The Reasons a Person Is Unlikely to Be Attacked by a Shark in Texas

Probably not going to see this in Galveston anytime soon.
Probably not going to see this in Galveston anytime soon.

In Texas, your chances of being killed in a shark attack are less than being struck by lightning. A person has a higher chance of being bitten by any number of snakes in this state, or getting crushed by a tractor trailer on the drive to the beach.

Although recently a teenage girl was bitten by a small shark in Galveston, unprovoked shark attacks are exceedingly rare in Texas, with the International Shark Attack File recording a mere 38 since 1911. Of those, only two were fatal, the last occurring in 1962. Considering that the last time a person was killed by a shark in Texas waters was before Beatlemania, it makes the chances of a fatal encounter with a shark around these parts look unlikely.

Contrast that to Florida. Volusia County, home to Daytona Beach, which is statistically the area of this country with the highest number of past shark attacks, has 257 recorded since 1882. We're looking pretty good here in the Lone Star State.

The honest truth is that people are a lot more dangerous to sharks than vice versa - something that we hear over and over watching the Discovery Channel's famous "Shark Week", usually during a show exploiting our collective fear of sharks.

Despite the odds being decidedly against a person ending up in the belly of a shark, there are plenty of the maligned creatures swimming in the region's waters. I remember a family camping trip when I was a kid, where we camped on a beach. When I woke up the next morning, there were three large and very dead sharks washed up near our tent. So they're out there, probably swimming close to shore.

But what types of sharks are we most likely to encounter in Texas waters? Let's take a look at a few of the varieties that hang out in the Gulf. 

The tiger shark is one of the potentially dangerous sharks in Texas waters.
The tiger shark is one of the potentially dangerous sharks in Texas waters.

5. The Tiger shark

These guys are out in the Gulf, and are regarded as a species that is potentially dangerous to man. Although attacks are still rare, Tiger Sharks are involved in a lot of the fatal ones on record, second only to the Great White. They like to come in close to shore and also hang out in areas where brackish water enters the ocean, such as near the mouths of rivers. They can get big. With sizes close to 14 feet not uncommon, and some growing to 16 feet in length, they are one of the largest sharks in the ocean. Tiger sharks are apparently indiscriminate eaters, and have been found with everything from human remains to car parts in their stomachs. When young, they often have spots or stripes, which earn them their name, but these usually fade as they get older.

4. Bull Sharks

This is another shark that's common in in Texas waters that also has a bad reputation in regards to attacking humans. Bull sharks are large, thick bodied sharks that get as big as 11 feet in length. They like to hang out near the shore, and can live in fresh water, with a few having been spotted in rivers hundreds of miles inland. They are thought to be especially dangerous to humans because of their ability to navigate in fresh water and because they tend to hunt in the shallow waters that humans enjoy swimming and playing in, more so than some other shark species.

3. Black Tip Shark

These sharks are common in the Gulf, and pose little risk to humans. They tend to be skittish and don't get huge, usually no more than 5-6 feet in maximum length. They feed on smaller fish species, and their biggest danger to humans are an accidental bite if they mistake someone's foot for a fish. They're a favorite among some sport fishermen, and humans are definitely a lot more dangerous to the black tip shark than they are to us.

Hammerheads on patrol
Hammerheads on patrol

2. The Hammerhead

These distinctive looking sharks are also numerous in the Gulf, and in the case of the Great Hammerhead, get huge - 20 feet or so. They have a reputation as potentially aggressive toward humans, but the jury seems to be out on that, as some divers claim they are shy or uninterested in a human presence, while others claim they will come in close to investigate.  

Not something any swimmer wants to see.
Not something any swimmer wants to see.

These are but a few of the many shark species that are swimming around in Texas waters. The Gulf is an active habitat for many sharks, and some of them like to hang out in the same areas that humans do. But visiting the available data again, it's clear that these interactions between humans and sharks are rarely deadly for the person involved. Short of never going into the water, what are some of the things a concerned person can do to avoid being targeted for a shark attack?

Sharks become more active during certain periods, so swimming in the ocean at dawn, dusk, or at night is probably best avoided. Many shark species like to come in close to shore to hunt during those time periods, so a clumsy human floundering around in the water might simply get mistaken for an easy meal.

Wearing anything metallic that might flash in the water and resemble a baitfish is also a bad idea, so leave that ankle charm bracelet at home before diving into the ocean. If there are a lot of baitfish swarming in the water, it's also not advisable to go in for a dip, since the sharks are likely nearby. Swimmers are also cautioned to avoid entering water where sewage is being dumped, as that will attract sharks, but if a person is already willing to swim in sewer water, then maybe sharks are the least of their problems.

It should go without saying that it's a bad idea to hang out in the water if you're bleeding or if there's blood in the water, but I'll say it anyway. Avoid hanging out in the water if you're bleeding or there's blood in the water.

Some people are deathly afraid of sharks, and it's understandable. Being eaten by some other creature is about as primal a fear as there is, and the sharks have had some really effective propaganda that's hurt their image over the years. The movie "Jaws" and its imitators probably set back shark/human relations at least fifty years alone.

But the fact is that people swim in water with sharks all the time, completely unaware that they're sharing space with some large aquatic predators. That attacks, and especially fatal attacks are so rare illustrates that any danger posed to humans by sharks is minimal under most circumstances. People are much more likely to be whisked out to sea and drown in a strong current than they are to end up a tasty screaming treat for some killer shark.

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