Shark weak? Bites unlikely way to die

Data shows attacks kill about five people per year

Look no further than Google to see the buzz generated from shark attacks compared to much more common ways people die.

The phrase “shark attack” on Google produces about 19 million results.

Drowning kills thousands more per year in the United States alone but generates only 11.8 million results.

For George Burgess, the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, the data is of no surprise.

“Maybe if Discovery Channel had a ‘Drowning Week’ those numbers would flip,” Burgess said in reference to this week’s “Shark Week” by Discovery Channel.

But does the massive attention given to the so-called “man-eaters” tell the real story?

The reality is people are about as likely to die from a Sharknado (0.0 percent) as they are from a shark attack (1 in 3.7 million), according to the National Geographic Channel.

Shark attacks kill about five people per year, Burgess said. The world’s population is more than seven billion.

“When you have five deaths per year (from shark attacks) worldwide, your chances of death are close to infinitesimal,” he said.

Drowning, on the other hand, is the cause of death for about 10 people every day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Burgess said the media and programming such as Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” mythologizes sharks and makes the sea creatures appear much more determined to harm humans than they actually are.

“Only five times a year do humans go into the water and not come out as a result of shark attacks,” he said. “When you consider the millions of people who go in the water every year, to only have five fatalities, it puts that in perspective.”

Of course, sharks are not cuddly creatures best fit for a petting zoo, but humans can avoid bites with relatively simple steps such as avoiding swimming in dawn, dusk or night and staying in groups.

Shark populations, meanwhile, have dropped in part due to overfishing, Burgess said.

“While one-on-one in the sea, sharks are going to win every time against us, all we have to do is sit on a boat with a cold beer in our hand and a live reel and it can more than equalize that,” Burgess said. 

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