Shark attack: ’No single reason’ for record high in unprovoked shark bites

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Professor Daryl McPhee of Bond University, Australia, has confirmed the number of shark bites is on the rise around the world. A 2014 study by the university suggests great whites, bull sharks and tiger sharks are the species most commonly behind the spate of attacks which may have increased threefold since 1982.

He said: “In Australia this year, there have been 20 unprovoked shark bites (when humans don’t initiate contact) — a similar number to recent years.

In Australia this year, there have been 20 unprovoked shark bites

Professor Daryl McPhee

“However, we’ve had eight fatalities, the highest on record since 1929.

“The latest fatality was at Cable Beach in Western Australia, a location not recognised as a shark bite hotspot.”

However, it is several factors rather than one thought responsible for the reported uptick in unprovoked shark bites.

Researchers in 2016 discovered a correlation between increased numbers of swimmers and shark attacks.

But this alone cannot account for the number of unprovoked attacks.

Changes in the distribution and an increasing abundance of key prey such as humpback whales and New Zealand fur seal along coasts is also thought to play a role.

And weather conditions is another likely factor, especially for bull sharks, commonly found in warm, shallow waters along coasts and rivers when water temperatures are higher.

There appears to be a distinct causal link between rainfall and increased bull shark activity.

This is because bull sharks prefer turbid water in the coastal zone – a common occurrence after flooding.

Researchers in 2018 confirmed this in a study which found when total rainfall in an area was greater than 100mm, bull shark catch increased immediately afterwards.

Professor McPhee warns those planning on going for river swims in the southern hemisphere should therefore avoid taking any undue risks.

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He wrote: “As we’re entering a summer with La Niña weather conditions – which means we’ll see increased rainfall – the risk of encountering a bull shark will be higher, particularly near river mouths.”

However, he adds the risk of an unprovoked shark bite is still exceptionally low.

He wrote: “You’re more likely to drown at a beach than be killed by a shark.

“But there are things people can do to reduce the already low risk even further.”

How to avoid a shark attack:

Unprovoked shark attacks on humans remain exceptionally rare with an average of around 75 per year, resulting in approximately 10 deaths, but following this advice can help you from turning into another statistic.

Avoid being in the water from sunset to sunrise, as this is when sharks are most active.

Stay in a group, as people on their own are more likely to be attacked than large groups.

Avoid wearing shiny jewellery, brightly-coloured or patterned clothing, as reflected light resembles the shimmer of fish scales.

Finally, avoid entering water being used by amateur or commercial fisherman, as sharks can sense the smells emitted from bait at incredible distances.

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