Last year was the deadliest for shark attacks on Australian waters since the 1930s, but one key figure has proven promising for ocean lovers.
Last year was the deadliest for shark attacks on Australian waters since the 1930s, but one key figure has proven promising for ocean lovers.

Fatal shark attacks spike in Australia

Shark attacks decreased across Australia last year but the number of people mauled to death by the ocean giants climbed to the highest figure in more than 80 years.

There were six fatalities in Australian waters in 2020, up from none the year before and one in 2018.

There haven't been six or more deadly shark attacks since 1934. Five years earlier, in 1929, nine people were killed.

International researchers found there were 57 "unprovoked" bites globally last year, down from 64 the year before.

But it was the deadliest year since 2013, with 10 fatalities worldwide.

 

There were 18 reported incidents in Australia, slightly up on the latest five year average of 16 bites annually.

Academics described the spike as "dramatic" but said there's no cause for alarm.

"We expect some year-to-year variability in bite numbers and fatalities. One year does not make a trend," International Shark File researchers said.

The ongoing coronavirus crisis may have played a part in reducing shark attack figures, given it had been a slow year for tourism.

According to the International Shark Attack File, great whites were involved in at least 16 "unprovoked" attacks in 2020, including four fatalities in Australia.

Shark research expert, Gavin Naylor, said while the nation was hard-hit with deaths last year, the total number of bites was not unusual.

"It's just that the fraction of bites that resulted in fatalities was higher," he said, noting it depends on the species involved.

"A blacktip can give you four stitches while a nibble from a white shark can remove your leg.

"They're supremely better swimmers than humans, and they've got a nasty set of choppers at the front."

Esperance shark attack victim Gary Johnson with his wife Karen Milligan. Picture: Supplied
Esperance shark attack victim Gary Johnson with his wife Karen Milligan. Picture: Supplied

Researchers said there's no evidence sharks are actively hunting humans and are simply curious.

It has been a year since experienced diver Gary Johnson was mauled to death by a shark near Esperance in Western Australia.

Months later Zachary Robba was killed on the Great Barrier Reef.

Rob Pedretti was surfing in northern NSW when he was bitten by a shark in June, and a teenager surfing on the north coast also died after a shark bite in July.

Nick Slater was killed in an attack while catching waves on the Gold Coast in September.

Shark attacks on surfers are considered "unprovoked" but spearfishing is not.

A 36-year-old man died from an attack in July last year while he was spearfishing on Queensland's Fraser Island.

Originally published as Fatal shark attacks spike in Australia



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