Shark Attacks

Sharks have long been considered to be fearsome hunters, lurking just metres from hapless bathers in keen anticipation of gobbling one up. Their quiet approach, jagged teeth and protruding dorsal fin identifies them, and have been exploited in many films to perpetuate the notion that these fish are killing machines, only in pursuit of blood.

However, of the hundreds of shark species, there are only four that are known to have been involved in unprovoked and often fatal attacks on swimmers, surfers and divers. These are the Great White Shark, Oceanic Whitetip, Tiger Shark and Bull Shark (or Zambezi Shark). These are generally known for their hunting-specific design. They are renowned predators and are built in order to seize and kill prey effectively.

Attacks on humans are rare, but are usually initiated by one of these species when they do occur. In 2006, a study was undertaken by the International Shark Attack File (also known as ISAF) regarding the 96 shark attacks that had taken place. Of these, 62 were recorded as being unprovoked, while 16 were provoked.


When attacking a swimmer or diver, the shark will often grab the victim with its mighty jaws and hang on for a few seconds, sometimes pulling them under the water and dragging them along. Having swum below the victim before the attack, especially a surfer or body boarder paddling on a board, the potential prey can easily be confused with a turtle or sea lion due to its large :torso: with arms and legs.

The other factor to be considered is that, when curious, a shark may bump or :gnaw: on the object of its interest. There have been several reports of sharks bumping surfers off their boards or holding a victim's arm or leg between its teeth. although this did damage because of the sheer size and power of the shark, there was no intent to harm or eat the victim. Another theory has put forth that the shark is actually fighting the threat. Sharks are defensive in nature, and may be seeking to protect themselves from this intruder by bumping it with their snout and slashing its teeth over it in a threatening display.

As with many other facets of the shark's lives and behaviours, much is yet to be discovered about the motivation and nature of shark attacks on human beings. Research includes factors such as water temperature, tidal movements, frequency, location, provocation, mistaken identities as well as the behaviour of both the victim and the attacker before, during and after the encounter.

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What a surfer looks like from below.