It’s summer vacation time for my family and me, so as my wife Janet frets about sun screen, reservations for dinner, and how we’ll keep the kids entertained and still manage some alone time for ourselves my mind of course wonders to the big question of: What do I have the greatest chance of being bitten, eaten or killed by while I’m off enjoying a few days of relaxation?
I mean “Hey” aren’t you afraid of sharks? We went to Hawaii and Myrtle Beach last summer and let me tell you that you should be, what with their insatiable appetite and 15 rows of serrated teeth and the way they lurk in that murky area just offshore where you can't see the bottom and you can't move quickly and, oh God, did something just brush up against my leg?
Whenever there's a shark attack in the news -- or two of them, for that matter as happened not far from where I grew up in Myrtle Beach SC-- somebody inevitably tries to console us with big numbers. "Well, heart disease kills 611,000 people a year," they tell us. "Stop fretting about sharks and maybe worry about your potato chip habit instead."
Fair enough. But this is the wrong comparison to make. If we want to properly contextualize shark attacks, we need to compare sharks to their peers -- bears and gators and the myriad other fanged barbed and venomous creatures that could sting us or bite us or otherwise ruin our day.
To that end, I gathered the statistics on animal-caused fatalities in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013. Most of these come from the CDC's Wonder database, which contains horrifically detailed causes of death like "other specified venomous arthropods." On average, here's how many Americans were killed by various animals each year over that period: