THE number of shark attacks has exploded across the globe as swimmers continue to ignore bloodbath warning signs – seeing nearly 800 people mauled in just nine years.
The daunting signs reading “CAUTION!”, “WARNING!” or “SEVERE BLEEDING!” have done little to subdue the spike in attacks that have plagued the shores.
This year alone has seen 49 shark attacks – six being fatal – across the globe, as the underwater predators continue to get closer with humans.
Beating Australia and South Africa to the punch, the US recorded the largest number of shark bites, reporting 33 incidents, while Australia recorded 18.
A whopping 791 shark attacks have been reported between 2010 and 2019, according to data published by the International Shark Attack File, with an annual global average of 80 bites.
It shows a sharp rise in incidents compared to data from 1970 to 1979, when just 157 attacks were reported.
Surfers and water sports lovers seem to be the prime targets, accounting for 61 per cent of victims last year.
Cape Cod in Massachusetts, US, is now considered the shark capital of the world after a worrying rise in the number of sightings, with experts reporting seeing 50 in the area alone this summer.
Great whites have taken a chunk out of five swimmers since 2012 in Cape Cod, including one fatality.
The area is just a few miles north of Martha’s Vineyard, better known to locals as Amity Bay – the island where the Jaws films are set.
It seems life is imitating art, as the species, which can grow up to 18ft long, continue to frequent the waters due to the increased activity amongst the shores.
Experts believe the high density of gray seals – which have repopulated thanks to a US hunting ban – coupled with the busyness brought by beachgoers, creates a perfect storm for a shark’s to strike.
In 2018, over 150 great white sharks were seen swimming in the region, which experts claimed could be due to climate change and the warming of the Cape’s waters sooner than usual could have been another factor.
CAPE COD IS SHARK CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Just two years later, two of the huge sharks were again spotted near swimmers off the coast, just days after a woman was killed by a great white while swimming just yards off of Maine’s Bailey Island.
It seems the predators are now favouring the shores of America’s most popular beaches, which are typically packed out with tourists, prompting an increase in attacks.
Cape Cod, as well as Cape Town in South Africa, are “the only two places in the world where you have a high density of people, seals, and great white sharks” in the waters, shark social scientist Christopher Pepin-Neff told National Geographic.
Scientists have suggested shifting hunting grounds, the weather, an increase in staycations, overfishing and even “chance” may have played a part in the rise, after numbers quietly dwindled last year due to the pandemic.
Despite the evident development of human knowledge and understanding of sharks, warning signs do little to discourage swimmers to take care.
BEACH WARNING SIGNS IGNORED
Beach signs cautioning people of the dangers were found to be largely ineffective in a 2013 research study that looked at four Australian beaches.
Shockingly, 55 per cent of beach visitors did not even notice them. “There’s so much stimuli (at the beach) you might never notice the signs,” Pepin-Neff added.
Authorities found that “people can become complacent” and “careless”, although they are encouraged to assume sharks are always present.
Australia is working to reinvent the fear surrounding shark attacks by instead referring to them as “incidents” or “interactions” – despite there being eight deadly attacks in 2020.
In May this year, an Aussie surfer in New South Wales was tragically mauled to death by a 14ft great white – after he heroically tried to alert others to the danger before he was attacked.
Signs have proved a redundant warning on South African beaches too – as their coloured flag system is disregarded by most swimmers.
The Shark Spotter program shows a red flag when there is a likelihood of sharks in the waters and a white one when a great white has been confirmed to be swimming in the area.
But swimmers, surfers, and paddlers didn’t exit the water until after Shark Spotters flew a white flag, sounded the alarm, and actively cleared the swimming area, a 2017 study found.
People did not exit the water when the red flag was displayed – suggesting to Sarah Waries, CEO of Shark Spotters in Cape Town, that: “We’re providing the information and people aren’t absorbing it.”
The differing systems used by countries around the world also prove problematic for tourists unfamiliar with the procedure.
The shark attack epidemic is feared to be exacerbated as holidaymakers flock to beaches desperate for sunshine after a year indoors due to the pandemic.