A record year for shark attacks: Six ways to not become chum

Updated

Sharks are on the attack off the coast of North Carolina, where they’ve bitten seven people since June. The most recent incident was on Wednesday, when a six-footer punctured the leg of a 68-year-old man in waist high water. He’s in good condition, but his case represents a grim milestone.

This is now North Carolina’s worst year on record, according to data compiled by the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida. It comes amid an above average year for shark attacks nationwide, and of course there are still six months in 2015 left to go. George Burgess, who directs the Shark Attack File, is already predicting a intra-animal bloodbath this Fourth of July. 

“I can almost guarantee there’ll be a bite or two this weekend,” he told NBC local affiliate WCNC in North Carolina. With millions of people packing bathing suits for the big weekend, let’s go ahead and escort the elephant-shark out of the room. There’s only one question that really matters. How do you avoid becoming chum? 

Find a beach overseas: It might seem odd to leave a country to celebrate its Independence Day, but if you’re really concerned about shark attacks it’s a surefire way to lower your absolute risk. America leads the world in unprovoked shark attacks, accounting for 52 of the 72 confirmed incidents in 2014.

That’s more than two-thirds of the global total. It’s not that we have more sharks, according to the Shark Attack File. It’s that we have more shoreline, and more people hitting the surf. 

Swim naked and pale at high noon: Most pointers for enjoying the beach without worrying about sharks are obvious. Stay away from known shark zones, like piers, channels and drop-offs. Avoid spreading blood in the water. If a shark is sighted, leave the water. If you’re advanced, however, you’ll need to avoid uneven tanning, splashing, swimming at dusk or dawn, and wearing bright colors. They all make you look like prey. 

Try a bathing costume from 1901: Shark attacks have been steadily rising since 1900, according to the Shark Attack File. Researchers aren’t sure why. They don’t think it’s because sharks are getting more lethal or aggressive. Mostly, they point to the simple fact that their are more people in the water. To be safe, though, you might want to turn back the clock on your style. Perhaps sharks don’t like long stockings, a waist coat, and a fancy cap. 

Be ready to fight: “Sharks respect size and power,” according to the Shark Attack File. If you see a shark, Burgess and company recommend a “proactive” response, “ideally with an inanimate object” you can use to thwack the shark on the nose. You might also want to yell “bad shark,” but that’s a personal choice. The most important thing is to get out of the water. “If this is not possible, repeated blows to the snout may offer a temporary reprieve.” 

Invest in renewable energy: Much of North Carolina has been abnormally dry this spring, a condition that scientists expect to be more common if global warming continues. Drought might be tied to shark attacks, Burgess told Live Science. That’s because without fresh rain water the ocean is extra salty: the way sharks like it. Warmer temperatures might also draw sharks north. 

Stop worrying and dive in: Even in the worst year in North Carolina’s history, shark attacks are still really, really rare. The Shark Attack File says the rate of incident is one in 11.5 million. That means you’re more likely to win a Pick Four jackpot. Falling coconuts kill and injure more people each year. Cows are 20 times more lethal than sharks in any given year, according to federal data. 

It’s true that this year is slightly above average for shark attacks nationally. But the majority of American shark attacks typically occur at just five beaches: two in Florida (New Smyrna Beach, Ponce de Leon Inlet), two in California (Fletcher Cove, Surf Beach), and one in Hawaii (Makena). 

Statistics aren’t much comfort if your limb is the unlucky one. But perhaps a foretaste of vengeance will sooth an anxious soul. Humans kill 100 million sharks a year, according to researchers. That’s 10 million dead sharks for every human fatality.

So hop in, America. The water’s fine. 

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A record year for shark attacks: Six ways to not become chum

Updated