Australia has been declared the shark attack capital of the world, but experts say beachgoers shouldn’t be concerned.
Twelve fatal shark attacks were recorded across the globe in 2020, according to a new report released by the University of Florida’s Shark Attack File (ISAF).
Australia accounted for eight of those, with three people killed in Western Australia, three in Queensland and two in New South Wales.
Director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program Gavin Naylor said the figures were surprising, but not alarming.
‘Australians are not naive when it comes to the inherent dangers of surfing and swimming,’ he said.
‘So I was surprised that the number was as high as it was this year.’
‘Unprovoked’ maulings worldwide fell for the third consecutive year to 57 – down from 64 in 2019 – but 2020 was the deadliest year since 2013.
Australia’s eight fatalities almost topped the 90-year-old record of nine deaths in a year.
But Mr Naylor said the spike in fatalities should not deter beachgoers.
‘It’s a dramatic spike, but it’s not yet cause for alarm,’ he said.
We expect some year-to-year variability in bite numbers and fatalities. One year does not make a trend.
‘The total number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide is extremely low, given the number of people participating in aquatic recreation each year.’
The ISAF found great white sharks were responsible for 16 unprovoked attacks worldwide – and accounted for four fatalities in Australia.
Tiger sharks bites were responsible for two deaths.
But Mr Naylor said there is no evidence sharks are hunting humans.
‘We need to focus on long-term trends and rigorous scientific study, rather than speculation,’ he said.
Mr Naylor said most bites to surfers or beachgoers resulted from shark’s mistaking swimmers for seals or fish.
‘I think the frequency of white sharks swimming in the same places as humans may be on the rise, but if so, we don’t yet know the cause,’ he said.