17/1/2014

Shark attack statistics and policy

A great article today on The Conversation about shark bite statistics and policy.

A cursory glance at statistics can lead to fear and a perception that shark attacks are on the rise. This can lead to bad policy, such as the shark cull in Western Australia, with the acting Premier Kim Hames vocalising the policy

So the numbers have significantly increased in the last three years and we believe the Government had to do something about it.

But the reality is that a shark attack is, mathematically, random chance. As stated by Christopher Neff in The Conversation article, there are an enormous number of human-shark interactions (most of which the humans remain blissfully unaware of) that are never counted:

The coin is tossed all the time, but we only count the tragedies.

As someone who spends a lot of time in, on and arond the ocean, I have knowingly had many encounters with sharks. Only once was I aware of a shark being uncomfortable with my presence. I moved away.

Shark attacks are undoubtedly horrific events when they occur. But so are car accidents. Car accidents, however, are far more frequent1 and are far less random in their occurence.

Navy clearance diver and shark attack survivor, Paul de Gelder, has posted a great response to the WA Shark Cull. He makes a passionate case against the cull, but I think his conclusion says it all:

The ocean is not our back yard swimming pool and we shouldn’t expect it to be one. It’s a wondrous, beautiful, dangerous place that provides our planet with all life. It and it’s inhabitants need protection from those that would do it harm.

Killing sharks as a blanket policy is a knee-jerk reaction, and is bad policy. Doing it based on poor interpretation of random chance is short-sighted.


  1. According the Australian Shark Attack File, Taronga Zoo, as of this writing, there have been 202 unprovoked, fatal attacks by sharks in Australia since 1791. That’s slightly less than 1 per year. In the last 50 years, there have been 50 attacks. Compare this with 1,543 deaths from transport accidents in 2011 alone.


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