Shark attacks are one of the most dreaded occurrences at any beach and despite their rarity, they have obtained a singularly dreadful reputation among beachgoers, swimmers and of course surfers.
There are roughly 80 unprovoked shark attacks a year, which may sound high, but that’s a very low number, considering it applies to the whole world over the course of a full year.
Imagine how many people swim and surf all over the world over the course of a year. The number is likely in the millions, which puts the 80 or so attacks that happen each year in a very very small percentage.
Despite this, many people are afraid of the water and what may lurk within it and it’s easy to see why. Shark attacks are a grizzly event that changes lives forever, resulting in awful injuries and trauma for victims, onlookers, rescuers and relatives.
But do sharks attack surfers in particular?
It’s no secret that surfers often come into contact with sharks of various species, and it isn’t exactly surprising that this happens. After all, surfers spend a lot of their time in the exact places where sharks go looking for prey.
Coastal waters, sandbars and warm environments are all a favourite among sharks, as well as surfers, which means they are far more likely to come into contact than occasional swimmers or tourists.
This also naturally increases the likelihood of surfers being among those to get attacked. Some surfers go their whole lives without seeing a shark, while others may have been stalked and not even noticed that the shark was there.
These two categories are probably in the majority, however, there are certainly hot spots where sharks tend to congregate and surfers who use these areas often know the risks they’re taking.
Indeed, most surfers adopt a very laid back attitude to sharks, accepting that this is the inherent risk they take for the hobby that they love.
There have been rumours that the way surfers look and behave in the water makes them more likely to be attacked because they resemble the shapes and movements of the shark’s favoured prey, seals and sea lions.
It is believed among some that the shape of the surfboard attracts the shark’s attention, while their sporadic movements are easily picked up by the sensory organs in the nose of sharks, the Ampullae of Lorenzini.
It’s likely that a combination of all these factors makes surfers a common target of shark attacks, so it’s best to be vigilant out on the water whether you’re a beginner or experienced surfer and look up advice on how to handle a shark encounter.
Are sharks friendly?
Really, it depends on the type of shark and how you define ‘friendly’. If by friendly you mean, unlikely to tear you limb from limb, then there are certainly a few species of shark which are friendly.
However there are also many species that are at the top of the food chain when it comes to ocean predation, and these species are far less likely to be so benign.
Some of the most common species of shark in terms of docility are nurse sharks, basking sharks and leopard sharks.
Nurse sharks actually look quite intimidating, with a mouth displaying many sharp and jagged teeth and a shape that could easily be mistaken for a more aggressive species. However, they are very docile and will only attack a human if provoked.
Basking sharks and Whale Sharks are both very docile and behave more like whales than sharks, feeding on plankton with large open mouths to capture as many of the tiny creatures as possible. They are enormous but are really gentle giants which are pretty much incapable of preying on humans.
Leopard sharks on the other hand are relatively small and prey mostly on crabs and small fish, making humans far too sizable to be attacked.
Ultimately, sharks are all predators and wild animals, so they can’t truly be friendly in the same way as your dog, but there are certainly some among this species that are relatively harmless around humans.
What is the most aggressive shark?
On the other hand, there are some sharks that are aggressive, territorial, and lethal, and sadly these are the sharks that most occupy the imagination of swimmers and surfers.
There are a few different species of aggressive shark, the most famous of course being the enormous Great White Shark, infamous for its rather unflattering depiction in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.
Despite its massive size, intimidating appearance and terrifying speed, the great white actually isn’t solely responsible for attacks.
The Tiger Shark is responsible for the second most unprovoked attacks after the great white, and this species has a reputation for high aggression and an appetite for almost anything, even other shark species. They are opportunistic and hunt in coastal waters and sandbars.
Finally, there is the Bull Shark, which is responsible for the third-highest number of unprovoked attacks.
This shark hunts in shallow waters as well as brackish waters, and can even swim up rivers into freshwater areas for extended periods, making them versatile and deadly, springing up in areas where you may not expect to come across such a deadly predator.
They are aggressive and distinguishable by their stubby large midsection.
An honourable mention has to be the Oceanic Whitetip Shark, which unlike the other sharks listed above feed out at sea. The number of attacks by this shark is unrecorded because they tend to attack castaways, making verification difficult.
The most famous account of these sharks and their aggressive nature comes from World War 2 when the USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean. Due to countless errors and mistakes, a great number of the sailors who survived and abandoned the ship were left adrift for days. Of the roughly 900 survivors who were adrift, only 316 survived, many of them preyed upon by the Oceanic Whitetip.
What shark kills the most humans?
The shark with the most confirmed human fatalities is the Great White, which is known to have killed around 52 people since records were taken. This explains why the shark has such a bad reputation and is feared by surfers, swimmers and beachgoers alike.