2 attacks in less than a week in California and the first one was fatal. That’s scary shit! Still wondering if surfers are really the most vulnerable people in the water? Referring to 2011 report it looks like it. Surfers and others involved in board sports are accounting for 60 percent of unprovoked shark attacks compared to less than 5% for divers. This said a question remains: is surfing getting more dangerous than before?
Just bad luck?
Last tuesday a 39 years old surfer was killed by a shark off the coast of Surf Beach in Lompoc just north of the famous Hollister Ranch. Yesterday a 25 years old surfer got seriously bitten by a shark at the North Jetty in Humboldt. He was so heavily wounded that he was immediately taken to surgery. This is the eighth confirmed unprovoked shark attack from the Pacific Coast for 2012 and the seventh from California.
According to Adam Brown, a local resident and independent researcher who has been studying and tracking great white sharks since the early 2000s, those sharks can be found off the North Coast year-round. Great white activity peaks from the end of August to the beginning of December, he said. (source)
Even in with great white sharks around, chances to get eaten by them are slim, in California it’s part of the game and not only early morning. On this specific case both happened just before and after 11:00 am. According to Surfer magazine, both beaches were known for sharks. A bodyboarder had been killed in Lompoc just about 2 year ago. Sharks often hang out at the same places so it’s good to avoid such areas especially when there are warning signs. Are those attacks proving that there are more dangerous now than before? Experts say no. Globally statistics show that the number of attacks is growing at the same level as the population. The number of fatal accidents is even lower than before. The chance to die from a shark attack was 0,6% 20 years ago and now is 0,1%.
Statistics show that divers have 5% chances to get attacked compared to 60% for surfers. The thing is: world wide surf population has grown from 21 million in 2001 to 35 million right now. It means a lot more people in the water everywhere on the planet and also in areas known for sharks, such as Australia, South Africa, Florida and California.
On the other hand, pacific reef shark populations for example have plummeted by 90 percent or more over the past several decades, according to a new study by a team of American and Canadian researchers, and much of this decline stems from human fishing pressure. About 70 millions sharks are captured every year mostly for their fins. The sharks are often thrown back into the ocean to die after their fins have been cut off. All this because shark fin soup is considered to have special medicinal properties and is used in Chinese médicine.
Great white world
Industrial fishing doesn’t really impact attacks on humans that are mostly committed by great whites. The International Shark Attack File says indeed, “the white, tiger and bull sharks are the ‘big three’ in the shark attack world because they are large species that are capable of inflicting serious injuries to a victim. They are commonly found in areas where humans enter the water, and have teeth designed to shear rather than hold.”
Bigger board is better?
Not really! It’s been said that bodyboarders and short-boarders were more targeted by sharks because of their small size. Sharks are often chasing weak animals that are not fit enough to keep up with their groups. A lone surfer can be a misunderstood target. If you think you are safer on a SUP you might think twice, sharks attacked a stand up paddler on Maui a few days ago. Sharks don’t specifically look for humans, they are simply mistaking a human for something they usually eat. A shark swimming below sees a roughly oval shape with arms and legs dangling off, paddling along. This bears a close resemblance to a sea lion (the main prey of great white sharks) or a sea turtle (a common food for tiger sharks). Another reason for shark attack is the depletion of fish stock due to industrial fishing. It leads sharks to look for other hunting grounds.
The human factor – Paranoia on Reunion Island
In Reunion Island a couple of fatal attacks occurred within a year and even last August a man was badly injured while surfing. Local community is arguing about the fact that even if there were attacks in the past, those ones are related to human activities. They found out that some bull sharks where relocating closer to shore. Reasons are still unclear, but surfers think that an artificial fish reserve and farm set up locally could have attracted them. Another reason could be the large amount of waste produce by a growing population. Illegal dumping ends up in the ocean on specific areas. The shark factor is always been a reality on this island but a better prevention could help reduce risks. To try to reduce attacks, shark fishing has been allowed by the local authorities for a period of several weeks but without results.
There are tons of other things that will happen before a shark gets you! Car accident, dog bite, sickness. And the real danger is not even where you think it is. Experts of oceana.org say that, “ of the millions of beach goers each year in the USA, about 36 are attacked by sharks, while more than 30,000 need to be rescued from surfing accidents. Basically there is a much bigger chance to get injured with your own surfboard than with any marine creature. Collision with others, or with the bottom, (sand or reef) are what a surfer should worry most!