June 14, 2021

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Shark Attacks Hit Record Low, Thanks to Coronavirus

Kids react to a leopard shark in Venice Beach, California, on the first day of the Memorial Day holiday weekend on May 23, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. Fewer people on U.S. beaches this year has meant fewer shark attacks.

(APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

  • The number of bites so far in 2020 ties a record set in 2005.
  • ‘Something extra’ is going on this year.
  • Peak shark bite season is July.

Fewer people have been bitten by sharks this year, and the coronavirus pandemic is probably why.

Eighteen unprovoked shark attacks were confirmed worldwide between Jan. 1 and June 18, down from 24 bites during the same time period a year before and 28 in 2018, according to a report from the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File. The number ties a record low set in 2005.

Experts have noted a decline in shark attacks in recent years, but the first half of 2020 stands out for the significant drop in numbers. That could be because there were fewer people on the beaches during late winter and spring this year.

“It’s a significant decrease compared to the last five years, the last decade and even the past two decades. We normally don’t do a mid-year report but there were, frankly, just less and the obvious answer is coronavirus but there could be other factors,” Tyler Bowling, manager of the ISAF, told the Palm Beach Post.

“It just seemed like something extra was happening this year.”

(MORE: Coronavirus Updates: More Cities Require Face Coverings as Infections Spike)

Florida usually has the highest number of shark bites each year, and had recorded eight by this time last year. So far in 2020, there’s been two. Other bites in the U.S. were reported in Hawaii, California, Delaware and North Carolina.

“The East Coast has been pretty quiet, and that’s where we pick up blacktips and the occasional bull shark,” Bowling said in the ISAF report.

Much of the nation’s beaches, including some in Florida, were closed during all or parts of March, April and May. Many of those that remained open restricted use to only certain activities and saw fewer visitors as tourism slowed to a trickle.

A surfer in Santa Cruz, California, was killed by what is believed to have been a great white shark on May 9. Beaches there were closed at the time. The ISAF’s list of recommendations to avoid a shark bite includes swimming in groups rather than alone.

Residents and visitors alike have flocked back to beaches as they reopen. The next logical step? An uptick in shark bites, especially as we near peak season in July.

On Thursday, a shark chomped down on the leg of a 16-year-old boy in the ocean at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, leaving behind 40 bite marks. That same day, a person who was bitten by a shark in the Bahamas was flown to Florida for treatment.

For the latest coronavirus information in your county and a full list of important resources to help you make the smartest decisions regarding the disease, check out our dedicated COVID-19 page.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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