In Florida, shark attacks more likely than gator attacks, but gators more deadly

by | Jul 6, 2016

When an alligator snatched 2-year-old Lane Graves off a beach at a Walt Disney resort last month, the entire nation was horrified, with many wondering what risks Florida’s large alligator population really posed.

““There are millions of people living really in the same places where there are millions of alligators,” University of Florida professor and alligator expert Frank Mazzoti told Newsweek last month. Mazzoti added that “under most circumstances,” alligators are not dangerous.

The trouble is Florida’s natural geography, the many bodies of water and swamp areas, makes it impossible to completely avoid alligators. ” Any body of water of any size in Florida can potentially have alligators in them, and it is impossible even under the best vigilance to keep them out,” explained Mazzoti.

Every year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) receives on average 16,000 complaints about nuisance alligators, resulting in the killing of about 7,000 of them. FWC also issues alligator hunting permits, including an annual alligator hunt, to help control the population.

FWC constantly warns people not to feed alligators: besides being against the law, it’s a major factor in eliminating their natural wariness of humans, and making them more likely to attack a human unprovoked. FWC’s policy is that any alligator that is known to have been fed by humans is to be destroyed.

The good news: being bitten by an alligator is extremely rare. FWC has been keeping records on alligator bites since 1948, and the state averages only seven unprovoked bites each year that are serious enough to require special medical attention. Despite Florida’s substantial population growth in that time, the rate of serious unprovoked alligator bites has been increasing about 3 percent every year, resulting in an additional bite about every 4 to 5 years and a total of nearly 400 unprovoked alligator bites.

All in all, the risk of a Floridian being seriously injured in an unprovoked alligator attack is only about one in 2.4 million.

Shark attacks, while thankfully also rare, are more common than alligator attacks. According to the National Geographic Channel, Florida has had 603 shark attacks since 1959.

National Geographic also reports that most shark attacks in Florida occur in September and between the hours of 2 and 3 pm. New Smyrna Beach is the shark attack capital of the world, according to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a worldwide shark attack database at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Volusia (275 attacks), Brevard (130), and Palm Beach (69) are the top three counties historically for shark attacks.

Shark attacks may be more common than alligator attacks, but alligator attacks are about three times more likely to be deadly.

Lightning strikes are far more likely to kill Floridians than either sharks or alligators. According to ISAF, from 1959 to 2010, only 9 of the 603 shark attacks were fatal, whereas lightning killed 459 Floridians during that same period. Similar story with tornadoes: from 1985 to 2010, there were 125 Floridians killed by tornadoes out of 1,602 reported tornadoes, and only 6 out of 484 shark attacks were fatal.

Floridians are also more likely to die in bicycle accidents. From 1990 to 2009, 2,272 Floridians were killed out of 112,581 reported bike accidents compared to 4 deadly shark attacks out of 435.

Photo credit: oakenroad via Flickr.

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