January 28, 2022

One of the articles in my local paper referred to the marked increase in shark attacks during 2021 after three straight years of decline.  There were 73 unprovoked attacks worldwide in 2021, up from 57 bites the year before.  Eleven shark-related fatalities were recorded worldwide in 2021, with 9 of the attacks classified as unprovoked.  This compares with the annual global average of 5 fatalities.  “Unprovoked attacks” are defined as there being no human provocation.  Provocation happens when humans initiate the contact, such as divers trying to touch a shark or fisher people trying to remove a shark from their nets.  Florida has led the US and the world in unprovoked attacks for decades and continued to do so in 2021 with 28 attacks.  The only US fatality occurred in Moro Bay in California where a man was killed while boogie boarding on Christmas Eve.

When I looked online, I found that shark attacks are relatively rare considering the number of people who are in the world’s coastal waters every year.  Most attacks are attributed to the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas), or Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier).  Far more unprovoked attacks are attributed to the varieties of Jellyfish.  Jellyfish are found in oceans of all temperatures and some locations have seasons and conditions when jellyfish are more abundant.  The warm weather and tides during 2018 brought an increase in jellyfish to Florida beaches, resulting in nearly 600 people suffering stings in one weekend.  An estimated 150 million people globally are stung by jellyfish each year.  While most stings in North American coastal waters cause relatively mild reactions (unless allergic), the box jellyfish (such as Chironex fleckeri) found in Indo-Pacific waters present a greater risk, including profound skin wounds and scarring.  In systemic cases this can lead to cardiovascular collapse and death within minutes.

A friend of mine in California would spend two weeks a year as an overseer at the state park in Moro Bay.  The park furnished a small trailer, and he checked reservations and assisted park visitors.  He told me of meeting three Abalone divers who were collecting from the rocks on the bottom of the 50-foot-deep (15 meters) bay.  They had entered the water and not long after came back out.  When he asked if they were all right, they said when they began collecting one of them had been brushed by a great white shark.  They looked up and saw three sharks that were all over 12 feet (3 meters) long.  They decided it was best to wait and go after the Abalone later.

Thoughts:  Shark attacks surged in 2021 after dropping drastically in 2020 due to the pandemic.  Researchers attributed the 2020 decline to pandemic-related lockdowns and fewer people at the beach.  The 2021 attacks closely align with the five-year global average of 72 attacks.  When there are less people in the water there are fewer shark attacks.  Enjoying the coastal waters can result in injuries, drownings, shark attacks, and jellyfish stings.  A researcher who was recently attacked by a jellyfish was asked if this would deter him from going into the water.  He responded, “Of course not.  But I’m reminded once again to never be lulled into a false sense of security.”  As the pandemic appears to be subsiding into an epidemic we need to adhere to this attitude.  We cannot let the virus deter us from interaction, but neither can we be lulled into a false sense of security.  Vaccines, masks, and common sense should still prevail.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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