Most deaths from crocodile attacks in Australia are due to drowning rather than loss of blood due to trauma, a study shows.

The first examination of factors contributing to survival in a saltwater croc attack suggests the body size of the beast relative to that of the victim is crucial.

Northern Territory experts in wildlife management have reviewed the circumstances of 87 of the 109 crocodile attacks in the wild across the Top End since the saltwater crocodile was declared protected in the early 1970s. Twenty-seven unprovoked attacks were fatal and 60 non-fatal.

Their research shows that the average body size of crocodiles in fatal attacks on children was 383cm with a weight of 223kg, compared with killers of adults at 450cm and 324kg. An average-sized person of 75kg would have a relatively high probability of survival if attacked by a 300cm crocodile while diving, swimming or wading in water, the researchers say.

But the bigger the croc, the lower the probability of survival. Even a person with a large body mass (120kg) would be unlikely to survive.

All attacks on single individuals by 400cm-plus crocodiles have been fatal, they add.

The chances of survival are higher when in a boat or on the shore compared with being in the water because fatalities generally occur when victims are dragged underwater and drowned, the researchers say.

“This contrasts with shark attacks where most victims die from excessive loss of blood,” they write.

Culling big crocodiles may reduce fatalities among adults but not children, suggesting safety awareness programs are important, the experts say. However, even in the Top End, where crocodile attack frequency is rising, the chances of dying from such an attack are small, with 0.02 deaths per 100,000 people between 2004 and 2013 compared to 8.12 per 100,000 for road accidents.

22 May 2015 Rada Rouse

Last Reviewed: 22/05/2015



Yusuke Fukuda, Charlie Manolis, Keith Saalfeld, Alain Zuurl. Dead or Alive? Factors Affecting the Survival of Victims during Attacks by Saltwater Crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in Australia.
Research Article | published 11 May 2015 | PLOS ONE