Shark attacks: How likely are they?

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NEW JERSEY — A 12-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy each lost an arm on Oak Island, North Carolina Sunday.

Reports say two shark attacks occurred less than 90 minutes and 2 miles apart. 911 calls from witnesses provide clues into how gruesome the injuries were: “Are any of the fingers completely amputated?” a 911 operator asked a female caller, the caller replied: “It looks like her entire hand is gone.”

Witnesses reportedly said the attack was like a scene out of Jaws. But at the Jersey shore today, sharks were a fear that were out of sight and out of mind.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t think about it,” said a swimmer in Sea Bright. He had seen the news about the North Carolina teens this morning, but was not phased.

“Actually, I never feel anything here. I feel more safer,” said another swimmer, who just got out of water with his 3-year-old daughter.

Swimmers in New Jersey and New York are right not to be overly concerned. Shark attacks are rare anywhere, particularly in the northeast.

Last year, there were 72 shark attacks worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack File. The file is recognized as the oldest shark attack database in the world, it's first attack recorded was in 1642.

The data does have it's limits. Not all attacks are reported and reported locations are approximate.

The ISAF shows that the majority of attacks in the United States happen in Florida, California and the Carolinas. The last attack recorded in our region was in Bay Head, New Jersey, in 2013. The victim, a body boarder, survived.

When it comes getting attacked by a shark, researchers say you have a better chance at winning the lottery.

“Many shark bites are probably accidents,” said David Grant, Deputy Director of The Shark Research Institute. Grant says that bites typically occur when people swim at dusk, in murky water, where the shark can't see so well. Swimming near fishing piers, which was the case in at least one of the North Carolina attacks, is also a draw for sharks. They’re attracted to the lures, the action and the fish.

“It’s not really something that is usual”, said Raid Amin, a statistician working to calculate shark attack rates for beaches across the country, “We are comparing apples to apples. Coastline to coastline.”

Amin’s research has included the coasts of California, Florida and the Carolinas. He says that when these latest attacks occurred, he was not surprised. Also not surprising, Amin says beaches with the highest swimming population and the highest shark population often have the highest likelihood for bites.

Amin plans to produce shark attack rates for other states, but so far his research has not reached New York and New Jersey. For now, you can rest easy knowing that in the past 65 years, according to the ISAF, there have been only 20 shark attacks in our area.