The nation is in the midst of shark hysteria right now. With more than 10 shark attacks in the Carolinas in recent weeks and increased reports in California, beach goers haven’t been this obsessed with sharks since the summer Jaws was released.

But is that fear warranted? A new study by Stanford University researchers says no. Despite the increased number of attacks an individual is actually 91 percent less likely to get attacked by a shark compared to six decades ago.

The increased reports of shark attacks, like two horrific stories from North Carolina recently, are due instead to there being more people in the water. In other words, don’t blame the sharks. The study will be published later this month in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“Our results indicate that the seemingly conflicting goals of protecting large predators and people can be reconciled,” said co-author Fiorenza Micheli said in a statement. “An awareness of risk – in places and times of the year – can greatly increase the safety of ocean users.”

Sharks, like all predators, are actually vital to the marine ecosystem. Research has linked a drop in shark numbers in North Carolina to a decline in scallop populations due to an outbreak of scallop-eating stingrays, which sharks normally eat. In California, robust seal and sea lion populations have helped draw sharks away from populated beaches.

To put shark attacks in perspective, researchers with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment looked at other tragic events and found scuba divers are 6,897 more times to be hospitalized from the benz and swimmers are 1,817 times more likely to drown. Surfers have a 1-in-17 million chance of being bitten.

To avoid shark attacks, they suggest staying out of the ocean during the riskiest times of the year. For instance in Northern California, the risk of a shark attack is greatest in October and November.

“The more we understand about shark ecology, behavior and distribution, the better able we are to create effective guidelines and help people make informed decisions,” said lead author Francesco Ferretti.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons