SANTA MONICA, CA — It’s beach season in Santa Monica, and fairly or not (hint: not), some people imagine they’ll be bitten and killed by a shark.
Oh, it does happen.
But not very often. In fact, hardly ever.
David Angotti, the founder of a floridapanhandle.com, has the statistics to back that up. He’s in the business of booking vacation rentals in the Florida Panhandle and by, extension, chasing away travelers’ fears about being attacked by sharks while kayaking, snorkeling or just enjoying the surf.
“Hey,” Angotti says, his voice thick with a Tennessee drawl, “a coconut falling and hitting me on my head is more likely to cause my death at the beach than a shark attack.”
Sharks gained a nasty reputation in box office blockbusters such as “Jaws” and others casting the apex predators as villains. With their serrated, dagger-like teeth, they do look menacing — and that image alone can fuel galeophobia, or the fear of sharks.
As phobias go, the likelihood of this one playing out is fairly unreasonable. The sharks don’t really want to eat you. And if they did, they’d swim upward and scoop you up in a single bite, rather than nibble to see if you taste good.
For the record, you don’t. There literally are far tastier fish in the ocean.
But don’t rely on hyperbole. Statistically speaking, the chances you’ll be attacked by a shark are practically zero, Angotti says. And even if you are, your chances of surviving are about 90 percent, according to Angotti’s data.
In the past 30 years, there have been 2,711 shark attacks around the world, with a fatality rate of 10.7 percent, according to data assembled by Angotti and his team.
Angotti’s interactive global map visually depicts when and where each of 3,000 attacks occurred, along with other interesting facts.
The white fins on the map represent attacks that were survived, and the red fins represent fatal attacks. Each fin can be clicked to view detailed information about the attack and shark species.
Finally, the interactive data section allows users to quickly select custom or pre-filled date ranges and surface interesting data including the most dangerous sharks, where the attacks occurred, and the worst time of day for the attacks.
In California, a majority of attacks are non-fatal. A total of 14 shark attacks have been fatal along the coast from Monterey to Solana Beach in San Diego. Most of the fatal attacks have involved a Great White Shark. The most recent fatal attack was in 2020 at Sand Dollar Beach, Santa Cruz County, involving a surfer and Great White.
In 1952 a sea disaster led to a fatal shark death off the coast of Santa Monica. Four other non-fatal shark attacks have been reported in Santa Monica, including another involving a Mako shark.
Sharks Should Fear Us
If Angotti’s name seems familiar, it’s because he is the creator of the fall foliage peak map, an interactive tool that lets people plan their fall vacations when leaves will be at their most glorious.
Just as that tool helps monetize the smokymountains.com vacation rental business, Angotti hopes the shark attack interactive tool will bring vacationers to the Florida Panhandle.
But it includes data from most coastal states — and a couple of inland locations, too — because for Angotti, the goal is for people to have great vacations whether they book through his company or a competitor’s.
The fatality rate, Angotti says, “is so astronomically low” that he has trouble reconciling it with another statistic: More than 1 million sharks are killed every year, according to a study published in the journal Marine Policy.
In large part, the sharks are dying due to a practice called “shark finning” wherein the fins are removed for fin soup, considered a delicacy, and the shark, profusely bleeding, is thrown back into the ocean, where it is unable to properly swim and either suffocates or dies of blood loss, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
The issue goes beyond cruelty.
Sharks On The Brink Of Extinction
Shark populations are down 71 percent since the 1970s, putting three-fourths of shark species at risk of extinction, according to a study that looked at 31 species of sharks and rays that live in the open ocean and was published earlier this year in the journal Nature.
Nuno Queiroz, a marine ecologist from the Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, told Science the study, which he wasn’t involved in, offers “the first big picture” of the rate of declines of sharp population and “gives you an idea how pervasive the fishing as been.”
In fact, more than three-fourths of oceanic shark and ray species are now threatened with extinction under the Red List criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The study and the IUCN’s grave predictions about shark survival underscore that humans are greater predators of sharks than sharks are of humans.
As a practical matter, the risk of a shark attack is nearly zero, Angotti says. His data shows people are about 50 times more likely to die from a lightning strike than from a shark attack, and about 10 times more likely to die from a fireworks accident than from a shark attack.
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Also, just getting to your vacation destination carries greater risks than sharks present in the ocean.
“While commercial air travel is widely considered to be among the safest modes of transportation, the chances of dying in a plane crash is exponentially greater than being merely attacked by a shark,” Angotti says. “To put these numbers in perspective, there were 3,416 commercial airline deaths worldwide between 2011 and 2020.”
You’d Rather Do What?
The project also included a YouGov survey of people’s thoughts about sharks and shark attacks. One of the more surprising results, Angotti says, is that if they knew they would survive, 15 percent of respondents would volunteer to be attacked by a shark just to live to tell the story.
It also showed people would rather go through three other horrendous experiences as opposed to being attacked by a shark:
- 14 percent would rather be attacked by a bear.
- 34 percent would rather fall out of a third-story building.
- 42 percent would rather be in an automobile crash at 70 mph on an interstate highway.
Angotti says the project started as a fun research project after Floridapanhandle.com started getting emails from potential visitors who were uneasy about sharing the ocean with sharks. But it quickly became a passion when Angotti was presented with the stark reality of the danger humans pose to sharks. He proudly calls himself an ambassador for the species.
“We believe that this educational shark attack statistics interactive will help the general public realize that shark attacks are incredibly rare and normally survivable,” he says. “Based on the data, we should not fear the sharks — rather, we should protect them.
“The ecosystem is rapidly getting out of whack,” Angotti says.