth. Department of Fisheries, Western Australia. A useful booklet describing each of the species found in W.A. with representative species drawings and colour maps showing specific distributions.

 The Fishes of Australia. Part 1, The Sharks, Rays, Devil-fish and Other Primitive Fishes of Australia and New Zealand. (1940). G. P. Whitley. Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Sydney. One of the first Australian books that documented the biology and behaviour of sharks, as understood at the time of writing.

White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Recovery Plan. 2002. Environment Australia, Canberra

Recovery Plan for the Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) in Australia. 2002. Environment Australia, Canberra

 Shark attack files

International Shark Attack File

 Australian Shark Attack File

Marine conservation societies and organisations

 Oceania Chondrichthyan Society Inc. (OCS). OCS is dedicated to promote and facilitate education, conservation and scientific study of chondrichthyan fishes  sharks, skates, rays and chimaras.

American Elasmobranch Society (AES). This is a non-profit organisation that seeks to advance the scientific study of living and fossil sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, and to promote education, conservation, and wise utilisation of natural resources.

Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).  This society works to protect our ocean wildlife, make our fisheries sustainable and conserve ocean habitats.

Shark Conservation Society (SCS). This UK-based society seeks to further conservation through research expeditions and campaigns based on fact and practical experience, and to promote best practice when interaction with sharks is necessary.

Shark Research Institute (SRI). This US-based scientific research organisation, was created to sponsor and conduct research on sharks and promote the conservation of sharks.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). This society, established in 1977, is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organisation. Its mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world's oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species.

The Cousteau Society.  Created in 1973 by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, this organisation communicates the beauty and fragility of our oceans,  believing that an informed and alerted public can best make the choices to ensure a healthy and productive world.