Shark Attacks Hit Record High in 2015, U.S. Leading World

There were 98 unprovoked shark attacks in 2015—the most on record for any year. David Gray / REUTERS

The numbers are in, and 2015 broke records for shark attacks.

According to an annual summary compiled by George Burgess, from the Florida Museum of Natural History, there were 98 unprovoked shark attacks in 2015 throughout the world, the highest annual total ever, surpassing the previous record of 88 attacks in 2000.

There were, however, only six fatalities, which is average over the last decade, say Burgess, head of the International Shark Attack File, which keeps record on human-shark interactions.

The increase in attacks is to be expected, however. "Each year should be a record number, in theory, because there are more and more humans going into the water and an increased interested in aquatic recreation," he says.

Warmer-than-usual water temperatures also appear to play a role. This trend, which is likely to continue with global climate change, allows warmth-loving sharks to expand their ranges. And such species—like blacktip and spinner sharks, which spend much of their time in the warm waters near shores—are responsible for a majority of the attacks on humans in the United States.

As usual, the U.S. had the highest number of shark attacks in 2015, with a total of 59. And, also as is typical, most U.S. attacks (30) took place in Florida. Burgess says the Sunshine State sees the most bites because it has so many people, including millions of tourists, that come to swim in its waters every year.

Shark attacks last year killed two people on Reunion Island in the Pacific, and one each in Hawaii, Australia, New Caledonia and Egypt.

In one of the more improbable shark-related tales, a Hawaiian man claimed to have ripped out the eye of an attacking tiger shark in October. Another tiger shark was responsible for the year's sole death in the state.

Hundreds of millions of people swam in ocean waters during 2015, spending billions of hours therein, Burgess says. The fact that sharks only caused six deaths shows that death-by-shark-attack is one of the least likely ways of dying. You are, for example, 75 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark.

While human populations have increased in recent years, sharks are in the decline, mostly because they are heavily fished, sought after for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. A 2013 study calculated that humans killed 100 million sharks and rays each year.

"So the real story isn't shark attacks man, but man attacks shark," Burgess says.