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!