Because they provide a glimpse – a window – into the world of sharks and their behaviours. By understanding when and why sharks sometimes bite humans it is possible to lessen the likelihood of such accidents. Humans are familiar with predators found on land; we know enough not to walk into a pride of lions and we don’t try to pet a growling dog that is baring its teeth. Similarly, we need to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations in the water. The individual case histories provide insights about specific geographical areas and their indigenous species of sharks. However, when all known case histories are examined, much is revealed about species behaviour, and specific patterns emerge.
Most of the incidents in the Global Shark Attack File have nothing to do with predation. Some incidents are motivated by displacement or are a territorial behaviour, or when the shark feels threatened; still others are the result of the shark responding to sensory predatory input (i.e., overwhelmed by the presence of many fishes) and environmental conditions (murky water) which may cause the animal to respond in a reflexive response to stimuli. Sharks also exhibit curiosity and may investigate unknown or unfamiliar objects; they learn by exploring their environment, and – lacking hands – they use their mouths and teeth to examine unfamiliar objects. A very small percentage of shark species, about two dozen, are considered potentially dangerous to humans because of their size and dentition.
Yet each year, for every human killed by a shark, our species slaughters more than 10 million sharks – about 100 million sharks last year. We are stripping the world’s oceans of one of its most valuable predators – animals that play a critical role in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans. An unreasonable fear of sharks has been implanted in our minds by the hype that surrounds the rare shark attack and by movies that exploit our primal fears. It is the mission of the Global Shark Attack File to present facts about these events, thus enabling them to be put in perspective. Sharks are necessary and vital to the ocean ecosystem.
Weather and sea conditions and environmental data are evaluated in an attempt to identify factors that contributed to the incident. Early on, we became aware that the word “attack” was usually a misnomer. An “attack” by a shark is an extremely rare event, even less likely than statistics suggest. When a shark bites a surfboard, leaving the surfer unharmed, it was historically recorded as an “attack”. Collisions between humans and sharks in low visibility water were also recorded as “attacks”. When a shark grabs a person by the hand/wrist and tows them along the surface, tosses a surfboard (or a Frisbee as in case 1968.08.24) it is probably “play behaviour”, not aggression. How can case 1971.04.11 which the swimmer was repeatedly bitten by a large shark and case 1985.01.04 in which the diver’s injury necessitated a Band-aid be compared? It is akin to comparing a head-on high-speed vehicular collision with a shopping cart ding on the door of a parked car. Global Shark Attack File believes the only way to sort fact from hype is by forensic examination of each incident. Although incidents that occur in remote areas may go unrecorded, the Global Shark Attack File is a compilation of a number of data sources, and we have a team of qualified researchers throughout the world that actively investigate these incidents. One of our objectives is to provide a clear picture of the actual threat presented by sharks to humans. In this regard, we remind our visitors that more people drown in a single year in the United States than have been killed by sharks throughout the entire world in the last two centuries.