NSB in a Tizzy over “Feeding Frenzy”

August hasn’t exactly been a stellar month for PR in New Smyrna Beach.

Shark Bite Capital of the World

The “Shark Bite Capital of the World” has been making national news, seemingly on a weekly basis, with reports of “brutal attacks”… but is this just sensationalized media or are we seeing a real uptick in bites?

2019 Shark Attacks in New Smyrna Beach

To date, 10 people have been bitten in NSB this year, with five of those in the past month.

The Florida Museum has an online database of attacks. The International Shark Attack File summarizes both provoked and unprovoked bites worldwide.

According to Florida Museum:

“Unprovoked attacks” are defined as incidents where an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.

“Provoked attacks” occur when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. These include instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, attacks on people attempting to feed sharks, bites occurring while unhooking or removing a shark from a fishing net, etc.

In 2018, 34 of the annual total 130 reports were confirmed as provoked. Of the remaining 66 bites-

  • 9 were bites to boats, not individuals
  • 4 were considered “shark-inflicted post-mortem bites,” otherwise known as scavenge bites
  • 5 were inconclusive based on the available data and could not be categorized
  • 1 involved a shark that may or may not have been “habituated” to the presence of humans in the area
  • 1 involved a diver in a public aquarium

Ten more cases were considered “doubtful,” and believed to have involved other animals, not sharks.

That being said, according to Florida Museum, “The (2018) worldwide total of unprovoked shark attacks was significantly lower than average.”

How does 2019 Measure Up?

According to TrackingSharks.com:

As of Aug. 21, 2019, there have been a total of 63 shark attack bites (worldwide) – 59 with injury, 14 of which are considered provoked – publicly reported and verified in 2019. Five fatal; 34 were reported in the U.S. (including one fatal), with 19 occurring in Florida (3 provoked),  9 in Hawaii (1 provoked,1 fatal, 1 no injury) and 2 in California (1 no injury). 

Taken as a monthly average, 2019 is set to be even lower than 2018’s bite total, which was already low to begin with. The cluster of bites in NSB over the past several weeks are what set Floridians up for a media frenzy to close out the summer.

Most recently, a 9-year-old girl was bitten in shallow water and received 12 stitches. Three people were bitten in one weekend in early August.

What seems to be grabbing the public’s attention, in addition to the bites, are the locals’ laidback attitude towards to so-called frenzy. The 9-year-old is ready to get back in the water as soon as her stitches heal, questioning “what are the odds of getting bit twice?” Most infamously, a surfer in Jacksonville Beach hit up the bar rather than head to the hospital after sustaining a bite to the elbow. Many view the bites as more of a… nibble. And the truth is, while NSB may hold the grandiose title of Shark Bite Capital, we rarely experience a fatality.

2019 Shark Attack map of United States courtesy of People.com
2019 Shark Attack map of United States courtesy of People.com

Out of the 30 in the US since January 1, only one has been a fatality occurring in Maui.

The more you enter a shark’s natural habitat, i.e. the beach, the more your chance goes up of a “nibble.” As reminded by Florida Museum,

“The more humans in the sea, the more human-shark interactions.”

“The number of human-shark interactions is strongly correlated with time spent by humans in the sea.” 

On average, a person’s chance of getting attacked by a shark is 1 in 11.5 million, while a person’s chance of getting killed by a shark is less than 1 in 264.1 million. Taking a step into the local waters will always carry risks, but they don’t seem to be any higher than average.

What Brings Sharks to the Beaches of NSB?

On average, the sharks we see in the inlet and surrounding waters are five to seven feet in length. The draw to our area for the wildlife is the same for human tourists. The same topography and tides of the beach creating the waves that draw in crowds of beachgoers and surfers creates murky waters full of nutrients and baitfish ripe for the picking. More than likely, bites experienced in the area are more exploratory with a dangling feet and legs being mistaken for schools of fish.

The only thing that has changed for locals here and along the rest of the Florida coast is the attention from the media. Surfers will still brush off these so-called “nips” and wear their bites like a badge of honor, and thousands will continue to enjoy the area beaches.

In a sobering reminder, the Florida Museum states:

The somber truth is that most of the world’s shark populations are in decline, or exist at greatly reduced levels, as a consequence of overfishing and habitat loss. On average, there are only six fatalities attributable to unprovoked attacks by sharks worldwide, each year. By contrast, fisheries kill about 100 million sharks and rays annually. There is a pressing need to conserve these animals and their associated habitats to ensure their sustainability in the long term.

Kelsey Walters biography

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