Shark attacks: How much should you worry?

(NewsNation) — A series of recent shark attacks in Texas and Florida may leave people wondering if it's safe to go in the water. But while shark attacks have risen, they are still rare.

Unprovoked shark attacks did increase in 2023, and fatalities doubled. But the numbers remain small: In 2023, there were 69 shark attacks around the globe and 11 fatalities. That's up from an average of 63 attacks in prior years and five deaths in 2022.

Considering the number of people who go into the ocean each year, getting bit by a shark is pretty unlikely. The Florida Museum puts the odds at one in 11.5 million. You have greater odds of being killed by a wasp or hornet (one in six million), winding up in the ER after a pogo stick incident (one in 115,300) or becoming president of the United States (one in 10 million).

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Of those 69 shark attacks in 2023, 36 of them occurred in the U.S. Florida beachgoers are most likely to experience an unprovoked shark attack, followed by Hawaii, California and South Carolina. Swimmers, snorkelers and surfers were most likely to be attacked in the water.

Experts say there are two main factors in the increase in attacks. The shark population has increased dramatically thanks to successful conservation efforts, and more people are visiting the beach and getting in the water.

Humans aren't natural prey for sharks, who eat fish and other marine animals, and most unprovoked shark attacks are a result of mistaken identity or curiosity. Sharks, much like toddlers, tend to explore the world with their mouths.

There are ways to lessen your chances of having an unwanted encounter with a shark. Don't swim alone, avoid swimming at dusk or dawn when low light can lead to mistaken identity, and try to avoid splashing, which can appear like the sound of a struggling fish.

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You should also avoid swimming near people who are fishing, since the bait can also draw sharks, and take off jewelry before getting in the water because the flashing light on it can mimic the way light bounces off a fish's scales.

If you spot a shark in the water, don't panic. Splashing and quick movements can make you look more like prey. You should also try to keep eye contact with the shark since they prefer to ambush their food. If a shark seems to be in attack mode, trying to make yourself look as big as possible can help deter an attack, but if a shark is simply passing by, you should try to make yourself small so you don't seem like a threat.

If a shark does attack, don't play dead. Instead, experts say you should fight back, aiming for sensitive areas like the gills or eyes and using anything you have on you, like a snorkel, as an improvised weapon.

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