Ten things more likely than a shark attack

By Abigail Lynch

movie poster2015 is the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning Jawsa 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:

  1. Being accepted at Harvard (6 in 100 applicants)

    Getting into one of the most prestigious schools in the world looks pretty common compared to a shark attack (shutterstock).

    Getting into one of the most prestigious schools in the world looks pretty common compared to a shark attack (shutterstock).

  2. Being born with extra fingers or toes (Polydactyly; 1 in 500)

    Extra digits are much more likely than shark bite scars.

    Extra digits are much more likely than shark bite scars.

  3. Catching a foul ball (1 in 680)

    You have higher odds of getting a piece of that foul ball than a shark does of getting a piece of you.

    You have higher odds of getting a piece of that foul ball than a shark does of getting a piece of you.

  4. Living to 100 years old (1.73 in 10,000)

    There are more centenarians than shark attack victims.

    There are many more centenarians than shark attack victims.

  5. Being injured by a toilet (96.4 in 100,000)

    Think a shark is scary?  How about this toilet?

    Think a shark is scary? How about this toilet?

  6. Making a hole in one on a par 3 hole (1 in 12,500 amateur golfers)

    A hole in one is more likely than a hole from a shark bite.

    A hole in one is more likely than a hole from a shark bite.

  7. Being hit by a comet or asteroid (1 in 75,000)

    Threats from space are more common than threats from sharks (NASA).

    Threats from space are more common than threats from sharks (NASA).

  8. Having conjoined twins (1 in 200,000 live births)

    Twins are rare, conjoined twins are rarer, but shark attacks are even rarer.

    Twins are rare, conjoined twins are rarer, but shark attacks are even rarer.

  9. Getting struck by lightning in the U.S. (94 in a million)

    Lightning might not ever strike twice, but it is more likely to strike than a shark.

    The saying may go “lightning doesn’t strike twice,” but it is more likely to strike once than a shark.

  10. Being dealt a royal flush in poker (1 in 649,740)

    Even without a card shark, that elusive hand is still more probable than a real shark.

    Even without a card shark, that elusive hand is still more probable than a real shark.

 

powerball (CNN)

Though  shark attacks have low odds, they are still quite a bit higher than winning a Powerball jackpot (CNN.com).

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!

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2 responses to “Ten things more likely than a shark attack

  1. 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!

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