Shark attacks rise as data reveals Australia’s waters are the deadliest

More people were killed in shark attacks in Australia than any other nation in 2021, new data has revealed.

It's the second year in a row Australia has recorded the most shark attack-related deaths in the world.

Research from the Florida Museum of Natural History and the American Elasmobranch Society found there were 73 unprovoked shark bite incidents in 2021 globally and 39 provoked bites.

Unprovoked attacks occur when there is no human provocation.

Pictured is a shark in the ocean, to illustrate shark attacks.
Shark bites are up compared to 2020, but incidents remain extremely rare overall. Source: Getty Images, file

Provoked attacks are defined as when humans initiate contact, such as divers trying to touch a shark or fishermen removing a shark from a fishing net, according to the International Shark Attack File.

The number of shark attacks across the globe is up from 2020, which saw 52 confirmed bites. The International Shark Attack File (ISAF) notes 2020's number was significantly less than average due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beach closures and travel restrictions could have meant fewer incidents, as the five-year global average of shark bites is 72 annually.

"Shark bites dropped drastically in 2020 due to the pandemic," ISAF manager Tyler Bowling said in a statement.

"This past year was much more typical, with average bite numbers from an assortment of species and fatalities from white sharks, bull sharks and tiger sharks."

Though Covid restrictions eased in 2021 for many parts of the world, the report notes that shark-bite reporting remains "spotty".

Pictured is a map to show where all the shark attacks happened around the world in 2021.
There were 73 unprovoked shark bites in 2021, and nine unprovoked fatal bites. Source: International Shark Attack File

Due to the influx of deaths associated with Covid-19 keeping first responders and coroners busy, there was an increase in unconfirmed shark bites in 2021 for the second year in a row.

In 2021, there were 14 putative incidents which are still under investigation.

Australia leads in fatal attacks

While the US accounts for the most shark bites with 47 in 2021, Australia leads the world in fatal shark attacks.

Australia had three fatal shark encounters in 2021, which is down from six in 2020. The US had just one fatal incident last year.

One of the victims was Timothy Thompson – a 31-year-old expecting father who was attacked near Coffs Harbour in September.

Shark bites in Australia were also down in 2021 from the five-year average — with 12 in total, down from the average of 16.

Across the globe there were nine unprovoked fatal shark attacks in 2021.

Pictured is a shark sighted sign in Australia
Incidents of shark bites have been decreasing for years. Source: Getty Images

New Caledonia had two fatal attacks in 2021, while New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil all had one fatal incident.

However, the good news is the short-term trend shows there is a decrease in fatal and non-fatal bites.

For years, fatality rates have been declining, due to beach safety, medical treatment and public awareness.

The ISAF notes the number of unprovoked shark bites in 2021 is "extremely low", especially when you consider the amount of people across the world who are in the water every year.

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