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Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Provoked vs. Unprovoked Attacks

Have you ever used "he hit me first!" as an excuse for smacking your little brother? While your mother may be unsympathetic to that line, statisticians evaluating shark attacks want to know who struck first. Provoked attacks result from some human action, including pulling the shark's tail, stepping on the shark, jabbing the shark with a spear gun or feeding the shark by hand. Provocation explains why normally docile sharks, such as the nurse shark, attack. Unprovoked attacks occur when the human is bitten and pursued without knowingly irritating the shark. However, the shark might classify things differently.

The oceanic whitetip may only have seven unprovoked attacks and two fatalities on the books, but that's because it might be getting away with many of its crimes by not leaving any evidence. Marine explorer Jacques Cousteau ranked this shark as one of the most dangerous for its brazenness in evaluating prey [source: Bright].

Found in deep waters, this shark became a primary enemy during times of war, when soldiers ended up in the water after their transport was attacked. Known for being the first on the scene of a shipwreck, this shark likely gobbled up many servicemen not reflected in the statistics. Most notably, the whitetip is thought to be responsible for eating many of the men aboard the Nova Scotia, which sunk in World War II and suffered more than 800 casualties [source: Bester].

The whitetip is probably one of the most abundant large fish in the ocean. Divers who encounter the fish report that this is a shark with attitude and boldness, unperturbed by the divers' defense mechanisms. It persistently and aggressively investigates divers.

The whitetip isn't the only deep-water shark known to take an interest in whoever's bobbing in its feeding area, though. On the next page, meet the blue shark.

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