U.S. Coast: Comparison of shark attacks vs. number of lightning fatalities

Over the last few years, there have been shark attacks off a California state-run beach near where we live.  The most recent attack involved a 27-year-old surfer, in October of last year. Thankfully, the attacks were not fatal.

Of course if you stay out of the water, your shark attack chances are zero.  But for those who love spending time and activities in the ocean, and have a  fear of sharks, this post lists statistics and information that should allay your shark attack fears.

Shark photo from U.S. – NOAA website

Background, from the Ichthyology Department, Florida Museum of Natural History:

Of the over 375 different species of sharks found in the world’s oceans, only about 30 have been reported to ever attack a human. Of these, only about a dozen should be considered particularly dangerous when encountered. The shark species responsible for most unprovoked attacks on humans are the white (Carcharodon carcharias), tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier), and bull (Carcharhinus leucas). All sharks, large and small, are however predators and could be capable of inflicting wounds if provoked. They should all be treated with respect when encountered.

The chances of being attacked by a shark are very small compared to other animal attacks, natural disasters, and ocean-side dangers. Many more people drown in the ocean every year than are bitten by sharks. The few attacks that occur every year are an excellent indication that sharks do not feed on humans and that most attacks are simply due to mistaken identity. For more information on the relative risk of shark attacks to humans…click here (shark attack FAQ).

And in case you have not yet heard — at least here in the U.S. — you are more likely to get hit and killed by lightning, than attacked and killed by a shark.

In the last 50 years, there were 1,970 lightning fatalities, compared to 26 shark attack fatalities (out of 974 known shark attacks). I hope that makes you less afraid of being attacked by a shark while playing in the ocean.  After all, that is over 50 years of data!

Details are listed on the table below.

NOTES: California, Florida and Hawaii have the longest saltwater shorelines — and California and Florida are among the most populous states in the U.S.— so it makes sense that there are more attacks (and fatalities) for these states.

Florida’s coastline is 1,350 miles (2,170 km), California is 840 miles (1,350 km), Hawaii is at 750 miles (1210 km), based on large-scale nautical charts.

Coastal United States: 1959-2010

State Period Number of
Number of
Number of
Shark Attack
Alabama 1959-2010 109 5 0
California 1959-2010 30 89 7
Connecticut 1959-2010 17 1 0
Delaware 1959-2010 15 3 0
Florida 1959-2010 459 603 9
Georgia 1959-2010 111 10 0
Hawaii 1959-2010 0 97 6
Louisiana 1959-2010 139 1 0
Maine 1959-2010 27 1 0
Maryland 1959-2010 126 0 0
Massachusetts 1959-2010 30 2 0
Mississippi 1959-2010 104 1 0
New Hampshire 1959-2010 8 0 0
New Jersey 1959-2010 68 8 0
New York 1959-2010 139 3 0
North Carolina 1959-2010 193 39 1
Oregon 1959-2010 8 22 1
Rhode Island 1959-2010 5 0 0
South Carolina 1959-2010 98 51 0
Texas 1959-2010 213 32 1
Virginia 1959-2010 66 5 1
Washington 1959-2010 5 1 0

TOTALS 1,970 974 26
Number per Year (average) 37.9 18.7 0.5
 Table Source: Ichthyology Department – Florida Museum of Natural History
Source of lightning data:Lightning Fatalities, Injuries and Damage Reports in the United States from 1959-1994, NOAA. The lightning fatality data was collected by NOAA and originates from the monthly and annual summaries compiled by the National Weather Service and published in monthly issues of Storm Data. The 1995 through 2010 data was tabulated with data from Storm Data.Source of shark attack data: International Shark Attack File, 10 February 2011.

Related Links:

See list of U.S. states by coastlines, here.

Visit the Shark Attack FAQ page, Florida Museum of Natural History

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Shark Facts: Do sharks eat people?

So did it work?  I know I am less afraid of sharks and shark attacks, now that I have some facts. How about you?