Tourist Dies in Rare Shark Attack

The incident is only the fifth confirmed, unprovoked shark attack in Costa Rica in the last 400 years.

By Michael Greshko
Published 5 Dec 2017, 08:59 GMT
Tiger sharks prowl the waters of the northern Bahamas.
Tiger sharks prowl the waters of the northern Bahamas.
Photograph by Brian Skerry, National Geographic Creative

A tourist recently died off the coast of Costa Rica in a tragic shark attack—a deadly incident that is extremely rare.

The Costa Rican newspaper La Nación reports that the 49-year-old American woman was attacked by a tiger shark while diving off Cocos Island, a forested volcanic island and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Her 26-year-old guide also reportedly suffered injuries.

Tiger sharks had been absent from the island's waters for some 30 years but returned in 2012, La Nación reported at the time. (Find out more about tiger sharks.)

While the tragic incident may evoke Jaws to some, sharks don't target humans and generally avoid them—and unprovoked attacks are extraordinarily uncommon. If unprovoked, the recent attack would be only the fifth confirmed in Costa Rica since 1580, according to the International Shark Attack File, a database maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

"Sharks are not a threat, and it's essential to change our attitudes and image of sharks as symbols of terror," a group of Costa Rican biologists said in a statement after the recent attack.

Elsewhere, the story is the same. The chances of you getting injured or killed by a shark are vanishingly small. Lightning is 75 times more likely to kill you than sharks, and the ocean's water is 132 times more likely to kill you (by drowning) than the sharks within it.

What's more, any potential uptick in shark attacks largely stems from human behaviour. "As world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks and other aquatic recreation-related injuries," the International Shark Attack File said in its review of 2016 shark attacks.

If anything, sharks have greater reason to fear humans. In 2013, researchers estimated that 100 million sharks are killed every year around the world—an annual death toll of 6.4 to 7.9 percent, which biologists estimate is unsustainable.

“There’s a staggering number of sharks being caught every year and the number is way too high considering the biology of the species,” said Dalhousie biologist Boris Worm, the study’s lead researcher, at the time.


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