Shark Attacks in the US: How Common is it in CA?

CALIFORNIA – Despite fears that sharks are swimming close to California beaches, shark experts say the ocean’s top predators are unlikely to bite. Yet it happened.

Last year, a total of two people were injured — and one man died — in unprovoked attacks in the waters off California, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark File, a scientific database of global shark attacks.


Last year there were 36 shark attacks in U.S. waters, more than half of the 69 reported bites worldwide. More recently, a Southern California beach was closed over a busy Memorial Day weekend after an “aggressive” shark knocked a surfer off his board.

READ MORE: ‘Aggressive shark’ leads to closure of ocean access in Orange County

In addition to California, there were 16 states with shark bites in 2023: Florida, eight in Hawaii, four in New York, three in North Carolina, two in South Carolina and one in New Jersey.

Since 1837, the first year the International Shark File data was collected, 138 people in California have been bitten by sharks.

Two of the 10 shark attack fatalities worldwide last year occurred off the US coast. On October 1, Felix Louis N’jai was attacked and eaten by a great white shark while swimming at Wildcat Beach, Point Reyes, California. And on December 30, 39-year-old Jason Carter was attacked by a tiger shark while surfing off the Hawaiian island of Maui.

While the total of global shark attacks in 2023 is higher than the previous five-year average of 63 attacks, it is consistent with long-term trends, researchers said.

Gavin Naylor, the director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said in a statement that the 2023 bites were “within the range of normal bite rates,” although he acknowledged that “the fatalities are a bit unnerving.” ”

However, shark attacks are rare.

Statistically, the chance of humans being attacked by sharks is virtually non-existent: about 1 in 3.7 million, compared to a 1 in 128 chance of dying in a fall. And while an average of ten people die each year from shark attacks, about 150 people are killed each year by falling coconuts.

And even in the rare cases where a shark bites, the chances of survival are about 90 percent. Most attacks are ‘test bites’ and if there is a case of mistaken identity by the shark, it will likely swim away rather than continue attacking. The incidents in which sharks continued to attack most often involved tiger sharks, bull sharks and white sharks, according to the researchers.

With their serrated, dagger-like teeth, they look menacing – and that image alone can fuel galeophobia, or the fear of sharks. According to researchers, the false perception that sharks pose a threat to killers is fueled by “Jaws” movies and other pop culture references, but has little basis in reality.

The low number of bites per year indicates that sharks do not feed on humans, and also that most bites are simply due to mistaken identity, Naylor said. To sharks, surfers — who suffered 42 percent of shark bites worldwide last year — can resemble elusive seals, he explained.

“If a white shark goes after a seal and the seal knows it, the white shark doesn’t have a chance,” Naylor said. “Seals are very agile, so the only ones who get caught are the ones wandering around on the surface minding their own business. And this is roughly what a surfer looks like.”

In addition to the 69 unprovoked shark bites worldwide last year, another 22 attacks were provoked, either intentionally or unintentionally. The most common activity among people bitten during provoked attacks was spearfishing.

Naylor and his team document and investigate all shark bites, but unprovoked bites are the most useful for studying how sharks behave, he said.

“We are biologists and we want to understand the natural behavior of the animals – not the unnatural behavior,” Naylor said.

So far in the 2024 beach season, one person has been bitten by a shark in U.S. waters. A 65-year-old man who was spearfishing about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, was bitten in early May in what investigators have called a “provoked” attack.

To reduce your chances of encountering a shark, stay close to shore, avoid excessive splashing, avoid swimming at dusk and dawn, and stay away from schools of fish or where people fish, according to the Shark File researchers .

If a shark approaches, maintain eye contact and move away slowly, getting out of the water if possible, researchers said. If a shark bites, hit it in the sensitive areas around the eyes and gills, then on the snout to push it away. Keep in mind that water resistance will weaken the blow, the researchers said.

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