It’s that time of the year again. No, not 4th of July. It’s Shark Week. The annual Discovery Channel event is now aired all over the world. This summer in North America also marks the 40th anniversary of the shark-themed movie Jaws, so this seems a good time to look at a record of shark attacks over time in the United States. There’s really no better way to visualize these reported fatalities by shark than on a map.
View US Shark Attacks in a full screen map
Obviously, this phenomenon is restricted to coastal states—you’re safe from this disaster, Kansas! Hawaii leads the way, with its reputation for surfing and other water sports. Logically, the next two states, Florida and California, are likely to also have a lot of people in the water.
Despite the many markers that adorn this map, these are relatively few shark attack fatalities given that the data goes all the way back to 1900. There are only about 75 shark attacks worldwide, with a very few being fatal, according to National Geographic. That said, the trend is rising, and recently North Carolina has seen a rash of incidents. The state is a distant fourth on the fatalities list, with just seven noted on the map.
New Jersey has a relatively few attacks, with only 15 attacks ever, according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF). However, the Jersey Shore became synonymous with sharks during a two week stretch 99 years ago. The series of four fatalities over 12 days in 1916 put panic into residents and became the inspiration for the movie Jaws.
The 1975 movie created a fear of the Great White Shark, which can grow up to 20 feet long. Most shark attack victims, especially the fatalities plotted on this map, cannot identify specific. The Great White’s 17 confirmed fatalities is second to the Tiger Shark’s 26. Most Tiger Shark attacks are in Hawaii. The Great White tends to live in colder waters, with most attacks occurring in California. There is some speculation that Great Whites are mistaken for Bull Sharks, which account for nine of the fatalities mapped. The ISAF also tracks fatal and non-fatal attacks by species.
When you consider the shark fatalities per year, as shown in the graph above, you realize just how rare it is for a human to have encounters with these large predatory fish. Most years see between zero and three shark fatalities. The blips in the chart showing more than usual attacks are 1905 (10), 1916 (4, all in New Jersey), and 1981 (4).
So, enjoy the shark-related programming this week, but don’t let it keep you from enjoying some time at the beach in the future.