A new report shows that the risk of a great white shark attack in California has dropped by 91 percent in the last 60 years.
The report states that information on how to avoid sharks is far more important than culling sharks, which is particularly important in the U.S. right now, as people wonder what to do about the recent incidences in North Carolina.
“Just like we check the weather before going boating or the surf forecast before surfing, information about the risk of encountering large predators can become a normal precaution we take before going into the ocean,” first author Francesco Ferretti of Stanford University explained in a news release.
Using the Global Shark Attack File, researchers examined the number of injury-causing attacks on the coast of California from 1950 to 2013. There were 86 attacks, including 13 fatalities. When analyzing the data, researchers accounted for population growth and changes in water-based activities, like swimming and surfing.
This is an important part to remember because while the number of incidents may have increased over the study period, the actual risk to individuals was greatly reduced. This is because there are simply more people in the water. Coastal California is now home to three times as many individuals as it was in 1950, and the number of people in the water has increased even more than that. There were 7,000 surfers in 1950, but by 2013 there were a whopping 872,000. The number of swimmers and certified scuba divers also increased greatly.
“Doing this kind of analyses can inform us on hot spots and cold spots for shark activity in time and space that we can use to make informed decisions and give people a way to stay safe while they are enjoying the ocean,” said Ferretti.
For example, risks are always higher in the evening when it’s harder for sharks to distinguish between people and prey. It’s also riskier in the spring when the sharks are migrating to Hawaii for the season.
The report clearly states that there is “no evidence that culling sharks improves the safety of ocean users.” Culling is incredibly expensive and often, sharks that pose no threats are killed. Western Australia, for example, spent 22 million AUD in 2014 without catching a single great white shark. According to the report, that money would be much better spent on distributing helpful information to beachgoers.
Keep in mind that shark encounters in general are extremely rare. The recent attacks in North Carolina may be skewing our view a little bit this season, but there are only an average of 10 incidences worldwide per year.
“You have a higher chance to win the lottery, a much higher chance to drown in the ocean, than to be attacked by a shark,” Ferretti said. “At the same time, people need to approach the ocean with precaution and respect. We are entering the realm of predators and they are fulfilling their ecological role.”
To learn more:
- Read the Stanford news release: Stanford researchers show the risk of shark attacks is way down.
- Read the ESA news release: To Avoid Dangerous Shark Encounters, Information Trumps Culling.
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