The University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a global authority on shark attacks, recently released its annual report. According to the organization, there were 69 unprovoked shark bites and 10 fatal attacks in 2023.
The ISAF records both “provoked” and “unprovoked” shark attacks but focuses its annual report on unprovoked attacks. The organization says unprovoked attacks “are defined as any instance in which a shark is in its natural habitat and attacks without any human provocation, which includes intentionally approaching a shark or swimming in an area where bait is being used to lure fish.”
2023’s 69 unprovoked shark attacks were slightly higher than the 5-year average of 63 attacks but still “consistent with long-term trends.” The 10 fatalities were more startling, up 100 percent from 5 in 2022.
“This is within the range of the normal number of bites, though the fatalities are a bit unnerving this year,” said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program in a press release.
Forty-two percent of shark attacks worldwide involved surfers, while 39 percent involved swimmers and waders. Thirteen percent involved snorkelers and freedivers. The remaining 6 percent were classified as “other.”
Where Did the Shark Attacks Take Place?
The ISAF also breaks down its data based on geographic regions. Two of the fatal attacks occurred in U.S. waters. New Caledonia, Egypt, the Bahamas, and Mexico each recorded one attack. Australia suffered the brunt of the fatal attacks with four.
Australia is home to large seal colonies—and many great white sharks that pursue them. The country also has estuarine rivers with bull sharks, a species that was responsible for one fatal attack in 2023. The continent also has some particularly remote areas.
“Beach safety in Australia is second to none. They’re fantastic,” said Joe Miguez, a doctoral student in the Florida Program for Shark Research. “However, if you go to remote regions where beach safety isn’t in place, there is a higher risk of a fatal shark attack. This is because when an attack happens and there is beach safety, you can get a tourniquet on sooner and save the person’s life.”
The ISAF explains that most “unprovoked attacks are “test bites, which occur when a shark misidentifies a human as their preferred prey. When this happens, the shark will typically swim away after a single bite.”
That said, white, bull, and tiger sharks, which were responsible for 2023’s fatal attacks, are often big enough to kill a human with just one bite. Experts say the spike in fatalities may be related to human activity patterns, particularly during summer months when marine activity spikes near beaches.
“Each year, there are consistently fewer than 100 unprovoked bites, making it more likely for someone to win the lottery than to be attacked by a shark,” explains the ISAF. “When there are more attacks, it often means that more people are spending time in the water—not that sharks have become more dangerous.”
Also of note, in 2023 New York City documented its first shark attack in over half a century. That incident—as well as other shark bites in the area—likely resulted from years of successful marine conservation efforts in the region.