The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) investigated 155 incidents of alleged shark-human interaction occurring worldwide in 2017. Eighty-eight cases represent confirmed unprovoked shark attacks on humans. Thirty of the remaining cases were confirmed as provoked attacks on humans.

Unprovoked Attacks 88
Provoked Attacks 30
Boat Attacks 18
Scavenge 2
Public Aquaria 1
Doubtful 12
Not Confirmed 4
Total Cases 155

Unprovoked attacks” are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.

Provoked attacks” occur when a human initiates physical contact with a shark, e.g. a diver is bitten after grabbing a shark, attacks on spearfishers and those feeding sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, etc.

Of the remaining 37 cases, 18 involved bites to motorized or non-motorized marine vessels (“boat attacks”), two involved shark-inflicted post-mortem bites (“scavenge”), four were cases in which the shark-human interaction could not be confirmed based on the available data, and one case involved a diver in a public aquarium. Twelve cases were regarded as “doubtful” in which the incidents did not involve a shark, including one case attributed to a stingray and one case attributed to a barracuda. The 10 other cases were determined to be caused by other biotic/abiotic sources.

2017 at a Glance: As expected, the worldwide total of unprovoked shark attacks was slightly higher than average.

2017 worldwide shark attack mapThe 2017 worldwide total of 88 confirmed, unprovoked cases was slightly higher than the most recent five-year (2012-2016) average of 83 incidents annually. However, it was markedly lower than the highest year on record, 2015, which had 98 unprovoked incidents. Significantly, there were only five unprovoked attacks that were fatal worldwide. This is on track with our annual average of six.

The ISAF does not assign too much significance to these short-term trends as annual fluctuations in shark-human interactions are to be expected. Year-to-year variability in oceanographic, socio-economic, and meteorological conditions significantly influences the local abundance of sharks and humans in the water and, therefore the odds of encountering one another.

The more humans, the more human-shark interactions.

The number of human-shark interactions is directly correlated with time spent by humans in the sea. As the world population and interest in aquatic recreation continues to rise, we expect the incidence of shark attacks to increase, as well. Continued technological advancements have allowed the ISAF to greatly expand its global communications with scientific observers and beach safety organizations both locally and internationally. Increased attention given to sharks in the media has promoted public interest in shark attacks around the world, leading to better documentation of human-shark interactions.

The United States had the most unprovoked attacks but no fatal incidents in 2017.

Locality Total Fatal
USA 53 0
Austrailia 14 1
Reunion Island 3 2
Ascension Island 2 0
Bahama Islands 2 0
Costa Rica 2 1
Indonesia 2 0
Republic of South Africa 2 0
Brazil 1 0
Canary Islands 1 0
Cuba 1 1
Egypt 1 0
England 1 0
Japan 1 0
Maldives 1 0
New Zealand 1 0
Worldwide 88 5

Consistent with long-term trends, the United States experienced the most unprovoked shark attacks in 2017 [53 cases]. This represents 60.2% of the worldwide total. This is a slight decline from 2016 which saw 56 unprovoked attacks, but on par with the most recent five-year annual average of 54. Significantly, the United States did not have any shark attacks that resulted in a fatality.

Australia’s total of 14 incidents was similar to the recent five-year annual average for the region.  Six attacks occurred in Western Australia, five in New South Wales, two in Queensland, and a single incident in Victoria. One attack resulted in a fatality. Australia averages two fatal incidents annually (see Australian 2017 Shark Attack Summary).

South Africa experienced two, non-fatal attacks in 2017, lower than its annual average of four total shark attacks and one fatality. Elsewhere in the world, shark attacks occurred in Reunion Island [3], Ascension Island [2], Indonesia [2], Costa Rica [2], and the Bahama Islands [2]. Single incidents occurred in Brazil, the Canary Islands, Cuba, Egypt, England, Japan, the Maldives, and New Zealand.

Following normal trends, Florida had the most of unprovoked attacks in the USA, representing 35% of the worldwide total.

2017 USA Statistics
Florida 31
South Carolina 10
Hawaii 6
California 2
Massachusetts 1
North Carolina 1
Texas 1
Virginia 1
Total 53

For decades, Florida has topped the charts for worldwide shark attacks and 2017 was no exception. Florida’s 31 cases represented 58% of the United States total. Elsewhere in the United States, unprovoked shark attacks occurred in South Carolina [10], Hawaii [6], and California [2] with single incidents in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Significantly, South Carolina’s ten incidents were higher than its annual average of five incidents. This could be a result of ISAF’s increased communication between beach safety officials and media outlets in the region in recent years, leading to increased documentation of incidents. In addition, an increasing population to the area has led to more shark-human interactions.

The 31 unprovoked shark attacks in Florida are on par with the most recent five-year annual average of 29 incidents, but lower than 2016’s annual total of 35. Volusia County had the most shark attacks [9] representing 29% of the Florida total, but lower than the 2016 total of 15 cases. The remaining incidents occurred in Brevard [7], Palm Beach [5], Duval [3], and Martin [2] counties, with single incidents occurring in Indian River, Okaloosa, St. Johns, St. Lucie, and Miami-Dade counties.

Victim Activity at Time of Attack
Surfing/board-sports 59%
Swimming/wading 22%
Snorkeling/free-diving 9%
Body surfing/horseplay 3%
Other shallow water activities 5%

Following recent trends, surfers and those participating in board sports accounted for most incidents (59% of the total cases). This group spends a large amount of time in the surf zone, an area commonly frequented by sharks, and may unintentionally attract sharks by splashing, paddling, and “wiping out.” Swimmers and waders accounted for 22% of incidents, snorkelers/free divers 9%, Scuba divers 2%, body-surfers and those playing in the wave zone [3%], and those participating in other shallow water activities [5%].

Important Considerations:

The worldwide total number of unprovoked shark attacks is remarkably low given the billions of people participating in aquatic recreation each year. For decades, worldwide fatality rates have continued to decline reflecting advances in beach safety, medical treatment, and public awareness. This underscores the importance of global efforts to improve ocean rescue, medical care, and shark education.

The somber truth is that the world’s shark populations are actually in decline, or exist at greatly reduced levels, as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss. On average there are only six fatalities that are attributable to unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, each year. By contrast about 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year by fisheries. There is a pressing need to conserve these animals and their associated habitats to ensure their sustainability in the long term.

Ways to reduce your risk of a shark attack and what to do if one is attacked by a shark.

Lindsay A. French
International Shark Attack File
Florida Program for Shark Research
Florida Museum of Natural History – University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611 USA
(352) 273-1949

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