The 3 Worst Shark Attacks in History (One Was in the Open Ocean)

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: January 23, 2023
© Tomas Kotouc/Shutterstock.com
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Sharks are a boneless species that most times live out in the oceans. They are, in fact, carnivores that prey on sea lions, invertebrates, small fishes, and seals. Unfortunately, about 50 to 100 shark attacks are recorded each year. One would think that the number of shark attacks worldwide would reduce due to the awareness of shark attacks – but it hasn’t. The increasing number of humans visiting beaches for recreational activity and water-based sports has increased the number of shark attacks worldwide. Some attacks are minor without any fatal injuries to the individuals involved, while some are gory enough to cause death. What are the worst shark attacks in human history? Let’s find out together.

Worst Shark Attacks in History

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Although shark attacks do happen, scientists believe that sharks often mistake humans for seals.

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Although most shark attacks are infrequent, they tend to draw excessive attention from the media and general public. Shark attacks are hazardous, but they don’t lead to as many fatalities as publicized. In no particular order, we would describe what seem to be the three most fatal shark attacks in the world. 

1. The 3000-year-old Victim of Shark Attack

Recently, scientists discovered buried human remains of shark attack fossils. This 3000-year-old skeleton named number 24 was marked with gashed and puncture wounds. These wounds were suspected to be a result of shark attacks. Number 24 had about 790 recorded injuries on the remains of his bones. The bones had deep incised cuts, punctures, gouges, and fractures. The positions of the wounds and how scattered they were depicted that the victim was alive at the time of the attack. 

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There were many theories about what might have caused the attack; it couldn’t have been metal weapons because there were so many lesions. They also tried all terrestrial carnivores before finally looking at marine life. The injuries and incisions on the bones of this individual were similar to that caused by a tiger shark. Also, after some research, experts from the University of Oxford found a photo of the original burial. There were bite marks on the wrists and hips of number 24. His right arm and left hand were missing, but his left leg was buried on top of him.

The concentration of attacks from his lower body showed that the attack came from below. The injuries from his hands showed that he was trying to defend himself, which might also be how he lost some of his limbs.  From number 24’s remains, it was evident that he must have suffered severe trauma during his last moments.

2. The USS Indianapolis 

The USS Indianapolis is the deadliest shark attack in history. During the second world war, the USS Indianapolis was sent on a top-secret mission to deliver a bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. The mission was successful, and they were heading back when they were attacked by the Japanese submarines on July 30, 1945. Of the 1,195 people on the boat, 300 sank with the ship during the attack. 

This was just the beginning of their misery as the survivors lived on the sea without food, drinkable water, or life jackets. They were also exposed to sharks. Some survivors died from saltwater poisoning, drowning, dehydration, and other illnesses. The surge of human activity in the water attracted the sharks. The sharks first started there, preying on the dead troopers.

On the third day, a seaplane spotted the troopers, landed the plane, and brought some of them onboard while attracting other ships to the scene to rescue the remaining soldiers. It is unclear how many died due to the shark attacks. By the time of the rescue, only 320 of the 800+ sailors that survived the submarines were alive. The estimate is that over 150 people died due to shark attacks. 

3. The Jersey Shark Attacks Of 1916

This was a series of shark attacks that happened around the coastal shore of New Jersey between the 1st and 12th of July 1916. There were four fatalities and one injured victim. At the time, a heat wave and polio epidemic in the United States drove most city members to the waterside. The increasing population of humans on the waterside alerted the sharks to the shore of the waterside and subsequently led to what is now known as the Jersey shark attacks of 1916.

The first attack occurred on the 1st of July, with the victim being a 28-year-old Charles Vansant visiting New Jersey on vacation. Charles decided to take a quick swim before dinner. Unfortunately, he didn’t know that decision was going to cost him his life. The shark attacked Vansant’s legs; he was rescued alive but bled to death at the resort’s hotel. On the 6th of July, a swiss bellman, captain Charles Bruder, was the next victim. Bruder swam 130 yards from shore when he was attacked in the abdomen and legs. Bruder was rescued, but he bled to death before they got to the beach. 

The following two attacks happened at Matawan creek on the 12th of July. Some boys playing at the stream noticed something that seemed to be a board or log which turned out to be a shark’s dorsal fin. They tried to get out of the water but the shark pulled 11-year-old Stilwell underwater. The other boys went to get help, and a couple of men came and dived into the water to find Stilwell, believing he must have had a seizure. 

Fisher Watson found Stilwell’s body, and in an attempt to take it offshore, he was also bitten in the thigh by the shark. He was rushed to the hospital, where he bled to death. Stilwell’s body was recovered on the 14th of July 1916 same day as the final attack. This attack was on Joseph Dunn, a 14-year-old who had his leg bitten by a shark. Dunn was rescued by his brother and a friend after a battle with the shark. Joseph Dunn was hospitalized and recovered a few months later.

The Jersey shark attacks of 1916 led to a shark hunt and a newfound fear of sharks as monsters.  Towns closed their public beaches with nets to protect swimmers. These attacks launched new research and assessments on sharks.

What Species Of Sharks Are Responsible for Most Human Attacks?

The great white shark was claimed to be responsible for the shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916.

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There are many theories surrounding what type of sharks attack humans and an extensive range of sharks are suspected of having caused the three worst shark attacks. Two sharks confirmed to have attacked the crew in the USS Indianapolis are the oceanic white tip shark and the tiger shark. These two sharks are very deadly and aggressive with their prey. The tiger shark was also suspected to be responsible for the 3000-year-old fossil shark attack. After research and theories, the great white shark was claimed to be responsible for the shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916. 


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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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