After a few high profile shark attacks lately including one in Queensland and another in Reunion, travellers are naturally asking: ‘are more shark attacks happening? How do I stay safe?’.  

Black Whaler Shark (Carcharhinus obscurus) swimming in clear water..jpg
Shark attacks are becoming more common ©qldian/Getty Images

The bad news? Yes there are more shark attacks, according to figures from the Florida Museum in the USA, which collates worldwide shark attack information. Since the 1980s shark attacks have risen from 226, to 500 in the 1990s, to 691 from 2000 to 2009. The number for this decade has yet to be published. The good news is the percentage of shark attacks that have been fatal has gone down. So while more swimmers may be getting bitten by a shark, they’re more likely to survive.

Travel Safety Expert, Lloyd Figgins explains: “on average, sharks are accountable for ten human deaths a year. Ten times more people die taking selfies than are killed by sharks, and when you compare shark-related deaths with other animals, they are almost at the bottom of the table. Mosquitos are responsible for the most human deaths caused by an animal (over 400,000) and yet we hardly hear of any of these. In fact cows kill more humans (22) a year than sharks”.So while it’s unlikely you’ll get bitten by a shark there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk.

Great White Shark underwater..jpg
Ten times less dangerous than a selfie ©Alexius Sutandio/Shutterstock

It’s better to swim in a group, sharks are more likely to attack a solitary swimmer. Stay closer to shore; don’t swim in dirty, cloudy water, near deep channels, river mouths or along drop-offs to deeper water. Don’t swim with pets, or near people fishing or spear fishing; and avoid swimming at dusk or at night (let the opening scene of Jaws be a lesson for us all). If you’re bleeding from an open wound, leave the water immediately as shark’s have an acute sense of smell. If a shark is spotted, leave the water as quickly and calmly as possible. 

In the worst possible of scenarios, you are attacked by a shark remember: you can survive. The shark has mistaken you for a seal and doesn’t want to eat you. Be proactive and aggressive. Punch the shark in the nose, claw at its eyes, and around gill openings – its most sensitive areas. This can temporarily distract the shark while you swim to safety and raise the alarm. 

Five reef sharks feeing.jpg
Gray reef sharks during a shark feed ©Brandi Mueller/Getty Images

Finally, why are we seeing this growth in shark attacks? For one thing, human population growth plays a part, there are simply more people swimming in the oceans, but shark populations are also in dramatic decline. “Due to over-fishing and the horrific shark-finning industry shark populations are in decline. It’s really time to give them a break. 

“When you consider the number of humans who enter the ocean every day and then consider the number of deaths, it’s ridiculous to paint sharks as villains. The biggest travel threat to humans comes from road traffic accidents, which kill 1.2 million people every year."

If you want to stay safe while travelling, instead of worrying about a great white coming for you, make sure that tour van has a seat belt – and wear it.

Explore related stories

View of Sydney, Opera House, Circular Quay and Sydney Cove from small boat.  Sydney, Australia


Kayak, SUP and whitewater: the best places to paddle in Australia

Jun 19, 2024 • 8 min read