Last week, a 6 year old girl was attacked by a shark at Ocracoke beach. This type of attack is a rare and unexpected tragedy for our normally relaxing shorelines, filled with families and vacationers enjoying a splash in the surf. So just how common are shark attacks and how can beach-goers protect themselves?
Despite the hype that shark attacks often receive in the media, there are only an estimated 70-100 shark attacks worldwide each year, and of those, only about 5-15 result in death. Estimates based on data from just the United States put your odds of being attacked by a shark at about 1 in 11.5 million. Drowning and other beach-related fatalities are much more likely to occur than a shark attack.
When shark attacks do occur, they generally take place in near-shore waters where sharks like to feed and may become trapped during low tide. By far the most common type of attack is a “hit and run” attack where the shark will quickly appear out of nowhere, inflict a single bite or slash wound and then leave. These are generally chalked up to the shark mistaking a person for prey and then retreating when it discovers the mistake. The less common “bump and bite” and “sneak” attacks tend to be much more severe and involve swimmers and divers in deeper water. In these attacks, the shark will either circle the victim and then bump into the victim before attacking or sneak up on the victim and strike quickly.
If you’re an avid diver or engage in deepwater aquatic activities, then it’s important to be aware of the precautions to take to avoid shark attacks. But for the average beachgoer, some simple practices can reduce the risk
- Swim with a group as sharks are more likely to attack an isolated individual
- Stay close to the shore so that you look less isolated and so that help is readily available
- Avoid the water at night or in twilight when sharks are most active and have the sensory advantage
- Do not get into the water if you’re bleeding or menstruating as sharks have keen olfactory abilities
- Wearing shiny jewelry should be avoided as it can resemble the glimmer of fish scales
- Avoid waters with known effluents of sewage or that sport and commercial fisherman occupy as their bait and waste can attract sharks
- Exercise caution in areas between sandbars or with steep drop-offs, places where sharks are likely to hang out
- Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate immediately if a shark is spotted
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.