Shark hysteria around the globe is reaching an all-time high. It’s like the scene in Jaws where everyone is getting their kids out of the water, screaming and flailing and choking and running. It’s a great scene. It’s not so great in real life. And 2015 now officially holds the record for the most shark attacks in a single year, which is never a good thing for mass hysteria.
According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), an organization that’s basically the end-all-be-all of shark encounters around the world, there were 98 unprovoked shark attacks in 2015. The previous record was set back in 2000, when there were 88. Over half of the attacks (59) last year happened in US waters, and 30 of those occurred in Florida. Australia recorded 18 attacks, while South Africa came in at 8–one of which, of course, was broadcast live to the world.
The report from ISAF doesn’t say anything about sharks getting hungrier, or meaner, or more bent on spilling human blood. It does say, however, that there are more of us in the water, which in turn leads to more encounters with sharks. “As world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks and other aquatic recreation-related injuries,” said George Burgess, curator of the ISAF and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research. “In theory, we should see a record number of shark attacks every year, because a shark attack is fundamentally an odd situation that’s built on the number of humans in the water and the number of sharks in the water.”
Despite the increase in attacks, the number of deaths stayed around average at around 6, which matches the last decade. ISAF said that “advances in beach safety practices, medical treatment and an increase in public awareness are several of the factors that have lead to a constant reduction of fatality rates over the last 11-plus decades.”
But it isn’t just the number of people in the water that led to the record number of attacks. It’s climate change and an exceptionally strong El Nino year, as well. “Since most sharks are warm-water species, they now are covering a wider area than they once did,” Burgess said. “In the summertime, they head farther north or south depending on which hemisphere they are in.”