Sharks get all the love. They have their own week on the Discovery Channel, there are scads of scary movies about them and their attributes are even applied on a human scale to members of society engaged in professions like card-playing and the law.
So, we got to wondering: Are sharks really all they're cracked up to be? Could there be an even more fearsome predator among us? How, for instance, do sharks stack up -- in terms of deadliness and danger to humans in the U.S. -- to alligators?
Shark attacks in the U.S. have been on the decline for a decade. Meanwhile, in Florida -- and let's be realistic, when you're talking about U.S. alligator attacks, they're happening in Florida -- alligator attacks tripled in recent years, from an annual average of five from 1948 to 1986 to an average of 14 between 1986 to 2005.
Keep reading to find out which creature is deadlier.
In February, a 38-year-old man in Stuart, Fla., was killed by sharks, which swarmed around him while he was kiteboarding about a quarter-mile offshore. On Aug. 2, a Pennsylvania woman visiting Mickler's Landing had her arm shredded by a shark while standing in chest-deep water.
In between, about 20 other people were attacked by sharks in U.S. waters this year. In 2001, there were 50 incidents, resulting in three fatalities. That number has steadily dropped for the last 10 years (though it spiked back to 50 in 2007); in 2009, 28 people were bitten in U.S. waters, but no one died.
There have been roughly a dozen alligator attacks to date in 2010. Last year, there were 19, the same number recorded in 2007 and 2008. (Coincidence? Or is someone at the Florida Department of Gator Bites and Other Random Statistics just getting lazy and jotting down the same number every year?)
In July, an alligator created a new Captain Hook, chomping off the left hand of an 18-year-old male in Fort Myers as he swam in a creek. The gator pulled him underwater; the teen flailed away with his remaining good arm until the critter let go and swam away (with the hand, which was found in the gator's stomach when it was captured later that day).
Another Florida teen was attacked by a 12-foot gator in June while swimming in a canal near Okeechobee. He managed to get away after poking the gator in the eye, but noticed as he swam to shore that his left arm was missing.
Also in June, an alligator wrestler at a theme park in New Port Richey was attacked during a show, a scene most people in the crowd thought was part of the performance. (Side note: The gator was corralled and captured by Asylum's favorite animal trapper, Vernon Yates).
On June 23, a man snorkeling in a Marion County canal was bitten multiple times and sustained a broken jaw in a gator attack.
And in May, a 35-year-old Kissimmee man training for a triathlon was attacked; he has since announced plans to compete only in duathlons, comprised solely of biking and running.
Gruesome Statistics Tell the Whole Story
Let's dig deeper into the gruesome stats. From the year 1540 through last week, there were 1,050 recorded shark attacks in U.S. waters, according to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File. Roughly 65 percent of those were in Florida, with California and Hawaii accounting for another 10 percent each.
From 1948 -- when people first started thinking about writing this stuff down -- through last week, there were 522 alligator attacks in Florida, with a handful more occurring in Alabama, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and Louisiana. One person was bitten by an alligator in North Carolina and, somehow, a lone fool in Arkansas managed to pull off the same feat.
The odds of being attacked by a shark are one in 11.5 million, according to the International Shark Attack File. But if you're in Florida, your chances of being chomped on by a gator are roughly 219 in 11.5 million.
So, now down to the real nitty gritty: Of those attacked by sharks and gators (not at the same time -- that would be statistically incomprehensible), which were more likely to buy the farm? Pass the great divide? Enter into eternal bliss and harmony? Or just die?
And Our Winner Is ...
Since the shark people started keeping records 470 years ago, 50 people have been killed by sharks in U.S. waters. Since 1973, 22 people have been killed by gators in Florida alone.
Since 2000, sharks have sent eight Americans on to their great reward. In that same span, alligators have taken out a dozen, including a horrific stretch in May 2006 when three Floridians became gator-bait in four days.
So, which beast is the winner? You could make an argument either way, but statistics from several state wildlife departments and the International Shark Attack File give the nod to gators. About 4.3 percent of all alligator attacks result in death, compared to just 1.5 percent of shark attacks.
The real winner? Dogs killed 32 people last year in the U.S. alone, and have taken out 230 Americans since 2000.