Are Shark Attacks Really More Common in Western Australia?

Written by on January 8, 2014 in Policy & Ocean Law, Sharks
Great white shark.

Great white shark. Photo credit: Michael Heilemann via photopin cc.

Last weekend, thousands of people showed up at demonstrations around Australia to protest the impending shark cull in Western Australia.

The Western Australian government plans to install 72 baited hooks of Perth’s popular beaches in response to recent fatal shark attacks. Located one kilometer off the shore, the hooks are set to be in place by January 10. Any shark more than three meters long found on a hook will be shot and thrown out to sea. The hooks will be maintained and patrolled by contracted commercial fishermen.

But some have taken matters into their own hands. In an article in WA Today, a Perth diver describes the horror scene she happened upon while on a dive last week. Severed shark heads and slashed bodies lead her to believe locals have been whipped into a killing frenzy over their fear of sharks. And she isn’t the only one who has seen sharks clearly injured by humans. Read the whole article to learn more, but beware, there are plenty of pictures of mangled sharks.

Western Australia isn’t the only place where fatal shark attacks have occurred, so why is it such a big deal there? Why hasn’t Florida or California started setting up shark hooks? Is WA really the most dangerous place for shark attacks? Let’s look at some numbers.

In 2012, the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 118 alleged incidents of shark-human interaction occurring worldwide. Of those, 80 incidents represented confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attack on humans. (“Unprovoked attacks” are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurs in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark.)

Just over a quarter of the confirmed incidents took place in Australian waters. According to the Australian Shark Attack File’s Annual Report for 2012, there were 22 investigated incidents of shark-human interaction between January 1st and December 31st, 2012. Of those, 14 were confirmed cases of unprovoked shark interactions and only two were fatal. There were five recorded cases in both New South Wales and Western Australia, but both fatalities occurred in WA.

Shark Advisory.

Shark Advisory. Photo credit: sbma44 via photopin cc.

Since 1791, there have been 91 unprovoked cases in WA. Of those, 20 were fatal, 56 were injured and 15 were uninjured. But WA is only third in the list, after Queensland (250 cases, 82 fatal) and New South Wales (243 cases, 68 fatal).

Despite the 2013 fatalities that prompted the shark cull, the numbers suggest that WA is not the most dangerous place in terms of shark incidents. In fact, Australia overall had a pretty average year in 2012 for shark attacks.

The steady increase in shark attacks doesn’t necessarily mean sharks are getting more aggressive. In this graph you can see that the number of shark attacks in Australia has increased along with the population. This is the case in almost every area where shark incidents occur. As the population grows, more people enter the water, and more people interact with sharks. Also keep in mind that WA has the fastest population growth of any Australian state.

An article about safer coexistence with sharks from the University of Western Australia stresses the importance of education. “Before suggesting that we cull economically and ecologically important shark species, with no scientific assessment of their populations, we need to educate people about the risks involved when entering the ocean and how they can protect themselves from harm.”

So before you get in the water, get educated.

To learn more about shark incidents the cull and the protests, check out some of these links:

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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