The recent public interest in the classification of the February 2022 fatal shark attack in Sydney involving Simon Nellist has centered around the term “provoked”. This stems from confusion about how the International Shark Attack Files use this term to classifying shark attacks. Our criteria for classifying shark attacks are designed to filter the data collected so that we can better understand the natural behavior of the animals. Any activity that draws sharks into an area where they otherwise would not be, are excluded. We do all of our analyses on what we classify as “unprovoked bites” so that we can see patterns that might otherwise be obscured by unnatural or mitigating influences.
We are interested in the influence of tides, temperature, salinity, moon phase, changing currents, seasonality, time of day and the effects that these parameters, both individually and in combination, have on different species of sharks. Any human induced influence, either by the victim themselves or others nearby, are classified as “provoked” and are excluded from our downstream analyses. In the case of Simon Nellist, there were people fishing nearby. Fishing activity is known to attract sharks, primarily because fish caught on lines struggle and generate vibrations that bring sharks in. This occurs even when fishers are not using chum or bait to fish. Accordingly, when giving advice about how to minimize risk of shark attack, we recommend people avoid areas where people are actively fishing: https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/reduce-risk/how-to-avoid-a-shark-attack/
We are committed to understanding the behaviors of sharks to better understand them. We anticipate that with an improved understanding of species-specific shark behaviors, actions can be taken to minimize the frequency of shark bites on people.