'What on Earth Is Going On' With Australia's Shark Attacks?

The year's 8 fatalities thus far is most since 1929
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 25, 2020 8:49 AM CST
Why Are Australia's Waters Deadlier This Year?
This aerial photo shows Cable Beach and the town of Broome, Western Australia, on June 24, 2014. A 55-year-old man died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020 after being attacked by a shark off Cable Beach, a popular tourist spot on Australia’s Indian Ocean coast, the eighth fatality in the country this year.   (Kim Christian/AAP Image via AP)

"What on earth is going on?" That's the question shark experts have been asking about Australia, which on Sunday suffered its 8th fatal shark attack. The only deadlier year on record was 1929 and its nine shark-related deaths. And most years don't come close, with the annual average over the last several decades sitting at one; last year saw zero. And zero is close to the number of answers experts have, reports the New York Times, though there are theories. The head of the attack-tracking Australian Shark Attack File says that this year has seen 20 unprovoked encounters thus far, a typical number. (The BBC points out there was a spike in 2015, when there were 32 attacks, just two of them fatal.) "There may be nothing crazy at play here," explains Phoebe Meagher. "The fact that incidents result in fatalities—it’s probably just really bad luck."

Other theories beyond bad luck: That warming oceans are pushing sharks into areas they didn't previously occupy; that they're following a surging population of humpback whales north from Antarctica; or that Australians looking for something to do during the pandemic have created increased crowds at beaches. As for Sunday's attack, WAToday reports the victim was Charles Cernobori, a 59-year-old father of three who had been bodyboarding about 100 feet from shore in shallow water at Cable Beach when he was bitten on the arm and thigh. Authorities believe the shark in question was a tiger shark. The shark continued to swim in Cable Beach's shallow water, at which point police got the OK from fisheries officers to shoot at the shark. About two dozen bullets were fired, and it's believed the shark was hit. It then left the area. (More shark attack stories.)

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