Is It Sharks? I know people who will not go into the water at Santa Cruz or Stinson Beach because of fear of sharks. Yes, there definitely are sharks off the California coast, and we see shark attacks on TV more often than we used to. However, that is not because there are a lot more sharks off the California coast than there used to be. It is because people now go the beach with cellphones and make videos of sharks, so now we can see sharks and shark attacks on TV, whereas in the past we only heard and read about them. But just how common are shark attacks? Fatal shark attacks in the United States are actually rare, averaging less than 1 per year. You are far more likely to be killed by many other animals than sharks. Here are the numbers of deaths by various animals in the U.S. per year.
Sharks. Less than 1 per year. Over 75% of all fatal shark attacks in the U.S. happen in Florida.
Alligators. 1. All in Florida.
Venomous snakes. 6.
Horses. 20. Almost all from falls. I knew a woman here in Berkeley who rode a horse to the edge of a cliff. The horse fell off the cliff, killing them both. That surprised me because the woman worked at a stable and rode horses every day. Many famous people died from falling off a horse, including William the Conqueror, Genghis Khan, Geronimo, and Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman.
Cows. 25. This one surprised me. People don’t think of cows as dangerous animals, but some farm workers and ranchers are gored to death by cows every year, and a kick from a cow can be fatal.
Dogs. 30. About half of all fatal dog attacks involved pit bulls and similar dogs.
Bees, wasps, hornets. 80. Mostly allergic reaction to stings.
Deer. 200. Far more Americans are killed by deer than any other animal, making deer the most dangerous animal in the U.S. Who would have guessed?! Deer commonly leap into traffic on highways, and when they see oncoming traffic, they tend to freeze in the middle of the road and just stare at the oncoming cars, a.k.a. ‘deer in the highlights.’ I almost hit a deer last week in the Oakland hills, which is what prompted me to write this. The deer keep running slightly ahead of my car, running onto and off the road. I nearly ran into the deer several times. When I slowed down, so did the deer. It was very frustrating. This went on for almost half a mile.
Sharks. Galeophobia (fear of sharks) seems to be built-in to our DNA. Donald Trump frequently tweets about his hatred of sharks, and he is not alone. Sharks have very few friends. However, fatal shark attacks are quite rare compared to other risks you face on a trip to the beach. So Yes, it is possible that you could be killed by a shark at Santa Cruz; but it is far more likely that you will be killed by a deer running across Highway 17 on your way home.
Mosquitoes. On a worldwide basis, mosquitoes are, by far, the deadliest animals on Earth. Almost 1 million people die every year from diseases they get from mosquitoes, mainly malaria and yellow fever. At the time of the American Civil War, malaria was one of the 5 leading causes of death in Louisiana and Florida. Scientists only figured out that malaria was caused by mosquito bites in the late 19th Century. Before that, people thought that malaria was caused by breathing hot, swampy air; hence the name ‘malaria’, from the Italian ‘mal aria‘, meaning bad air.