Jul 17, 2012

What the numbers say about the risk of shark attack

A fatal shark attack in WA on Saturday has generated worldwide media coverage on the dangers of Australia's waters -- but statistics indicate those risks may have been overstated, write Cathy Alexander and Leigh Josey.

A fatal shark attack in Western Australia on Saturday has generated worldwide media coverage on the dangers of Australia's waters -- but statistically, you're more likely to die falling from a chair or accidentally cutting yourself on broken glass than in a shark attack. Surfer Ben Linden is believed to have been taken by a great white shark near Wedge Island, north of Perth. His death is the fifth fatal shark attack in Australia in 10 months -- an unusually high toll. The WA government has called for the protected status of the great white to be reassessed, which could clear the way for hunting or a cull, and provided $14 million to investigate shark attacks. Some in the tourism industry have voiced concerns the fatalities will deter visitors. The story has been picked up around the globe -- from The Sun and The Mirror in Britain, to NPR and CBS News in the US. The death of Linden, and the four other men who have been killed by sharks in the past year, are tragedies that have shaken the surfing community in particular. The apparently increasing rate of shark attacks clearly justifies the current debate on safety in WA waters. But does the extensive media coverage accurately portray the risk? Just how dangerous are sharks?

A sample of some of the headlines from Australia and overseas covering the latest shark fatality

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15 thoughts on “What the numbers say about the risk of shark attack

  1. Elizabeth Meredith

    More people are recorded as falling off chairs or ladders than those attacked by sharks — BUT a much greater percentage of Australians sit on chairs compared with the percentage that go out into deep water on surf boards!!
    i.e it would seem there is a higher percentage chance of death by shark than death by chair!!
    Another factor in the discussion of course is our primeval fear of predators. While we easily imagine the gaping jaws of a shark, a chair or ladder would seem rather inoffensive. OOPs -I nearly fell off my wheeled office chair….

  2. Ramoneagle

    “This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter.” Quint was a sandgroper! It’s 1975 in the wild west.

  3. mikeb

    As a frequent beach goer & swimmer I must confess that sharks are a real fear. The sight of those dead black eyes & gaping jaws coming towards you must be the most terrifying thing you could imagine. Logically i agree with the article but on a gut level I’m with Quint.

  4. Bill Hilliger

    We need an updated Australia movie version of “Jaws” to scare the cr-p out of people. How do the shark statistics compare with weekly Friday and Saturday night alcohol fuelled deaths?

  5. Bill Hilliger

    With reference to my earlier article should governments call for the protected status of licensed venues to be reassessed?

  6. paddy

    Will no one think of those poor bloody crocs?
    All that fine work by the NT News, and suddenly, they’ve been left behind as Australia’s finest predator…..
    By a flashy dinosaur in a sharkskin suit with teeth!

  7. 81dvl

    Well…when a shark comes into the supermarket, we eat it!

  8. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Elizabeth Meredith, a better comparison would be deaths by dog attack. Australian terrestrial life is filled with dogs – small, large, fluffy, angry, tamed etc. Thousands of people, maybe nearly all of us, intereact with a dog one way or another nearly every day. We are a bit cautious sometimes and we look out on behalf of little children and old ladies but by and large we accept that dogs hardly ever actually kill people – just as sharks hardly ever kill people.

  9. JGDowns

    Just to add another perspective here.

    ” If an animal shall take the life of a person, then that animal must be put to death.”Gen 9:5

  10. Owen Gary

    Shark lives in ocean, we live on land. Man destroys reef systems fish go elsewhere, shark looks elswhere to find fish & comes into contact with man more often.

    Corporates are chewing us up on a daily basis nobody has screamed to cull them yet!

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