Is it rational or irrational to be afraid of sharks? Human fight or flight instinct keeps us cautious when treading in the wilderness, weather on land or by sea. Humans are at the top of the food chain not because of our formidable physique. We have become a naturally dominant predator because of our brains. We are capable of outsmarting and ultimately dominating other apex predators due to our intelligence.
An apex predator is a species the species at the top of the food chain, or an animal that has no natural predators in any given environment.
Brains over brawn, as they say. The animal kingdom’s list of apex predators includes lions, grizzly bears, saltwater crocodiles, and even humans. The orca whale, a type of dolphin, is the apex predator of the ocean. Though great white sharks were formerly considered to be the ocean’s apex predator, it is now known that they are not; it has been confirmed that orca whales can hunt and kill great white sharks.
Why are people more afraid of sharks than of orcas?
Now, its funny enough that our fear of sharks tends to extend up to the great white shark but not beyond it – we don’t hear people discuss a fear of orca whales, although these animals are capable of tearing apart anything in its path. For some reason, sharks tend to haunt the minds of ocean-goers while orca attacks are not nearly as fear inducing.
The reason why may be a result of societal factors rather than of rational fears. People’s fear of sharks may largely be a result of popular culture. Movies such as Jaws portray sharks as aggressive animals that are out to get humans. Shark Week, popularized by the Discovery Channel, has no doubt increased human awareness of shark attacks, but has likely done little to alleviate our widespread fear.
Yes, sharks have killed people – its no secret. But how likely is it, really, that you actually get attacked by a shark while going for a nice swim or surf in the ocean? In this article, we’re going to investigate the data to show you just how likely it is, and help you decide whether or not the common fear is rational or not.
Shark Attack Data
According to the Worldwide Shark Attack Summary, there were only 66 confirmed, unprovoked shark attacks on humans in 2018 across the globe, only 4 of which were fatal. In the United States, there was only 1 fatal shark attack.
Welcome to Florida, the shark-attack capital of the United States!
In the U.S., more shark attacks happen in Florida than anywhere else, with 16 occurring there in 2018. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Hawaii are the next most-common locations for shark attacks, but it is less than 1/4 as likely.
Below is the tabulated global data on shark attack incidents in 2018, categorized by type. You will notice that many incidents represent situations where the shark was either provoked, or was the result of other non-natural scenarios. Aside from the 66 confirmed, unprovoked cases, the rest can be largely ignored – either lacking evidence or the result of human stupidity by provocation.
However, the number of confirmed attacks for 2018 (66 cases) is significantly lower than the former 5-year period, between 2013-2017, which averaged 84 incidents per year.
Shark attacks – and specifically fatalities from those attacks – are so rare that one could argue they are not even worth worrying about.
Shark attacks aside, there is another danger – a danger that most Americans do in fact experience every single day. Yet, nobody talks about nor thinks twice before engaging in this deadly activity.
Here is what you should actually be afraid of:
I hate to set a morbid tone to this article, but my purpose in writing this is to re-focus your fear of sharks, and transfer your fear toward cars. As a high school kid, my community lost multiple friends during my short 4 year span between 9th and 12th grade. If you are reading this, there is a high chance that you know someone who has been the victim of a fatal automobile crash. Although being in an automobile is one of the most dangerous things humans do on a daily basis, very few people talk about it. Why?
According to the National Safety Council, over 40,000 people were killed in vehicle-related incidents in 2018. In truth, these numbers remain consistent for each of the past 3 years – more than 120,000 total.
In 2018 in the United States, there were 32 total shark attacks, and roughly 40,000 people that died in car crashes. Statistically, dying in an automobile is 1,250 times more likely than any fatal/non-fatal shark attack. Dying in an automobile is 40,000 times more likely than a fatal shark attack.
If we want to worry about something, let’s at least worry about something that is statistically likely and that we can control. Remind your loved ones to drive safe. As a species, let’s get self driving car technology improved to the point of wide-spread adoption. Please, let’s find a way to reduce the number of automobile fatalities. And if you still worry about sharks next time you go into the ocean, just remember: car rides and orca whales are two phenomena that have been proven to be much more scary.