Senior Editor
Confusing: attacks are on the rise, but the chances of being attacked are dropping. Photo: Live Science

Confusing: attacks are on the rise, but the chances of being attacked are dropping. Photo: Live Science

The Inertia

Despite the fact that records of white shark attacks in California are on the rise, the individual risk of being attacked by a shark on the California coast has dropped precipitously since the ’50s, at least according to a recent study conducted by Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station. The study found that over a 63-year period from 1950 to 2013, on a person-to-person basis, the risk of a shark attack on the California coast has dropped by more than 91 percent.

In the last few years, you’ve probably heard more about shark attacks than usual. The public’s fear of being torn limb from limb, thrashing and wailing and screaming while gouts of dark blood gush from recently-attached slabs of meat, is at Jaws-era levels. Australia’s well-meaning but dumb-as-doornails shark cull brought the subject to the forefront of global news, and those god damn shark lovin’, vegan libtards kept it there, angrily waving their dreadlocks around and defiantly burning sage. Just kidding! They simply listened to reason and scientific evidence.

The study, entitled Reconciling predator conservation with public safety, was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment in October of 2015. It weighed a whole lot of information, all of which directly affects the actual risk of being bitten. If you’re bored already, here’s the guts of it: if you’re a surfer in California, you have a 1-in-17 million chance of being attacked by a shark. Everyday ocean-goers, including surfers, are 1,817 times more likely to drown than they are to die from a shark attack.

According to the authors of the study, while the number of actual attacks has basically remained the same in California (about once a year on average in the ’50s to one-to-two attacks per year now), the number of people in the water has skyrocketed. “Right now your chances to have a shark interaction is much lower than it was in the ’50s,”  Francesco Ferretti, a shark researcher who studies the human impact on ocean health, explained. In short, the risk is spread out. It’s like that old saying: You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you. Sort of.


There’s also the fact that sharks, in California, at least, have way more to eat than they did back in the age of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Things like sea lions and elephant seals—a shark’s main source of food—were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. Around the ’40s, things began to look up, and within a few years, their numbers were booming again. “The sharks are kind of the police of the ocean,” Ferretti said. “They keep in balance things that would get out of control.”

Not only did Ferretti’s data find that the risk of shark attack is significantly less than it used to be, it also shows exactly when and where the risk is highest. “Risk of shark attacks is highest, he says, in the months of October and November in Northern California,” wrote KQED News. “For surfers, for example, risk can be reduced 25-fold by surfing in March instead, and by more than 1,600-fold by surfing in Southern California, between Los Angeles and San Diego.”



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