18 February 2015

Lottery winner or shark bait! Find out now!

Are you more likely to win the lottery or be eaten by a shark?

Are you more likely to win the lottery or be eaten by a shark?
What are the odds of winning the lottery?

While most lottery players realise that the odds of winning the lottery are long (otherwise we’d all be millionaires!) it's notoriously difficult for us to quantify or visualise just what the chances are of hitting the jackpot really are. As a result, there’s all sorts of trivia which has developed around different types of freak occurrences which are more likely to happen to us than winning the lottery grand prize. But is there any truth to these claims or are they just fabricated facts and figures? In this series of articles, What are the Odds, I'm going to take a peek at some of these claims and see how the numbers actually add up. So, without further ado let's get our feet wet with this old chestnut.

What are the Odds? #1: You are MORE likely to be eaten by a shark than win the lottery!

Our fear of sharks goes back a long way - sharks have hunted the oceans and seas far longer than we've been swimming or floating boats in them. In fact, sharks have been around for at least 420 million years, making these salty death merchants about twice as old as the oldest dinosaurs! Selachophobia, or the fear of sharks, is a well-documented fear. In fact, one of the reasons we love clear blue waters so much may be due to the fact that its gives us better visibility about what is swimming underneath us! Steven Spielberg played on this common fear to great effect in the blockbuster Jaws which left thousands of movie goers scared to go into the water after it's release in 1975.

In actual fact, you have a much better chance, over 32x more, of winning the lottery than you have of becoming a feast for a fish.

According to an American Survey conducted in 2000 your chance of being killed by a shark are roughly 1 in 264 million. Your best chances of winning a Lotto jackpot at Lottoland are 1 in 8,145,060.

The International Shark Attack File states there were 72 unprovoked shark attacks in 2014, of which only 3 were fatal, one in South Africa and two in Australia. This is well below the decade average of 5.9. 

In fact, if you're planning a holiday on the beach this summer you might have a lot more to worry about than sharks!

  • Jellyfish stings kill about 40 people per year, over 13x as many deaths as sharks in 2014.
  • Stonefish kill about 110 people per year, about 8x more likely to kill beach goers who are not careful where they step.
  • The main cause of marine-related death in Ireland is drowning, with 91 deaths reported in 2013.
  • Over the past 30 years about 294 people are reported to have died in Ireland due to extreme heatwaves

Indeed, you do not even need to go to the seaside to statistically be in more danger than you are of being eaten by a shark - in 2000, 341 Americans died slipping in the bath tub!

Blood in the water

Sharks have been in the headlines a lot this year due to the renewal of the Western Australian Shark Cull following a string of deadly attacks over the past few years off the sunny beaches of Oz. Oddly enough, there is some evidence that the increase in attacks could be partly due to the banning of whale hunting in 1979. Over the past 35 years whale populations have been replenishing and sharks follow in the wake of these great behemoths on their migration off the western Australian coastline. In fact, some scientists believe that the effects of a large feast, such as off a whale carcass, may be an important factor in inducing mating. Until recently, there was about 1 fatal shark attack in Australia each year. However after two men were killed by sharks in one week in 2013 and 7 fatalities over the past 3 years, the Western Australian government announced that it would begin hunting sharks to protect public safety.

Supporters of the cull, including Western Australian premier Colin Barnett, say that the hunt is justified to prevent further brutal attacks and loss of life, particularly as alternative preventative methods such as shark nets and helicopter patrols have not stopped incidents from occurring. Australian Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt stated that trapping and killing sharks was in the "national interest" of Australians.

Shark science

In general, the scientific community has been outspoken against the cull. Similar culls off Hawaii in the 1960's were not found to be effective. In fact Australian shark attacks have fallen to their lowest levels in a decade. There is also great concern that one of the targeted species is the great white shark which is already considered endangered by the World Wildlife Foundation. This most famous and feared type of shark is thought to be extremely susceptible to population collapse due to its very low rate of reproduction. Some ecologists believe that culling a large number of great whites off Australia could negatively affect mating patterns and cause irreversible damage to worldwide populations.

The decision to cull sharks also proved highly controversial with the general public and environmental communities from around the world. Polls conducted by UMR research found that 78% of 500 surveyed Australians opposed the cull, feeling that more shark nets were a better solution. University of Florida marine researcher George Burgass has called the hunt an act of "revenge killings" and stated that "killing 10 sharks after a death is not the answer as it does not result in reduced attacks". The main method of culling, baited hooks, has also been criticized since it does not actually kill sharks dangerous to humans. I suppose since human meat is not used as the bait. On Tuesday March 5 2014, a legal challenge by Sea Shepherd Conversation Society was granted an injunction temporarily halting the cull pending a review of the methods used.

Surf's Up

As the vast majority of the victims of shark attacks are surfers, the surfing community has unsurprisingly been split on the issue of the cull. Some like veteran Australian surfer Kevin Merifield, felt that the cull was necessary to protect the safety of surfers and other water sportsmen, stating that any local surfers know that great white sharks are far more common than in the past and that they now pose a serious danger. Others like 11 time ASP surfing champion and Baywatch star Kelly Slater has been an outspoken advocate against the shark cull.

The shark cull was halted in September 2014 by Western Australia's environmental regulator Paul Vogel stating that "a high degree of scientific uncertainty" exists surrounding the programme. 

How to survive a shark attack

In order to minimise our lotto players chances of being lunch for a lamniform follow this simple mini-guide to Not be eaten by a Shark this summer:

1) Avoid the water in the first place or stay in shallow water: until a Sharknado really happens or sharks evolve legs and air-breathing lungs, your chance of death by shark attack is effectively none.

2) Wear bright red or orange: bright colours such as red and orange are often part of nature's warning system signifying poison and it will make you look a little bit less like a seal.

3) Attack the eyes, gills or snout: we've all heard that the only way to deter a shark is to punch it in the nose. The gills or eyes will also suffice. Use quick jabs since, of course, winding up underwater won't provide you with any extra force.

4) Stay calm and don't bleed: easier said than done of course, but sharks are drawn towards thrashing movements and blood in the water.

5) Tie some peppers to your kayak or surfboard: it is believed by some archaelogists that the Aztecs tied hot peppers to their canoes to deter sharks from approaching. Although this method seems to have been disproven by Myth Busters if you are really worried about a shark attack it can't hurt!


You are over 32x more likely to win the lottery than be eaten by a shark - Fact!

Despite our primal fears of a savage shark below the surface your chances of being a shark's supper are almost nil. (Results may vary for surfers and scuba divers.)