Animals & Money: Do shark attacks and other exotic deaths go down in a recession?


The number of humans bit by sharks declined in 2008 and the leading shark attack researcher blames the recession. George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, says sharks bit 59 people around the world in 2008, down from 71 the year before.

Sharks bit fewer people not because they evolved in any way or some new shark repellent was deployed, but, Burgess says, because people worried about money took fewer vacations to places where they might find themselves in the water with sharks. I think Burgess is right. His theory should also make us reconsider the various hysterias over other kinds of animal attacks, animal-related car accidents and animal nuisances in human territory. Are the animals causing the change or are we?

Look at all kinds of recreation-related deaths, you see a bit of a slump since 2005. According to the latest figures available from the National Vital Statistics Report , the death rate fell from 826 per 100,000 in 2005 to 810 in 2006. The diseases were pretty constant. It's the accidental deaths that fell slightly. As we did less and risked less, we died less. About 750 fewer people died in car accidents. Only 777 died in the accidental discharge of a gun, down from 789 in 2005. About 100 fewer drowned. (Some kinds of accidental deaths, like falls, were up.) Because vital statistics lag incredibly--for something so vital--we don't have more recent figures. But my guess is they continued to fall. If sailing, yachting and golf had fatalities I'd bet they'd really be down.