The White Death
Before I get started, I must urge you to treat this top 10 with an element of caution, as many shark attacks occur without the species being identified definitively. This is understandable, as in the heat of the moment, victims are rarely troubled by the identity of their attacker. Furthermore, tooth remains are rarely found in wounds, making the interpretation of any wound almost impossible, even for trained professionals and experts.
Even so, the most serious sharks attacks can normally easily be attributed to the so called 'big three', the identity of which, will be revealed later in the article. Each of the 'big three' are commonly found where humans readily enter the water and each one possess teeth that shear flesh rather than hold. Regardless of species though, any encounter with a shark measuring six feet and up should be treated with great caution due to the size of their teeth and force of their bite. Although, I would imagine that both Whale and Basking Sharks have practically no chance of making their way onto this list, being the gentle filter feeders that they are.
So, onto the list...incidentally the numbers quoted below date from 1580 (the year records began) to the present day.
The Bronze Whaler Shark
10. Bronze Whaler Shark
Fatal Attacks: 0
Total Attacks: 15
The Bronze Whaler or Copper Shark is a large species, measuring up to 11 ft long and is found in temperate coastal waters across large swathes of the globe, including the Mediterranean, around Australasia and around South Africa. A fast swimming shark, which often hunts in groups, they tend to target cephalopods, bony fishes and cartilaginous fishes.
Bronze Whaler's normally avoid people, but unprovoked attacks have been reported, and tend to occur when humans stumble into areas where the sharks have been feeding. Amazingly this species has been known to actually harass and attack spear fisherman in an attempt to steal their catches.
Most of the reported attacks have come from Australasia, and on two occasions the Bronze Whaler was implicated in the deaths of two swimmers. The first coming from Te Kaha, New Zealand in 1976 and the next coming Tathra, New South Wales, Australia in 2014. However, the Bronze Whaler belongs to the Requiem Shark family, a branch of the larger shark family that contains species that are notoriously hard to identify, on account of their close similarity to each other. As a result, while eyewitnesses were confident of their identification of the Bronze Whaler, they have yet to be verified by experts.
The Spinner Shark
9. Spinner Shark
Fatal Attacks: 0
Total Attacks: 16
In at number 9, is the Spinner Shark, another member of the Requiem family and like the Bronze Whaler is a coastal shark, found right across the sub-tropical areas of the globe. It is however, slightly smaller than its predecessor, measuring up to 9.8 ft. An agile, fast moving shark, this species is often mistaken for others of its family, especially Blacktip sharks, on account of sharing black tips on each of its fins, although the Spinner is almost as twice as large.
16 unprovoked attacks have been attributed to this species, with no fatalities. Like the Bronze Whaler, these attacks probably came about as a result of humans straying into their feeding territories. They have been known to show curiosity towards human divers, but they normally keep their distance, although like the Bronze Whaler, they have been known to harass spear fishermen.
Most attacks from this species have only resulted in minor wounds, and if anything this species is in far more danger from us than vice versa. The dorsal fin of the Spinner Shark is sadly a favorite ingredient of shark fin soup.
The Great Hammerhead
8. Hammerhead Shark
Fatal Attacks: 0
Total Attacks: 17
Hammerheads are actually a group of sharks, as opposed to a single species. There are 9 species in the group, with the largest being the Great Hammerhead, which measures in at up to 20 ft long. The group as a whole, have a broad global distribution, and can be found in coastal waters almost anywhere, apart from the polar regions. Interestingly, they are the only known omnivorous shark, with reports of Bonnetheads eating seagrass after meals. In some cases, seagrass has been known to make up nearly half of the stomach contents of this species; and according to evidence they are capable of partially digesting it, thus confirming their omnivorous diet. Normally they eat other fish, cephalopods and crustaceans, but they are particularly fond of rays, which they hunt by using their oddly shaped heads to pin down them down and kill.
Since 1580, just 17 non-fatal attacks have been reported, and like many of the world’s sharks are far more likely to end up as food for us than the other way round. Of the 17, just the 1 has been attributed to the largest member of the group, the Great Hammerhead, and on that particular occasion, the individual was provoked.
7. Wobbegong Shark
Fatal Attacks: 0
Total Attacks: 28
The Wobbegong’s are actually a family of Sharks, containing 12 species. They are bottom dwelling creatures and spend much of their time resting on the sea floor. They are typically found in the shallow waters around the Indonesian Archipelago and Australia. Although, one species, the Japanese Wobbegong can be found roaming the cold waters of Japan. Incidentally, the Wobbegong family get their strange name from the beard like growths around their mouth. The word Wobbegong means ’shaggy beard’ in one of the Australian Aborigine languages.
Normally Wobbegong's are not considered dangerous to humans, but they have been known to attack if anyone encroaches or disturb them while feeding. They are extraordinarily flexible and are capable of biting a hand or anything else that has grabbed onto its tail. They only have small teeth, but they are more than strong enough to pierce a wet-suit and if they happen to grab hold, they can be very difficult to remove.
Looks Can Be Deceptive
6. Sand Tiger Shark
Fatal Attacks: 0
Total Attacks: 29
In at number 6 is a species that may look fearsome, but is actually rather placid. The Sand Tiger is a relatively slow moving shark, that inhabits subtropical and temperate waters across the world. They are particularly common on coral reefs and sandy shorelines- hence the name. Speaking of which, this species not closely to the Tiger Shark, and is in fact a close relative of the Great White Shark. This species measures in around 10 ft long and typically feeds on bony fish, crustaceans, skates and occasionally other sharks.
The Sand Tiger's teeth protrude outwards from its jaws, giving it a rather aggressive and fearsome appearance, but they pose almost no threat to humans whatsoever and are in fact docile enough to be a common feature of marine aquariums around the world. Those fearsome looking jaws are actually far too small to cause a human fatality, and the only occasions that attacks have been positively attributed to this species has been the result of humans disturbing them whilst spear fishing.
5. Blacktip Shark
Fatal Attacks: 1
Total Attacks: 29
In at number 5 and the first entry to have been positively identified as the perpetrator of a fatal attack on a human. The Blacktip Shark is another member of the Requiem Shark family and a species that often gets confused for the much larger Spinner Shark. Interestingly, this is a species of shark where the females are capable of reproducing asexually, when males are absent. Similarly, to the Spinner Shark, the Blacktip often leaps clears of the water, spinning around a few times before re-entering the water; the main two reasons why the Blacktip does this is through the momentum caused by corkscrewing rapidly through schools of small fish. It's also possible that Blacktips' engage in this sort of behavior as a way of removing parasites and shark suckers.
Blacktip Sharks often show curious behavior towards divers, but rarely get too close. The only time they are likely to become aggressive is in the presence of food, where they may view humans as competition. Interestingly Blacktip Sharks are responsible for up to 16 per cent of all shark attacks that occur off the coast of Florida, although these tend to result in only minor wounds.
A Huge Family
4. Requiem Shark
Fatal Attacks: 7
Total Attacks: 51
Next is the Requiem Shark family as a whole; several members of which, have already featured on this list. They vary widely in size ranging from the diminutive Australian Sharpnose Shark, measuring in at a little over 2 feet long to the 18 ft monster that is the Tiger Shark. This particular family of sharks are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live, fully developed young.
Requiems’ as a family are often implicated in shark attacks. However, it is worth bearing in mind that identifying individual species is at best problematic, and the numbers quoted here are subject to inaccuracy and thus should be treated with a grain of salt.
3. Bull Shark
Fatal Attacks: 27
Total Attacks: 100
In at number 3, we have our first member of the so called ’big three’ in the shark world. The Bull Shark is another member of the Requiem family and is found in warm, shallow water right across the globe. They are one of the few sharks that can tolerate fresh as well as salt water, and have been reported swimming quite considerable distances up rivers such as the Mississippi. One individual even made it as far inland as Illinois, roughly 700 miles from the ocean.
They are highly territorial, and probably the most aggressive of all the sharks on this list. They simply do not tolerate any kind of provocation and will attack anything that does so. As a result, this species is probably the species that we humans, have to be the most wary of.
Interestingly, this species was the most likely culprit behind the famous Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, which served as the inspiration for Pete Benchley’s novel and subsequent film, Jaws. The evidence is circumstantial, but as the attacks occurred in brackish and fresh water, the Bull Shark was surely responsible. They have been known to swim up the Ganges and attack bathing humans. Likewise, they have also attacked swimmers in and around Sydney Harbor.
A Lucky Escape
2. Tiger Shark
Fatal Attacks: 31
Total Attacks: 111
At number 2 is an iconic species, so named after the tiger like stripes that adorn the side of its body. The Tiger Shark is a large shark, measuring up to 18 ft in length and is an insatiable carnivore, preying on anything from crustaceans to dolphins. It has also gained a reputation as a ’garbage eater’ with numerous inedible man-made being found in its stomach during dissections. Tiger Sharks are apex predators, but amazingly do occasionally fall victim to highly intelligent pods of Killer Whales. They will also wilfully scavenge carrion, in particular of that dead or dying whales. On one occasion, they were even recorded scavenging a dead whale, alongside its slightly larger cousin, the Great White Shark.
In statistical terms, it’s the second most dangerous shark in recorded history, but its bite rate is actually quite low and rarely fatal. Evidence seems to suggest that Hawaii is the Tiger Shark attack hot spot with up to 3 or 4 attacks occurring a year; with most occurring between September and November, when the females travel to Hawaiian waters in order to give birth, thus making them more aggressive than normal. One notable survivor a Tiger Shark attack is surfing champion Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm during an attack in 2003.
1. Great White Shark
Fatal Attacks: 80
Total Attacks: 314
Here we are, the deadliest shark, and perhaps it comes as no surprise that the Great White Shark, sometimes called the White Death comes in at number 1. This monstrous shark can be found in coastal surface waters of all the major oceans. Females are much larger than the males, with the largest individuals reaching up to 20 ft. According to recent studies, Great Whites’ are a long lived species, with individuals typically reaching 70 years of age. They are one of the fastest creatures in the oceans, with speeds of up to 35 mph being noted, and have been sighted at depths of nearly 4000 ft.
This is the species featured in the iconic Jaws movies, in which it is described as a ferocious man-eater, but in reality, humans are far too bony for their liking, with marine mammals such as seals being preferred. Moreover, our high ratio of bone to muscle and fat means that we are unsuitable food for a species with a slow metabolism rate. Great White’s tend to bite and then break contact instantly; the human victim tends to perish through blood loss rather than consumption.
Its often said that Great Whites’ mistake human profiles for seals, but this is not the case. Instead, attacks tend to occur when the shark’s enter murky water, which can severely impair their senses and their judgement.
They also been recorded attacking and even sinking boats, mostly kayaks. They have bitten boats up to 33 ft long and have been recorded knocking people overboard, by attacking boats from the stern. On one occasion in 1936, a Great White leped clean out of the water onto a fishing boat, the Lucky Jim off the South African coast and knocked a crew member into the sea. Studies have shown that Great Whites may be attracted to boats by the electrical fields they generate; the shark interprets these signals as a sign that a wounded prey item may be nearby.
Great White Shark Attack
© 2018 James Kenny
James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on September 20, 2018:
Thank you so much Ann.
Ann Carr from SW England on September 20, 2018:
Another superb article. I must admit any mention of a shark (like off the shore in Australia) makes me shiver. I'm not fond of swimming anyway so I can pretend it's that rather than fear! I love to see such creatures though.
Wonderful photos with all this detail you've provided for us.
James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 06, 2018:
It is actually when you consider that the figures date from 1580 and also when you consider the fact that each year we slaughter millions through fear and food.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 06, 2018:
This was most interesting to read. Given all the people who swim in the ocean, the total number of shark attacks is still small. That being said I would rather do my swimming in pools these days and only do beachcombing if at an ocean. I had never heard of a Wobbegong shark. That is an amazing creature!
James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 04, 2018:
Yes that is true and also for obvious reasons we should avoid entering the water if we have any open wounds. They have much more to fear from us than the other way round.
FlourishAnyway from USA on August 04, 2018:
Great list and details. I’ve read that humans need to avoid wearing jewelry in the ocean or bathing suits with shiny metallic objects on them as these attract sharks. Many times people provoke sharks and have a chimp coming or they unwittingly create conditions ideal for making themselves shark prey. Most of the times sharks are just off doing their shark thing and don’t want to mess with us unless they have to. My daughter and I were active in contacting our Congress people back in 2010 when the Shark Conservation Act was being debated. It was a great civics lesson for her as well as a lesson in compassion — even scary animals with bad reputations culturally have an important place in our natural world.
James Kenny (author) from Birmingham, England on August 04, 2018:
Thank you very much!
Afroditi Chaida on August 04, 2018:
Very nice article and nice photos!