Teen survives shark attack in New Jersey
To coincide with Shark Week, a team of researchers has drawn up an interactive map of shark attacks across the globe over a 47-year-period – including several off the south coast of England.
Experts have also published a list of useful tips aimed at helping people survive a close encounter – or even a so-called “bite incident”.
Jaws director Steven Spielberg recently voiced his regret at the negative image his 1977 smash hit movie conferred on the marine predators – and the research, published by FloridaPanhandle.com, is careful to explain just how rare shark attacks are.
Barely 100 unprovoked incidents and under 10 fatalities typically occur globally each year, largely because human beings are, fortunately, not part of sharks’ natural diets. Rather, the majority of “attacks” are believed to happen because the fish get curious, or just confused.
Nevertheless, shark attacks do occur – and the map provides details of a total of six in the UK, none of them fatal.
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Five occurred in the seas around Britain – off Folkstone Pier in Kent in 2007, off Lundy Island, in 2008, off Bantham Beach in South Devon in 2017, off Newlyn in Cornwall in 2018, and most recently, off Littlehampton in West Sussex, in 2021.
However, most bizarrely, there was also a shark attack involving a fish known as Miami, kept in a 3,000 litre tank in a pub in the Fountain pub in Tenbury Wells in the West Midlands in 2000.
Miami bit chef Paul Smith on the hand when he went to give the black-tipped reef shark a treat of some prawns, with six stitches required on his deep wound.
The map also details incidents in the United States, with Florida being the state with the most attacks.
FloridaPanhandle.com founder David Angotti said: “When you look at the data, it is quickly apparent that the chances of being attacked by a shark are nearly zero.
“For people that live in the United States, you are approximately 50 times more likely to die by a lightning strike and ten times more likely to die by a firework accident.
He added: “While commercial air travel is widely considered to be among the safest modes of transportation, the chances of dying in a plane crash is exponentially greater than being merely attacked by a shark.
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“To put these numbers in perspective, there were 3,416 commercial airline deaths worldwide between 2011 and 2020. In the past 30 years, there have been less than 300 shark attack deaths and 3,000 total attacks.”
Anyone unlucky enough to find themselves so targeted would do well to avoid panicking and instead remember several points which may help keep them alive, Mr Angotti explained.
Firstly, playing dead won’t help – such an approach “worked for bears, but not sharks!”
Rather, they are better off maintaining eye contact with the fish, which will therefore realise it has lost the element of surprise.
Secondly, they should fight back by biffing the shark on the nose, gills or poking it in the eye.
Thirdly, said Angotti, “position yourself in a manner to minimise a bite to the neck or face. Get out of the water at your first opportunity, but don’t turn your back on the shark!
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“Sharks can swim at over 30mph (compared to Michael Phelps’ 4.7mph) and you won’t outswim them.
“Once out of the water, apply pressure to the wounds and get immediate medical attention.”
Many survivors of shark attacks have compared the experience to being bumped or punched – although some, perhaps thanks to the adrenaline rush, report feeling no pain at all, even at the point of being bitten.
Looking at the map of shark attacks in the US, observers will notice a handful of the shark attacks shown on the map do not actually occur in the ocean – with some also taking place in rivers.
However, one curious incident reminiscent of the attack on Mr Smith in the UK happened in the land-locked state of New Mexico – in an aquarium tank.
The “attack” happened in the ABQ BioPark in Albuquerque back in 2005, when diver Ken Pitts had just finished feeding the sand tiger sharks and was taking off his wetsuit.
Sand tiger sharks have distinctive pointy teeth and swim about with their mouths open – meaning that they can accidentally harm divers just by banging into them.
Distracted as he took off his diving suit, Mr Pitts failed to notice the shark approaching and ended up with two quarter-inch puncture wounds on his forearm.
While he required stitches on the wounds, he was otherwise fine, and returned to the tank shortly after the incident (although the map inaccurately claims the incident was fatal).
As Kathy Lang – ABQ BioPark’s Aquatic Conservation and Operations Manager – told Colorado Newsline back in 2021: “The shark did not bite the diver nor display any aggression. The fish was apparently dozing and simply bumped into him!”
Even though the incident appears to have been a pure accident, however, the fact that it involved a captive shark means that it was classified as a “provoked attack” regardless.
FloridaPanhandle.com’s Brittany Mendez told Daily Express US: “Where fear and fascination meet, we hope to continue to educate people everywhere about Sharks and how to stay safe in the ocean.”
Mr Angotti agreed, adding: “What started out as a fun research project quickly became a passion project!
“During our research, we learned that in a typical year less than ten humans are killed by sharks. Contrast that with the astronomical figure of 100 million sharks killed by humans.”
The team, he said, hopes to teach the general public that shark attacks are incredibly rare and normally survivable.
Mr Angotti concluded: “Based on the data, we should not fear the sharks – rather, we should protect them.”
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