TUESDAY, Feb. 7, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- It's a little safer to get into the water: Unprovoked shark attacks dropped to a 10-year low worldwide in 2022, shark watchers say.
A total of 57 unprovoked bites occurred in 2022, tying with 2020 for the fewest number of reported incidents during the last 10 years, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.
Of those attacks, five were fatal -- down from nine deaths in 2021 and 10 in 2020.
Since 2013, there have been an average 74 unprovoked bites a year, researchers say.
The 2020 low likely was related to COVID-19 travel restrictions and beach closures, which resulted in fewer encounters between humans and sharks, researchers said.
Declining shark populations are one likely cause of the low numbers of bites in 2022, researchers said.
“Generally speaking, the number of sharks in the world’s oceans has decreased, which may have contributed to recent lulls,” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Florida Program for Shark Research.
“It’s likely that fatalities are down because some areas have recently implemented rigorous beach safety protocols, especially in Australia,” Naylor said in a museum news release.
The United States had the most bites, with Florida reporting more bites than anywhere else in the world. None of Florida’s 16 unprovoked bites were fatal, but two resulted in amputations.
Long Island also experienced a record number of shark bites, with New York reporting eight bites in 2022. Before these attacks, the state had only 12 reported unprovoked bites on record.
Juvenile sand tiger sharks have taken up residence in Great South Bay between Long Island and Fire Island, researchers have determined. The sharks use the sheltered bay as a nursery, and the majority of Long Island bites likely are from sand tiger sharks hunting bait fish in the surf zone.
“The Gulf Stream’s eddies ebb and flow each year. Sometimes they can come very close to shore, bringing nutrients and fish with them. The juvenile sand tigers will follow the fish, which in some cases leads to an uptick in encounters with people,” Naylor said.
“Juveniles tend to be more experimental and will try things that an adult shark wouldn’t,” Naylor continued. “If fish are especially dense where people are swimming and visibility is poor, then it is more likely that young sharks, which lack the experience of older animals, will mistake a swimmer’s foot for their intended prey.”
The United States had only one unprovoked bite death, involving a snorkeler who went missing along Keawakapu Beach in Maui, Hawaii.
Australia had nine confirmed unprovoked bites, and single bites occurred in New Zealand, Thailand and Brazil.
South Africa had two unprovoked attacks, both fatal and likely caused by white sharks, researchers said.
Two fatal attacks occurred on the same day in Egypt’s Red Sea, where shark bites are rare. The attacks, less than a mile from each other, are suspected to be the work of a single shark.
Even without the worldwide decline in shark bites, your chances of being attacked by a shark are incredibly low, researchers said.
Drowning poses the greater hazard -- it’s the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide -- and rip tides and powerful currents can swiftly carry away beachgoers.
To lower your risk of an unprovoked shark bite, take steps like removing reflective jewelry and avoiding areas where people are fishing.
The International Shark Attack File’s annual report focuses mainly on unprovoked bites, and does not highlight attacks that might have been caused by nearby fishing, chum in the water or other mitigating circumstances.
“Unprovoked bites give us significantly more insight into the biology and behavior of sharks,” Naylor said. “Changing the environment such that sharks are drawn to the area in search of their natural food source might prompt them to bite humans when they otherwise wouldn’t.”
There were 32 additional bites in 2022 that were intentionally or unintentionally provoked, researchers said.
The International Shark Attack File has more about reducing your risk of shark attack.
SOURCE: Florida Museum of Natural History, news release, Feb. 6, 2023