US Shark Attacks in 2012 Were Highest in a Decade, But Don't Panic (Yet)

shark attack USMany people from a certain generation are terrified of sharks. For good reason. Jaws came out in 1975, and if we weren't already afraid of what lurked beneath us in the briny seawater, that film certainly did it. Well now we have new reason to fear. Last year (2012) saw a major uptick in shark attacks in the US. In fact, at 53, it was the highest number since 2000. Scary.

I am not ashamed to say that my father taking me to a showing of Jaws 3D as a 5-year-old pretty much kept me out of the oceans for the next ... 30 years or so. But the reality is, our fears are unfounded.

Worldwide, seven people were killed by sharks, which is higher than the average of 4.4. And hey, if you think the US has it bad, 2012 was the second year with multiple fatalities for Western Australia and Reunion Island in the southwest Indian Ocean. These are now described as "problematic situations." But that's not here.


The truth is, being afraid of sharks is a little like being afraid of the bogeyman. He is real (think Ted Bundy and other serial killers). Evil is real. But it's not likely that he is hiding in your closet waiting to get you.

Statistically speaking, you aren't going to die from a shark attack. Just like you aren't going to get struck by lightning or win the lottery. Sure, we all know someone or know a friend of a friend of our friend Larry for whom that wasn't true. But the likelihood is these things will not touch our lives.

Of course, anyone who has been on the wrong side of statistics knows stats mean nothing when it happens to you. I don't care how statistically improbable it was for me to lose my mom to breast cancer at 16. Once it happened to me, it changed everything.

On the bright side, you are a lot more likely to GET breast cancer than get attacked by a shark (is that really a bright side?). In fact, it's those things we DON'T spend a lot of time fearing -- cancer, heart disease, diabetes -- that we ought to think about more.

So, yes. Sharks = scary. And shark attacks being on the rise in the US? Even scarier. But of the 53 US incidents, Florida led the country with 26. Hawaii had 10. California and South Carolina each had five, North Carolina had two, and there was one each in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Puerto Rico. Many of these were surfers, and when you look at the breakdown, it isn't quite as scary as it was before.

The water frightens us because it's deep and dark and unknown. But there are many things we ought to fear that we don't.

Are you afraid of sharks?


Image via StormyDog/Flickr

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