Why do sharks attack humans?

Sharks attacking humansContrary to popular belief, sharks do not make a conscious effort to attack humans. In fact, there aren’t nearly as many attacks as you would think. More people die from being struck by lightning every year than from shark attacks. The year 2000 had the highest number of recorded shark attacks, and even then it was only a total of 79 worldwide. Most of them occurred on the coasts of the United States, and only 16 of them proved to be fatal. On average, only about 4 people in the entire world die from shark attack related injuries each year. The location with the highest number of attacks is New Smyrna Beach, in Florida, USA.

The fear of sharks is a common one, not helped by fear-inducing movies like Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, and Red Water. However, while there are over 360 species of shark, only 4 have been known to attack a human unprovoked. Those dangerous few are the Great White, Tiger, Bull and Oceanic White Tip Sharks. The majority of the attacks by the first three species mentioned are well documented, however, since the oceanic white tip stays in the deep ocean doesn’t come near the coast like the others, fewer attacks by them have been recorded. Recent studies have shown that they are unlikely to attack unprovoked, however a number of attacks were attributed to the oceanic white tip during the two World Wars, when a great deal of ships were destroyed while at sea. While the four aforementioned species account for a significant number of all shark attacks, there have been a few others that have caused injury to humans.

There are a number of different kinds of shark attacks. The first one is the “Hit and Run”; when the shark bites and then leaves. This is actually a common practice among sharks – these bites are known as “exploratory bites”. Sharks rarely attack a human specifically for food, as humans don’t have the right amount of fat composition they need to sustain their strong, muscular bodies. Sharks are also unable to feel hungry, and can in fact go months without eating. The second form of attack is often fatal, and occurs most often in deep water. It is known as the “Sneak Attack”. The “Bump and Bite” is another attack style used by sharks. They brush up against their prey to incapacitate it before going in for a strike. Often times a mere bump from these strong animals can cause serious damage to a human. To avoid potential injury form an aggressive target, sharks often circle their wary prey and then go in for one swift attack; returning once it has exhausted itself or died from the inflicted injury. While this may work for a shark’s traditional prey, this tactic often gives humans a chance to get out of the water and survive the attack. These creatures are also extremely territorial, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, such as when a battle of dominance between or within a species is occurring, can invite an attack.
Sharks are equipped with a number of specialized sensory organs, and knowing what they are and what they do can help prevent accidental attacks. Sharks are equipped with an organ known as the Ampullae of Lorenzini that is able to detect electrical impulses as small as the ones generated by a human or animal’s muscle movement. This helps them locate their prey across far distances. Some sharks, most notably the Great White, are also able to smell blood in water – as little as a drop or two from over a mile away.
While you cannot completely eliminate the risk of a shark attack while in shark infested water, there are some precautions that can be taken to lessen the chances.
1.    Avoid being in the water at dusk and dawn, when sharks tend to feed, and at night. Sharks have excellent sight at night and are more likely to mistake a human for prey in the dark.
2.    Most species of shark prefer dark, murky waters and steep drop offs, so avoid those areas when possible.
3.    Since some species are highly sensitive to the presence of blood and can attack without precedence when they find it, avoid bleeding when in open water. People with open wounds, and women on their menstrual cycle should not go into open water.
4.    Stay in large groups, and when possible stick to the middle. Never swim alone.
5.    Take written and verbal warnings seriously, especially from lifeguards and other professionals.
6.    USE COMMON SENSE. Never forget that all sharks, even those thought to be harmless, are by nature wild animals. You never know for certain how they will react when presented with different situations. Be careful.
7.    USE YOUR INSTINCTS. If you don’t feel right being in the water, get out immediately. Don’t doubt yourself. It’s better to be safe, and wait for another chance, than to be sorry and regret that you didn’t follow your instincts.
For more information on shark attacks, check out the links at the bottom of this page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shark_attack
To learn more about the Great White and its unique habits, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_white

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