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Journal of Marine Biology
Volume 2016, Article ID 9539010, 7 pages
Research Article

Do White Shark Bites on Surfers Reflect Their Attack Strategies on Pinnipeds?

1Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL 32514, USA
2Global Shark Attack File, Shark Research Institute, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
3Department of Biology, University of Vienna, 1090 Vienna, Austria

Received 26 May 2016; Accepted 7 September 2016

Academic Editor: Yehuda Benayahu

Copyright © 2016 Erich Ritter and Alexandra Quester. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The theory of mistaken identity states that sharks, especially white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, mistake surfers for pinnipeds when looking at them from below and thus bite them erroneously. Photographs of surfer wounds and board damage were interpreted with special emphasis on shark size, wound severity, and extent of damage to a board. These were compared with the concurrent literature on attack strategies of white sharks on pinnipeds and their outcomes. The results show that the majority of damage to surfers and their boards is at best superficial-to-moderate in nature and does not reflect the level of damage needed to immobilize or stun a pinniped. It is further shown that the size distribution of sharks biting surfers differs from that in pinnipeds. The results presented show that the theory of mistaken identity, where white sharks erroneously mistake surfers for pinnipeds, does not hold true and should be rejected.