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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Shark Attack versus Ecotourism: Negative and Positive Interactions


Unprovoked attacks by sharks on humans are exceptionally rare phenomena. Sharks typically have two motivations, feeding or defense, that result in attacks on humans. Three species, the bull, tiger, and white sharks, are responsible for the majority of attacks on humans. These predominantly feeding-motivated attacks are often the result of the shark mistaking its human victim for natural prey. Many species, however, exhibit a defensive, aggressive display that, unheeded, may result in a single bite or slashing wound to a human. The number of unprovoked attacks by sharks on humans worldwide has risen from 8 during 1900-1904, of which 2 were fatal, to 330 during 2000-2004, of which 29 were fatal. The rates of 5.8 fatalities per year during 2000-2004 and 6.4 fatalities per year during 1995-1999 are negligible relative to the average of 42,593 fatalities per year due to automobile accidents reported from 1993-1995 in the United States alone. Taking a look at sharks from another perspective, ecotourism has become immensely popular in the 1990s and 2000s. There are opportunities to view sharks in the wild on every continent except Antarctica, with the scalloped hammerhead, white, whale, and reef sharks being among the most popular subjects. Shark ecotourism is providing the public with an observational experience that can be as pleasurable as whale watching, and it can be a cost-effective alternative source of employment for fishermen. This could lead to reduced shark fishing in certain regions of the world and enable shark populations to recover to their former levels of abundance.

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