The presence of sharks in Maine may be on the rise, but the likelihood that a great white is going to attack you is extremely low.
Though officials have advised swimmers on ways to cut down on attracting shark’s attention in Maine’s waters, the chances of dying in the U.S. because you’ve been bitten by a shark are one in 4,332,817, according to the International Shark Attack File, a database from the University of Florida that tracks shark bites worldwide.
To put that in perspective, you’re more likely to die from being struck by lightning — a one in 79,746 chance — or in a car accident, which is one in 84.
“It’s outrageously low,” said James Sulikowski, a shark researcher and leader at the Sulikowski Shark and Fish Conservation Lab at Arizona State University. “You have more of a chance of being hit in the head with an icicle and dying than being bit by a shark.”
Bike accidents, heat exposure, air/space accidents, accidental poisoning, drowning, excessive cold, train crashes, fireworks, the flu, heart disease, cancer, strokes, falls and hospital infections are all more likely to kill you, statistically speaking, than a great white shark.
“There are a lot more human beings that bite human beings than sharks that bite human beings,” Sulikowski said.
While the chances are slim, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In 2021, the shark attack file investigated 137 alleged shark attacks worldwide. Of those 73 were unprovoked incidents, which is in line with the five-year average of incidents.
The death of a woman off Harpswell in 2020 was the first fatal shark attack documented in Maine history. Before that, sharks were not unheard of in the Pine Tree State but generally considered uncommon. Since then reports of sharks have increased, and beach closures have become more common.
Farther south in New England, shark populations have exploded off Cape Cod. The peninsula in Massachusetts has become the epicenter for shark activity in the region and last had a fatal shark attack in 2018.
The U.S. was the most likely place to get bit by a shark, with 47 unprovoked bites in 2021. One was fatal. Australia ranked at number two with 12 unprovoked bites.
That is consistent with long-term trends, though 42 percent higher than 2020. That fluctuation is believed to be attributable to pandemic lockdowns.
In the U.S., Florida by far had the most unprovoked bites. The Sunshine State has topped the global charts for decades and sharks bit 28 people there in 2021. Hawaii ranked number two, with six bites.
The total number of unprovoked shark bites worldwide is extremely low, especially given the number of people who participate in aquatic activities, the shark file wrote on its website.
Even though the risk is low, experts say it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, and avoid areas where there are seals and schooling fish.
Like with any recreational activity, Silukowski said people need to understand that there is going to be some risk. Joggers can get shin splints, campers can get ticks, and going to the beach can result in coming into contact with creatures of the sea.