The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) recently found that 2015 was the most dangerous year on record for shark attacks.
The ISAF – a database administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History and the American Elasmobranch Society, compiling details of all known shark attacks, worldwide – found that there were 98 incidents of unprovoked shark attacks in 2015. This number shattered the previous record of 88, and was 26 more than last year’s total.
The majority of these incidents – 59 of them – occurred in the United States. While over half of these happened in Florida, 16 took place in the Carolinas, and one occurred as far north as New York, showing that Maryland is not immune to the possibility of a shark attack in its waters. Luckily, out of the 59 shark attacks that occurred in the U.S., only one person died.
The reason for the sudden increase in shark attacks is not simple, according to the ISAF.
One of the culprits is simply that there are more people enjoying the world’s oceans. The ISAF’s findings emphasized the difference between the number of shark attacks, and the rate of shark attacks. With more people out there enjoying the ocean by swimming or surfing, the number of shark attacks would increase, even if the rate of shark attacks remains the same.
Another factor in the increased number of shark attacks has been warmer water temperatures. Sharks like warm water, and as a result tend to stick close to the equator. However, between El Nino and global warming, the past year’s high water temperatures allowed sharks to venture further away from the heat of the equator than they normally do. Additionally, places far away from the equator both got warmer earlier than they normally do, and stayed warmer later than they normally do. As a result, sharks arrived in these areas earlier than usual, and stayed for longer than expected. With sharks showing up in more areas, and staying for longer than expected, they encountered more swimmers, which likely factored into the increased number of attacks in 2015.
As for why so many shark attacks happened off the coast of the U.S., at least when compared to other countries, the extensive conservation laws in the U.S. are likely to blame. By preventing many sharks from being caught in U.S. waters, the shark population around the United States is higher than it is around other countries, like Japan, where hunting for sharks is widespread.
The good news is that the U.S. is one of the best places in the world at dealing with the medical emergency of a shark attack. While 13% of shark attacks were fatal in other countries, only 1.7% of attacks in the U.S. resulted in a death.
Victims of injuries that occur while swimming or engaging in recreational activities in the ocean might have recourse to seek compensation, depending on the circumstances of the incident.