Even though more and more people surf and swim in the waters off California’s coast, a new study showed their risk of being attacked by sharks has dropped with 90 percent since the 1950s.

This study comes in apparent contrast with recent news headlines which reported this year to have a record number of incidents with sharks attacking people in the water – eight shark attacks just in the past three weeks.

Francesco Ferretti from the Hopkins Marine Station operating under the Stanford University said the disparity between the study and the recent shark attack reports needs more research before it can be explained.

Fiorenza Micheli, a fellow researcher of Ferretti, explained that the study proved that in spite of the slight increase in number of attacks that’s been registered in the past six decades, the risk of being attacked has actually dropped dramatically.

This risk was calculated in relation with the great number of people swimming and surfing on the Californian coast; shark attack incidents should be a lot more often if the risk hadn’t plummeted.

The reason behind the decline is actually rather satisfying for environmentalists: sharks have turned their attention from human prey to animals in their environment, like elephant seals and sea lions – which have significantly increased in number thanks to conservation initiatives.

Another possible theory that explains the sheer drop in shark-attack risk is the fact that fewer of these great hunters are roaming in the waters. But this hypothesis is tough to test as shark populations are inconsistently tracked in the past decades.

During the 1950s, California saw an annual average of less than one attack on humans; in the past decade, that number has reached one or two attacks a year. But when compared to the population boom, the risk drops considerably.

Coastal California experienced a tripling in human population during the same period, from 7 million to 21 million. Moreover, beachgoers and fans of scuba diving and surfing have also significantly increased in number.

This year’s eight shark attacks off North Carolina’s coast reported in the past three weeks broke the record for the most shark incidents that the state has seen in the past 80 years or records.

The spike has yet to be explained, and more research is required for that. Some scientists believe that the unseasonably hot temperatures June has brought pushed the sharks up north earlier than usual.

Bottom line is that, in California, your odds of swimming in the ocean and getting bit by a shark are about “one in every 738 million beach visits;” surfers have it a bit worse, but chances were still in the range of 17 million.
Image Source: The Project Avalon Forum