Six people have died from unprovoked shark attacks this year in Australia. This is the highest number since 1934, a year that also saw six people die from being attacked. Some experts believe that this might indicate a behavioral change in the shark population in Australian waters.
According to Dr. Phoebe Meagher from the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, the 50-year average for unprovoked shark bite deaths in Australia was at 1.02. As such, the deaths of six people seems a significant change in the trend. Back in 1929, the death of nine people from shark attacks triggered an intense discussion on beach safety. A few years later, the government adopted measures like shark nets at beaches for the first time.
The number of unprovoked shark bite incidents in 2020 is around 17, which is in line with the annual average of the past 10 years. So how come the number of deaths has increased so much even though the number of attacks has been the same? Marine biologist Dr. Blake Chapman thinks that the answer lies in the change in attack patterns of these creatures.
She points out that sharks bit some of their victims more than once this year, indicating that the creatures were seriously treating human beings as prey. Plus, multiple bites mean greater blood loss and more chances that the victim ends up dead. However, some deaths were caused by single bites in critical areas of the body that caused a huge loss of blood.
Great white sharks tend to follow the migratory patterns of their prey, which can be greatly influenced by changes in weather patterns like La Niña. According to Prof. Robert Harcourt, a shark behavior researcher, the cooler water temperatures of La Niña and increased rains could have attracted sharks closer to shores where people can typically be found swimming. Plus, the water currents could have brought salmon and other fish nearby the shores, which would also result in an increase in shark population.
Dr. Simon Allen, Adjunct Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia’s School of Biological Sciences, thinks that COVID-19 might be one big reason for fatal attacks this year. “People in Western Australia that would normally be holidaying in Bali or elsewhere are now holidaying around Western Australia… regional tourism has exploded this year and there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of recreational fishing and other uses of coastal waters,” he said to The Telegraph.
Not all species of sharks attack human beings. Of the 500 know species of sharks, just 30 of them are known to be dangerous. In fact, just three species — great white sharks, bull sharks, and tiger sharks — account for the majority of attacks on people. There is even a sex bias to the victims, as men are more prone to be attacked by a shark than women.
According to an analysis conducted by Nat Geo Wild, around 93 percent of victims between 1580 and 2010 were men. This actually has a logical reason — more men than women are likely to be engaged in activities like scuba diving, surfing, and so on. As such, it follows that men will account for the bulk of victims. If you ever face a shark attack, remember to grab their gills or eyes. These regions are very sensitive, meaning that you can hurt the creatures in these two regions easily and pave the path of escaping from the attack.