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Man-eating sharks. Why do they attack people?

What in us, people, attracts man-eaters?

Data given by International Shark Attack File (ISAF), Florida, a statistical centre for studying shark attacks on people, suggests that among these marine predators  twelve species get under the category of killer sharks or man-eating sharks. This list is headed by so called "deadliest three": tiger (or leopard) shark, great white shark and grey bull shark. These three species are particularly and extremely dangerous to people and could be called man-eating sharks. But what is the reason for these predators' aggression and what does the statistics of their attack on people say?

There are several characteristics pointing to the man-eating nature of the sharks which pose a threat to people. Their main characteristics are listed below

1. Size

All three species belonging to the "deadliest three" group (great white shark, grey bull shark and tiger or leopard shark) are rather large fish. They can be really big in size and this fact suggests that any resistance to their aggressive actions is useless. For comparison: it is much easier to dodge from a hellbent truck rushing right on you than to resist 23 feet long tiger shark or a 2 tonnes weighed white shark which both can  easily manoeuvre and ply underwater. These predators feel like a real kings and queens of the undersea kingdom due to a combination of huge size and the most strong jaws.

Mention, that smaller sharks species, which also sometimes attack people, usually are  a bit afraid of their potential victim's resistance. And it is because of their large size man-eating sharks usually show aggressive behaviour during the attack and the unwillingness to retreat when a man tries to fight back.


Unlike many other species, man-eating sharks’ teeth aren't designed to hold a victim in its chop. They are designed for tearing off the prey. All representatives of the "deadliest three" group have got teeth by form resembling wide knife blades. With their help man-eating sharks rip the parts of flesh off their victims. Such attack always leads to serious injuries (even in those cases when a predator's attack is successfully repelled), because it isn't a problem at all to any of the three species to make a person lose its limb in a single moment.

The teeth of any shark from the "deadliest three'" group are so sharp that some of the Aboriginals of the Oceania Islands use them as razor blades, while longfinned shark’s teeth or a mako shark’s teeth, as well as whale (basking) shark's teeth can hardly be used as such. So we can easily draw a conclusion that it wouldn't be a problem for the man-eating  sharks to bite man's bones through.

3. Food Ration

Man-eating sharks' food ration can be various. But usually they prefer large sized fatty food because such food gives a shark's big body the maximum calories it needs. Marine inhabitants and small sized animals cannot fully saturate the predator, and are useful only as a snack. Among shark's favourite "dishes" sea lions take a special place as well as fur seals and  louts. These pinniped mammals seem to marine predators resembling man in water.

Many divers think that a wetsuit's colouration can also be the reason for the shark to attack, and therefore recommend to wear dark and unshowy coloured suits. However, the question of underwater safety of a diver wearing a wetsuit of such colours, is rather controversial, as the statistics show that dark and unshowy coloured wetsuits attract sharks' attention the most.

Where man eater sharks can be found?

In the case of pelagic man-eating sharks (for example, such species like the mako shark, the giant hammerhead shark, the longfinned shark or the blue shark) their at sea encounter with man is unlikely. This statement derives from the knowledge of the predators' set of specific habits and habitat area. Normally people can encounter these sharks only in case of a shipwreck or other technical accident at sea. But the marine paths of other man-eating sharks cross with man's seaways and routes rather often. Grey bull shark, great white shark and tiger shark in particular are quite frequent visitors of coastal waters. That's why divers, common people bathing in the sea and surfers have rather big chances to meet them. To a shark man seems to be a dolphin or other pinniped mammal, so the predator's attack in this case is absolutely reasonable as the fish sees man as an easy prey.

But if in the case of a great white shark's attack we can talk of a kind of shark's mistake, who mistook a man for predator's usual food, than in the case of a tiger or leopard shark this can't be said. Tiger shark is often called the 'sea scavenger' because not a one fish of that specie has ever left its victim in peace before it's bitten a piece of flesh just to fill in its insatiable bottomless pit inside.

Grey bull sharks are not the largest between all the species of these marine predators, yet their paths often cross with a man's seaways and paths. That's why the sharks of that specie most often attack people. Grey bull sharks are often found in desalted and fresh waters of coastal aquatic areas, and often they are used to feeding with a human's flesh in particular. A man himself is a culprit of this terrible shark's habit. For example, in India there is a custom to bury their dead in the sacred river of Ganges, where man-eating grey bull sharks are often found. That's why, being used to feed with human's flesh, the predators don't see anything unnatural in attacking swimmers or bathers.

The above mentioned facts are the reasons why people become victims of the man-eating sharks.

Russians can be comforted with the fact that man-eating sharks from the "deadliest three" group are almost never met in the sea waters of Russian Federation. Baltic sea and Black Sea seem too desalted to predators and the waters of the Far Eastern and northern seas are too cold and consequently inhospitable tothem. Besides, inland seas are not attractive to these large predators because the amount of food they can find there is not sufficient for them. However, according to statistics data, the great white shark can still rarely be found in the Sea of ??Japan. Few attacks of these man-eating sharks on divers were registered there.

So, some accidents of shark attacking people still have place in Russian waters. In august of  2011 our nationals were attacked twice: by the great white shark, and the grey bull shark in the Sea of Japan. Both accidents were not lethal, but sharks did injured their victims severely.

In conclusion we'd like you to have a look at statistics of man-eaters’ attacks on people provided by the ISAF centre (Florida).  The Table provides statistical data on all recorded shark attacks on people committed by different shark species, form the time the record started and up to 2010. The table specifies the cases of shark attacks after the wreck, airdisasters and unprovoked shark attacks on people (that happened without man attempting to provoke marine predators' aggressive behaviour).

It is necessary to single out some most important details, which affect ISAF statistics reliability. Rather often a type or specie of a shark that attacked a person may be incorrect, for the happenstance witnesses of the tragedy usually are people who have no relation to zoology and ichthyology. The bigger part of all man-eating sharks attacks on people stay unnoticed by ISAF (International Shark Attack File centre, situated in Florida), cause nobody sends there data on the accidents that happened in less socially and economically developed countries. In this regard, the available statistics should not be considered comprehensive and complete.

But despite the nuances the main trends are very expressive.

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