Don't let Jaws, Shark Week, and recent headlines fool you. You have a higher chance of dying from a vending machine than from a shark. While they're admittedly worrisome and gruesome, shark attacks are rarely fatal — and attacks themselves are still fairly uncommon.
On Wednesday, a 68-year-old man was bitten repeatedly by a shark off the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks. This attack came just days after a 17-year-old boy and a 47-year-old man were both attacked on Saturday, in a different part of the Outer Banks. In June, two other people — a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl — were bitten further south off the North Carolina coast. The frequency of these attacks certainly creates concern, and for good reason. On average, the Carolinas (North and South combined) count just over six shark attacks per year. So far in 2015, North Carolina itself has seen seven.
If you're looking for a bright side to help convince your friends to take a beach trip with you this summer, try this: The chances of being attacked by a shark are extremely small, and the chances of being killed by one are even smaller. That might not be the silver lining you want to hear — after all, just because shark attacks aren't often fatal doesn't mean they're fun. But for those of us who live at the beach, it's enough to keep us going back and wading in.
So just how small are your chances of dying from a shark attack? According to Heal the Bay, a non-profit organization that works to protect coasts and bodies of water, vending machines are roughly twice as deadly as sharks. I'm still not sure how a vending machine kills someone, but that's not the point.
Out of those six recent shark attacks in North Carolina, no one has died. That's not to minimize the severity of the attacks. Multiple victims lost limbs and sustained serious injuries. Still, it's important to remember that you have a one in 63 chance of dying from the flu, but just a one in 3,700,000 chance of being killed by a shark.
To some degree, the small chance of death-by-shark comes from the small chance of attack-by-shark. (If there's a small chance of getting attacked, then there's obviously an even smaller chance of you dying from an attack.) But even if you are attacked, your chance of dying remains small. According to National Geographic, an average of 19 shark attacks occur every year in the United States, but just about one attack every two years is fatal. What's more, the worldwide frequency of shark attacks has risen in recent years, but the percentage of fatal shark attacks has actually fallen.
The reason most shark attacks aren't fatal is exactly the reason your mom told you not to be scared of sharks on your childhood beach trips: Sharks don't want to eat people. If they're on the hunt, they often bite and let go when they realize that they've got a human and not a seal. Sharks' teeth are even lined with nerve endings that help them quickly determine whether they've bitten into a seal or a human.
Another factor could be increased awareness. As a society, we've become somewhat obsessed with sharks (think, Shark Week, Sharknado, etc.). It could be that this general awareness and understanding of sharks has caused people to be more careful. Avoid the ocean at peak feeding times like dusk and dawn or take off flashy jewelry before entering the water.
With Wednesday's attack, 2015 is shaping up to be the most attack-heavy year in recent shark
history, but it doesn't have to be the deadliest. Experts warn that more shark attacks could occur over the Fourth of July weekend. If your summer plans include the beach, go ahead and wade, but wade with caution.