A shark attack is an attack on a human by a shark. Every year around 60 shark attacks are reported worldwide, although death is quite unusual. Despite the relative rarity of shark attacks, the fear of sharks is a common phenomenon, having been fueled by the occasional instances of serial attacks, such as the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, and by horror fiction and films, such as the Jaws series. Many shark experts feel that the danger presented by sharks has been exaggerated, and even the creator of the Jaws phenomenon, the late Peter Benchley, attempted to dispel the myth of sharks being man-eating monsters in the years before his death.
Shark attacks in New Zealand
New Zealand has a relatively high incidence of shark attacks. Record keepers differentiate between provoked and unprovoked attacks: sharks which have been speared or taken on a line will naturally defend themselves by attacking the person on the other end. Since 1852 there have been 44 recorded unprovoked attacks in New Zealand (compared with 39 in the whole of Europe since 1847). A third of New Zealand attacks occurred between Ōamaru and the Otago Peninsula, probably because sharks are attracted by the high numbers of seals, dolphins and pilot whales in that area.
Sharks to avoid
Great white sharks have been responsible for most of the 11 fatal attacks in New Zealand where the shark has been identified. Other species known to have caused fatalities are mako and bronze whalers. More than half of the victims were swimming, a quarter was snorkelling, and the remaining quarter were either surfing or standing in shallow water. However, the chances of being killed by a shark in New Zealand are slight: since 1852 there has been one fatal attack every 13 years. You are far more likely to drown than be mauled by a shark.
After a spate of attacks off Dunedin beaches in the 1960s, patrol boats and planes have been used to warn swimmers and surfers. From 1969, nets were also laid at local beaches; the programme was still in effect in 2004 at St Clair, St Kilda and Brighton beaches. In the early to mid-1970s, about six great whites were netted each year. Since then most of the sharks caught have been harmless. Opinion is divided as to the efficacy of the nets. Gary Barton, who was rammed by a great white shark off St Clair in 1968, said in 2004 that he believed the nets were still useful. However, Mike Barker of the University of Otago Marine Science Department argues that netting is not in keeping with international practices, which aim to conserve sharks. He considers the nets too small to be effective – they merely provide swimmers with the illusion of safety. Even so, popular opinion is in favour of the nets, even at the cost of $28,000 a year.
Because sharks have skeletons made of cartilage, they do not fossilize easily. That's because cartilage is softer than bone and falls apart before fossilizing. However, teeth are harder, and if that is not enough, they are shed throughout a shark's lifetime. Therefore, shark teeth are one of the most common fossils. Sharks existed for at least two hundred million years before the dinosaurs. The earliest shark fossils were scales, so could it be that the earliest sharks were toothless? We are not sure. Early sharks did not look like sharks of today. For example, the upper snout of modern sharks is longer than the lower jaw. But in early sharks, they were the same length. The first modern-looking sharks appeared in the Age of Dinosaurs. Sharks back then were preyed upon by giant sea reptiles. Just a few million years ago, a giant shark called Megalodon swam in the seas. It was 18 meters long, twice as long as the closely-related great white shark and it ate whales! Luckily for us, Megalodon died out 1.6 million years ago