Sustainability Environment

Shark attacks increase for first time in three years, report says

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Story at a glance

  • Shark attacks increased in 2021 after three years of declines.
  • There were 73 unprovoked shark bites, 39 provoked shark bites and nine fatalities in 2021.
  • The United States leads in the annual number of shark bites worldwide.

Shark attacks increased in 2021 after three years of declines. 

According to the report by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), there were 73 unprovoked shark bites, 39 provoked shark bites, and nine fatalities in 2021.  

This was a stark increase from the 52 confirmed bites recorded in 2020. However, researchers believe COVID-19 pandemic closures and restrictions played a large part in 2020’s low count. 

“Shark bites dropped drastically in 2020 due to the pandemic. This past year was much more typical, with average bite numbers from an assortment of species and fatalities from white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks,” ISAF Manager Tyler Bowling said in a press release. 

Great white sharks were deemed responsible for a majority of the unprovoked fatalities in 2021.  


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The United States leads in the annual number of shark bites worldwide, making up 64 percent of bites with 47 bites in 2021. All but five took place along the Atlantic Seaboard. 

However, despite the increase in shark bites and a high number of fatalities, researchers said mortalities in the long term “are becoming less frequent.” 

“The overall decline in mortalities from shark bites is likely due to a combination of improved beach safety protocols around the world and a diminishment in the number of sharks of various species in coastal waters,” Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum’s shark research program, said. “The spike in 2020 and 2021 is almost certainly because of the expanding numbers of white sharks, which have been increasing in various localities likely in response to a boom in the seal populations they feed on.” 

A majority of the shark bites, 51 percent, occurred with surfers or boarders and in low visibility, where a case of mistaken identity is more likely. 

“About 60% of all bites we record are in low visibility water,” said Naylor. 

Researchers have provided tips for decreasing one’s chances of having a shark encounter, including avoiding splashing, not wearing reflective jewelry and refraining from entering murky water. 


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