But bites are exceptionally rare, she said – there are around 70 to 80 unprovoked bites per year and about five deaths worldwide – and sharks usually flee after physical contact with a person.
“A ‘shark attack’ is a story of intent,” said Christopher Pepin-Neff, a public order lecturer at the University of Sydney who has studied human perception of sharks. “But sharks don’t know what humans are. You don’t know when you are in the boat. You don’t know what a propeller is. It’s not an attack. “
In Australia, the Queensland government offers guidelines to “minimize your risk of negative shark encounters”. Western Australia uses “bite” and “incident” and sometimes “shark interaction” in its alert system, usually when there is no bite.
Most unprovoked shark bites are reported from the United States, where language change has started in earnest over the past 10 years. For example, fish and wildlife officials in California have been tracking injuries, deaths and “incidents” in cases where a shark touches people or their surfboard, kayak or other object since about 2017. In Hawaii, officials have used “human-shark encounters” for nearly a decade.
A Hawaiian government website states that “dog bites” are exceptionally referred to as “dog attacks”. Dan Dennison, a spokesman for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said whenever asked why a shark attacks someone, “My answer is always, ‘Until we can interview the shark, we have no idea.'”
One exception to the rebranding trend seems to be Florida, where the Fish and Wildlife Commission has a section on “shark attacks” on their website. A spokeswoman, Carly Jones, said the commission “is not dealing with this issue”.
Whatever the term, shark scientists stressed that sharks are wild animals and should be treated with caution and respect. The risk of a severe bite is exceptionally low – people are more likely to die from a bee sting, sunstroke, or bicycle accident – but shark bites can wreak havoc.