A study by a group of Stanford researchers concludes that swimmers, surfers, and other oceangoers are at less of a risk of being attacked by sharks than they were 60 years ago. Even though the total number of shark attacks per year has gone up during that period, individual attack risk in the state dropped 91 percent between 1950 and 2013, according to the study.
The chances of being attacked by a shark are so unlikely that other ocean-related health concerns, like the bends and drowning, pose a greater risk. The authors of the study, which will be published later this month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, say that swimmers are 1,817 times more likely to drown in the ocean than be killed by a shark, and surfers have a one in 17 million chance of being bitten.
National Geographic reports that the higher number of shark attack reports is due to more people living along the coast and greater participation in ocean recreation over the course of the study period. California’s coastal population grew from 7 million in 1950 to 21 million today. So while shark attacks have gone up, a risk to a single individual has dropped because that person is less likely to be picked out from the total number of people in the water.
“We have recently seen an increase in shark attacks in some areas, like North Carolina and Western Australia, but you need to weigh that with the number of people going into the ocean and the intensity of that use,” Francesco Ferretti, lead author of the study and postdoctoral biologist at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, told National Geographic.