Historical Events  Science
Great White Shark

MMDE: thousands

Current: 11

How many humans had been recorded as killed by a Great White Shark prior to JAWS in 1975?

They've been around for 400 million years, and evolved into the perfect killing machine so long ago they haven't changed since - but it was only in 1975 that the world came to really fear the great white shark when the movie JAWS came out. 

The popular idea at the time was that, over human history, thousands or even tens of thousands of humans had been killed by them. Many are surprised to find that the figure, for documented deaths of humans due to the great white shark up to then, was only 11.

Stories of sailors being attacked by sharks in wartime torpedoed battleships are plenty, but these don't involve the great white shark.

Wikipedia has the details

The deaths are listed on Wikipedia.

This report shows the deaths by all sharks, and here we're only looking at the Great White, as seen in JAWS. The figure is probably only 10, because one of them, Michelle von Emster, might have actually been murdered and things set up to make it appear the shark was the culprit.

Attacks are rare

There are reports of attacks, but we're talking of fatal ones here. There's even a documented case of a double attack on a surfer, and even with that he got away with minor injuries, to both himself and his board.

In September 2020 another surfer was killed in Australia after his leg was bitten off. He was dragged alive to the beach by rescuers, but died later as a result of these injuries. Since we're talking about the hysteria JAWS brought to the world in 1975 only, this and other similar tragic cases after then aren't being counted.

It turns out humans aren't even a good meal for the great whites because of their preference to blubber, such as on whales and seals. This actually explains why so many humans survive - the shark literally takes a bite first to "test" the flesh, and most likely finds the human isn't to it's liking so calls off the attack in search of something more suitable.


Carolus Linnaeus documented wildlife in his 1758 "Systema Naturae.". He noted in the entry for the great white shark that it was possible Jonah from the Bible story could have been swallowed by one instead of the usual assumption of it being a whale. He notes the Bible entry merely states "great fish".