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The Shark-Watcher's Handbook:
A Guide to Sharks and Where to See Them
Mark Carwardine & Ken Watterson

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Facts about Shark Attacks

Some facts

  1. All reported attacks (worldwide) are logged in the International Shark Attack File (compiled at Florida Museum of Natural History), which was established in 1958.
  2. By the end of 2000, there were records of 2,075 unprovoked attacks, of which 544 (26%) have proved fatal.
  3. Each year, on average, there are between 70 and 100 attacks recorded worldwide, of which between 5 and 15 are fatal.
  4. Three species--tiger, great white, and bull--are responsible for the majority of attacks.

How to avoid becoming 'plat du jour'

  1. Don't swim at dawn or dusk, the favorite feeding time for most sharks.
  2. Swimming with dolphins in the open sea may be fun, but you run the risk of being mistaken for dinner.
  3. Surf at your peril--sharks often confuse boards for seals or sea lions, and your feet dangling over the edge are even more of an enticement.
  4. Avoid Florida (did you really need an excuse?--sorry, Floridians). Almost 40% of recorded shark attacks have occurred in Florida's waters. The combination of 1,277 miles of coast, dangerous sharks, and millions of bathers leads to the inevitable . . .

Of some comfort . . .

  1. Sharks don't generally like the way we taste (our fat content is too low--except, perhaps, in Florida?).
  2. There is a far greater chance of winning a national lottery than of being attacked by a shark.
  3. According to figures published by the New York City Health Department, for every person around the world bitten by a shark 25 people are bitten by New Yorkers.
  4. A study on one Australian beach, which teems with sharks, revealed that only one in 30 million bathers suffers an attack.
  5. A great many more people are injured or killed on land while driving to and from the beach than by sharks in the water.
  6. Many more people die in skiing accidents in the Alps every year than are attacked by sharks worldwide.
  7. More than six times as many people are struck by lightning every year in Florida (which, as noted above, is one of

What Makes Sharks Interesting


  1. Sharks have been swimming in our oceans and seas for over 400 million years.
  2. Megalodon, an ancient species which died out 20 million years ago, reached 50 feet in length, weighed more than 50 tons, had a mouth gape of 6 1/2 feet, and 7-inch teeth.

Physiology and senses

  1. A shark's skin is covered in tiny 'placoid' scales, each with a dermal denticle, or 'tooth', on top. Normally, these face backward, helping to improve hydrodynamic efficiency by breaking up the interface between skin and water, and therefore reducing turbulence when the shark is swimming. Engineers are currently trying to replicate these scales to reduce turbulence in aircraft, submarines, and racing yachts.
  2. Sharks continually shed and replace teeth. Lemon sharks have been known to produce no fewer than 40,000 teeth in a 50-year life span.
  3. Many sharks have 'mobile' jaws, with the ability to semi-dislocate, shoot forward and help deliver the full arsenal of razor-sharp teeth. A great white can cut a 22-pound chunk of blubber from a whale carcass in a single bite.
  4. Sharks can regurgitate indigestible matter by turning the stomach inside out (it literally emerges from the mouth like an inverted balloon).
  5. Sharks can detect just a few drops of blood or other body fluid in a huge volume of water (the amount contained in an average-size swimming pool), and from hundreds of yards, or even miles, away.
  6. Electrical sensors on the snout and lower jaw are sensitive enough to detect prey buried in the seabed.

Perfect predators--an attack sequence

  1. The shark detects a noise some way off and, ever inquisitive, chooses to investigate.
  2. Olfactory senses kick in as the shark picks up the scent trail--blood or other fluids.
  3. With excellent eyesight, the shark makes visual contact well before the prey can react.
  4. To gather more tactile information the shark 'bumps' the prey.
  5. The shark determines the prey is edible and moves in to attack.
  6. It switches on its 'sixth sense', using weak electrical impulses emanating from the prey to guide its jaws to the target.
  7. If the exploratory bite is satisfactory, the shark will return--again and again--until satiated.

The Achilles fin

  1. Manipulating a shark onto its back forces it into 'tonic immobility', a kind of torpor in which it will remain for a minute or more, before reviving and swimming away.

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File created: 11/26/01

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