In this past year marked by the pandemic, one of the surfing meccas such as Australia has been surprised by an unusual increase in unprovoked shark attacks (which were not trying to interact with the sharks) with a fatal outcome; eight people died throughout 2020, A figure that to be surpassed must go back to the year 1929, that is, almost a century ago, when the death toll reached nine, while the average of annual deaths for this reason registered in waters of that country has been in recent decades only one.
The latest fatality was Charles Cernobori, a 59-year-old Australian father of three, a hotel employee, who was surfing on Cable Beach, Western Australia, on November 22. A couple found him, dragged him to the beach and called emergency services, but it was too late. In December, another 29-year-old surfer survived the onslaught of another of these animals, in this case a great white shark, when he practiced this sport in the vicinity of Kangaroo Island, off the Australian coast of Adelaide, but luck was on his part and survived the serious injuries. “It was as if I had been hit by a truck,” he said later. He was sitting on his board when he felt a strong blow and fell into the water: “He bit my back, buttocks and elbow, and tore a piece of the board,” he said. Later, the animal released him and disappeared, and the young man swam back to the beach and managed to walk about 300 meters until he asked for help.
As the attacks took place, the Australian press was looking for reasons to explain the reason for this increase in incidents, in addition to increasing the pressure of public opinion, which calls for more safety on its beaches after citizens have continued to visit them despite the different degrees of confinement experienced by the coronavirus, which may have resulted in a greater number of bathers.
Culum Brown, professor of marine biology at Macquarie University in Sydney, a scholar of shark behavior, says “those eight deaths are certainly out of the norm.” But one fact must be made very clear: statistically there is less chance of dying from a shark attack than from being struck by lightning or in a train or plane crash. In fact, experts point out that the official figures of unprovoked encounters with sharks, that is, with and without death, have remained in 2020 within the usual average, about 20, according to data provided by Professor Phoebe Meagher, responsible from the Australian Shark Attack File: “There may be nothing strange at stake,” he argued. The fact that more incidents have resulted in deaths is probably only attributable to bad luck.
Even so, the year 2021 has surprised again in that country with a new incident, this time much rarer: just a few days ago there was an attack in the Australian city of Perth, which has sharks on its beaches, Although now the animal attacked a man who was swimming in the waters of the Swan River, something that had not happened since 1969. Despite the bite, received in the leg, the man has been able to survive.
Climate change, however, could also be responsible for this increase in attacks, since if the ocean warms, it could push sharks to traditionally colder territories, at the same time that the prevailing heat would lead more people to the beach, allowing a greater number of unwanted encounters, that is, unprovoked.
A pilgrim in Malaga
The Spaniard Paco Pinto is a specialist in sharks at the Aquarium Museum, inside the Aula del Mar in Malaga. He believes that global warming “is affecting all species that live in the sea and, therefore, also sharks. In the case of these, their movements can be extended, their migrations, as well as the geographical distribution where they live, since they can tolerate a greater spectrum of temperatures.
On the other hand, Pinto believes he has the suspicion that the confinement “has brought them closer to the coast. This has happened here in Malaga, where this summer we were lucky enough to be visited by a large basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus). The pilgrim, although it can reach 8 meters in total length, is a harmless species for humans, because it is a filter fish and feeds on plankton. Specifically, this basking shark was very close to the coast and next to the mouth of the port of Malaga, even some bathers jumped into the water to swim alongside this wonderful specimen.
Figures around the world
- Unprovoked attacks:
The official data for 2020 of unprovoked attacks registered around the world are not yet ready or published because, according to the expert Paco Pinto, from the Aula del Mar in Malaga, “some cases are still being investigated to gather information in relation to the species of shark involved in the attack, the victim, the time the incident occurred … ».
There were 64 attacks worldwide, in which 5 people died.
There are 66 registered and, consequently, 4 people died.
The data speak of 88 attacks, with 5 human losses.
81 attacks resulting in 4 deaths.