The numbers don’t lie: the ocean is teaming with the most sharks in recent memory. 2015 went on record for having the highest number of shark attacks, with the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) recording 98 unprovoked attacks.
While this number may cause some reader to balk at taking a dip in the ocean, a brief analysis of this number may soothe some concerns. For one, only six of these attacks resulted in fatalities, which means an almost 94% survival rate.
In addition, more attacks actually correlate with higher beach attendance, which simply means that sharks and humans are just bumping into each other more often.
Finally, the silver-lining to this statistic would suggest that some shark populations are bouncing back from threatened or endangered levels, which is great news for their ecosystems, if not for humans.
That being said, when you are in the domain of a predator species, knowing what to look for is never a bad thing. To that end, here is a snapshot of the three most dangerous sharks for humans. Who knows? It might just come in handy.
3). BULL SHARKS
Scientific Name: Carcharhinus leucas
Non-Fatal Attacks: 73
Fatal Attacks: 27
Physical Description: Weighs between 200-290 pounds, and can grow to about eight feet long. Grey dorsal area, with a white underside. The shark’s name comes from its wide, blunt snout, overall stocky appearance, and aggressive behavior.
Fun Fact: An attack by a bull shark actually contributed to the writing of the novel Jaws. In the year of 1916, several shark attacks occurred off the coast of New Jersey. The last of these attacks was located in Matawan Creek, in a spot two miles inland from the ocean. Two people were killed, and one seriously injured. At the time a single white shark was blamed for all the attacks. This later helped form the Rouge Shark Theory, which inspired the creation of the rogue white shark in Jaws.
Now the blame tends to be placed on the bull shark, at least for the Matawan Creek incidents. This is due to its unique ability to survive in fresh and brackish water.
Danger to Humans: According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), the bull shark has killed enough humans to place it as the third most deadly shark, but in reality it probably ranks even higher. This increase in ranking revolves around its physiology and behavioral characteristics.
For one, the bull shark tends to favor shallow, opaque water to hunt, which leads to it hunting near shores: the prime area for human encounters. Additionally, its physical features are less unique than that of the tiger or white shark, so many unidentified shark attacks can probably be traced back to the territorial bull shark.
2). TIGER SHARKS
Scientific Name: Galeocerdo cuvier
Non-Fatal Attacks: 80
Fatal Attacks: 31
Physical Description: Can weigh as much as 1,400 pounds, and grow up to sixteen feet in length. Its dorsal area is a plain brown, with a white underside. The shark gets its name from the prominent spots and vertical bars that cover its upper-half, which fade as the shark progresses towards adulthood. Like the bull shark, it has a blunt snout, although its eyes are quite large.
Fun Fact: Tiger sharks are not picky eaters. They have been known to consume sea turtles, rays, other sharks, sea birds, dolphins, squid, and crabs. Closer to shore, they have even been known to consume human garbage, including cans, plastic bags, burlap sacks, and license plates.
Perhaps the tiger shark needs to be named after a more applicable animal: the goat.
Danger to Humans: Because of its indiscriminate nature, the tiger shark can be more willing to go for a “tasting” bite over other species. While to the tiger shark this is just a nibble to sate its curiosity about an unknown object, its size and the strength of its jaws can cause serious injury in the smaller and much more fragile human. After the first strike, it has a high chance as of deciding to make a meal of the human, again due to its indiscriminate nature.
3.) WHITE SHARKS
Scientific Name: Carcharodon carcharias
Non-Fatal Attacks: 234
Fatal Attacks: 80
Physical Description: The big kahuna. It can reach a length of 21 feet and weigh up to 2,400 pounds. Blue-grey to brown dorsal area, with a clearly separated white underside. It has a pointed snout, with two small black eyes on either side of its head. Along with its trademark jaws, the white shark can be identified by its first dorsal fin. This fin is quite large and triangular, and frequently appears in media surrounding sharks.
Fun Fact: Infamous for a multitude of features, the white shark’s biggest claim to fame resides in its set of pearly white chompers. While the power of these jaws was hypothesized for some time, measurements of jaw power in the wild are difficult to obtain, and white sharks cannot be kept in captivity for long. With the advent of precise computer modeling, several studies could finally be undertaken. It was found that the bite pressure of the white shark reached 18,000 N, the strongest recorded bite force of any animal.
To put this into perspective, an average-sized car traveling at 60 mph achieves an energy of 45,000 Nm, only a little more than twice as powerful as the white shark’s jaw.
Danger to Humans: The intense crushing pressure of the jaws of the white shark, as well as their serrated teeth, makes escaping from a determined white shark difficult. White sharks tend to stalk potential prey from below, so some scientists believe that white sharks mistakenly identify swimmers and surfers as common prey items such as seals and sea lions. With their massive size and tendency to go for quick powerful strikes, it is unsurprising that they can fatally injure a human, even if unintentionally.
A Reality Check
While it can be fun to be thrilled by the speed, power, and danger of the shark, do not lose sight of its naturalness. The real shark does not resemble the monster from Jaws: it does not make a habit of leaping onto ships to devour any unfortunate humans onboard.
With that in mind, look forward to the companion piece of this article, where I will inspect some common myths about the shark. We will see what parts are true, and what misconceptions need to be torn to pieces.
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—. “Species Implicated in Attacks.” Florida Museum of Natural History. 2016. Web. Florida Museum of Natural HIstory. <https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/isaf/contributing-factors/species-implicated-attacks/>.
Clark, Alison. “Shark Attacks Hit all-Time High in 2015.” UF News8 Feb. 2016 2016. Print.
The Real Story: Jaws. Dir. Eisen, L. Prod. Eisen L. Perf. Johnson, C. Smithsonian Channel, 2012. Online Stream.
“Tiger Shark.” National Geographic. 2016. Web. <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/tiger-shark/>.
Wroe, S., et al. “Three-Dimensional Computer Analysis of White Shark Jaw Mechanics: How Hard can a Great White Bite? .” Journal of Zoology 276.4 (2008): 336-42. Print.