Cosmopolitan Magazine warns that 2016 will be a big year for shark attacks around the world and global warming is to blame.
In a Cosmo essay shared with Esquire Magazine, Sarah Rense writes that last year saw “a record number of shark attacks” with a total of 98 attacks and six deaths. In comparison, she says, ten years ago there were only 58 attacks. Moreover, experts have predicted that 2016 will be “a big shark attack year,” she writes.
Her foregone conclusion? The cause “is largely climate change.”
Oddly, Ms. Rense does not examine statistics on numbers of swimmers, or on seal migration patterns (which account for killer sharks’ primary food source) or even a year-by-year analysis of shark attacks going back beyond ten years to see whether the trend holds up over time. Instead, she employs the single, unremarkable statistic of 98 incidents of shark attacks in 2015 to insist that global warming must be the culprit.
Rense does, of course, throw in a dollop of pseudo-science, citing a “recent study” according to which warmer oceans are pushing sharks 20 miles further up the coast each decade. This slow northerly push means that sharks are crossing paths with more humans and “reaching New York and New Jersey beaches, where fewer people will be expecting them,” Rense writes.
If Rense’s theory holds and “global warming” is truly to blame, then the extra shark attacks should fall within that 20-mile swath of beach where sharks are allegedly venturing for the first time.
Unfortunately for Rense—and Cosmopolitan—this simply isn’t the case. There was only one shark attack in New York and none in New Jersey since the year 2000. The most serious shark incidents in New Jersey history occurred exactly a century ago, in 1916, when a series of shark attacks between July 1 and 12 left four people dead and one injured.
In 2015, by contrast, the greatest increase in attacks actually occurred in North Carolina and Florida, regular haunts for sharks having nothing to do with climate change.
Of the eight U.S. counties with more than 15 shark attacks since the year 2000, four are in Florida (accounting for a whopping total of 273 attacks), two in Hawaii and the other two in South Carolina.
According to a report from the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the most likely explanation for the greater number of shark attacks has nothing to do with “climate change” at all.
“The number of shark-human interactions occurring in a given year is directly correlated with the amount of time humans spend in the sea,” the Museum’s report states.
Moreover, “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 report says.
The Museum warns against the sort of inferences drawn by Ms. Rense as highly unscientific, noting that “short-term trends in the number of shark bites up or down must be viewed with caution.”
“Such marked yearly fluctuations in shark-human interactions, be they regional or international in scope, are not unusual,” it says.
But there is no reason to let facts get in the way of a good story, especially when the villain of the story is the bogey man of “climate change.”
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