Frequently Asked Questions
What Causes Sharks to Attacks Humans?
Sharks do not normally hunt humans. When they do attack a human, it is
usually a case of mistaken identity. Shark sometimes mistake humans for
its natural prey, such as fish or a marine mammal or sea turtle, and most
often will release the person after the first bite. The majority of shark
bites are "hit-and-run" attacks by smaller species, such as
blacktip and spinner sharks. They mistake thrashing arms or dangling feet
as prey, dart in, bite, and let go when they realize it's not a fish.
The "big three" species -- bull, tiger, and great white sharks
--are big enough to do a lot of damage to a human and must be treated
with respect and caution.
Is There an Increase
in the Number of Sharks and Attacks?
In 2001, there were 76 recorded unprovoked shark attacks in the U.S.,
versus 86 in 2000. According to the International Shark Attack File, the
numbers of shark bites from year-to-year seem to be directly associated
with increased numbers of humans swimming, diving and surfing in the ocean.
Some shark populations have been on the decline since the mid-1980s, when
the commercial fishery for sharks became a booming industry. Current regulations
are working to reverse the trend of declining shark populations in the
U.S., although some species are still depleted, and to maintain the shark
populations that are healthy.
What is NOAA Fisheries'
Role With Sharks?
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) manages the commercial
and recreational shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, including the
Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In the Pacific Ocean, NOAA Fisheries
works with regional fishery management councils and is developing shark
management measures. The agency is mandated by Congress under the Magnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act to conduct stock assessments,
monitor the species abundance of sharks, and implement fishery regulations
that maximize the benefits of sharks as a resource for humans while also
ensuring that we do not deplete shark populations. The United States began
regulating shark fisheries in 1993. A new Fishery Management Plan that
included sharks, swordfish, and tunas went into effect in 1999, and sharks
have been regulated under a catch limit and quota system ever since.
Why Should We Protect
Sharks are awesome creatures whose biology has remained virtually unchanged
for millions of years. Just as humans strive to protect other living creatures
from becoming threatened or endangered, it is our duty as stewards of
the Earth to protect all ocean life, including sharks. As top predators
in the sea, sharks provide a valuable balance to the marine ecosystem.
People are one of only a few species that prey on sharks (killer whales
and other sharks are others), killing over a hundred million per year.
We must support and abide by fishing regulations that were put into place
to ensure that sharks will thrive in the ocean for millions of years to
How Common Are
Shark Attacks? How Do I Minimize the Risk of Being Bitten by a Shark?
More people are killed each year by electrocution by Christmas tree lights
than by shark attacks. Think about the things you would do to minimize
your family's risk of being harmed by Christmas tree lights. You'd unplug
the lights at night and never leave them unattended. You'd keep your tree
moist to prevent a fire. Maybe you'd educate your children about the potential
of electric shock if they improperly plugged in the lights. Similarly,
you can take precautions that minimize your risk of encountering a shark
when visiting the beach this summer:
- Always stay in
groups since sharks are more likely to attack an individual. Do not
wander too far from shore --- this isolates you and decreases your chance
of being rescued.
- Avoid being in
the water early in the morning and during darkness or twilight hours
when sharks are most active and searching for food.
- Do not enter the
water if bleeding.
- Avoid wearing
shiny jewelry because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish
- Avoid waters being
used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs
of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators
of such action.
- Use extra caution
when waters are murky and avoid bright colored clothing --- sharks see
contrast particularly well. Refrain from excess splashing.
- Exercise caution
when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep dropoffs ---
these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
- Do not enter the
water if sharks are known to be present and evacuate the water if sharks
are seen while there. And do not approach a shark if you see one.
- Between the months
of 5-9, restrict your ocean swimming from 9-5.
Shark Attack File
For Further Information Contact: (301) 713-2370