2015 is the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning Jaws – a film that undeniably changed the way that Americans, and the world, viewed sharks. Countless masses attribute their fears of sharks and swimming in the ocean – to this now 40-year-old mechanical shark.
While shark phobias are widespread, actual shark attacks are very rare. In 2014, the International Shark Attack File confirmed 52 unprovoked shark attacks in the United States (including Hawaii). Using 320 million people as an estimate of the 2014 American population (which is an underestimate of the number of people in the U.S. at a given time) and the basic assumption that everyone has an equal risk, the average American has 1.625 in a million chance of being attacked by a shark in a given year.
Here are ten things that have higher odds than a shark attack in the United States:
- Being accepted at Harvard (6 in 100 applicants)
- Being born with extra fingers or toes (Polydactyly; 1 in 500)
- Catching a foul ball (1 in 680)
- Living to 100 years old (1.73 in 10,000)
- Being injured by a toilet (96.4 in 100,000)
- Making a hole in one on a par 3 hole (1 in 12,500 amateur golfers)
- Being hit by a comet or asteroid (1 in 75,000)
- Having conjoined twins (1 in 200,000 live births)
- Getting struck by lightning in the U.S. (94 in a million)
- Being dealt a royal flush in poker (1 in 649,740)
But…best of luck playing the odds with that next lottery ticket. The chances of claiming a Powerball jackpot are still even lower than getting attacked by a shark — a slim 1 in 175 million.
For more shark relative risk comparisons, please visit: https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/attacks/relarisk.htm
Special thanks to Dan Hayes (Michigan State University) for teaching me the value of presenting probabilities in comparison!
5 Comments Add yours
If you change your assumption of people at risk to focus on only those truly at risk, i.e., Americans who swim in an ocean in a given year, what does the likelihood of an attack become?
Thanks for your question, Ed, and thanks for your interest in the Fisheries Blog!
The International Shark Attack File, administered by the American Elasmobranch Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History, ran a comparison between US beach attendance and shark attacks (1994 -2000) that may help address your question. In the US, beach attendance was approximately 110 million annually and there were approximately 40 shark attacks annually. So, this would be approximately a 4 in 11 million chance of attack for the average American beach goer.
However, there are surely other factors that make some more likely to be attacked than others. In the US, Florida is the state with highest annual shark attack rate. Being a beach goer there is of more risk. In 2014, 54% of the unprovoked attacks occurred in Florida. It is worth noting that the US did not have any fatal attacks in 2014 and globally there were only 3. Surfers are generally the most often attacked category – in 2014, 65% of attacks worldwide were surfers and others participating in board-related watersports. So, a surfer in Florida will likely have the greatest general risk than others in the US. For more information, I will refer you to the International Shark Attack File: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/isaf/isafabout.htm. It’s got an extensive database on sharks that could be used for a more detailed analysis to address your question.
Thanks again for your comment!
You forgot an extra zero for tue royal flush stat. It is 6497400. Sincerely a smarta** rising high school freshman who knows how to calcululate basic permuations. 52!/48! Is 6497400.
There are 2,598,960 possible poker hands and only 4 of those result in a royal flush (10, J, Q, K, A of the same suit). This puts the odds of getting such a hand at 4 in 2,598,960 or 1 in 649740. For more info, here’s a website on probability and poker: http://www.intmath.com/counting-probability/poker.php
Great information. Yes Shark attacks are over stressed for sure. So man other things that can be a problem. Thanks for sharing this info. I Help with a Komodo Dragon company and that is probably a bit more dangerous than sharks actually