How many people die from falling coconuts?
Updated: Mar 25
Whether your are visiting or live in Hawaii, chances are you’ve heard the saying - “You are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark”. Heck you may have even repeated it. Though fun to say, the time has come to debunk this utterly wrong and all too long standing myth because - it simply is not true.
It is a fabrication, a lie easily exposed by simply glancing at the score board. Hawaiian newspapers emerged shortly after the arrival of the first pacific printing press in 1821, and they’ve kept a meticulous tally on un-timely deaths. Well kept after, these papers act as important record for much of Hawaii’s recent history. According to them, in the last 200 years, Hawaiian sharks have introduced only ten people to their makers. Ten seems like a suspiciously low number and there’s good reason to raise your eyebrow. Shark attacks don’t exactly help the tourism industry and many, even to this day, conveniently don’t make the paper. But whats even lower are incidences a coconut tree has requested human sacrifice. The running total - two.
Sharks - 10
Coconuts - 2
So where exactly did the idea that coconuts kill more people than sharks arise from? Its origin can be traced back to 2001 and a man with a motive. George Burgess, shark researcher at the University of Florida, director of the international shark attack file had been asked to speak at a NOAA sponsored press conference. 2001 had been a bad year for sharks. A series of east coast attacks had stirred a (pardon the pun) media frenzy and the public was seriously frightened.
For George, NOAA and the sharks the timing couldn’t have been worse. It was the inaugural year of the shark finning prohibition act, public support was needed and these dam sharks biting peoples legs off weren’t exactly helping.
So like any good politician, George decided someone had to get pushed under the bus. At the press conference Burgress, who later admitted that he had never fact checked the statistic, told reporters “falling coconuts kill a hundred and fifty people worldwide each year, fifteen times the number of fatalities attributable to sharks”. The media loved it, the press re-ran the quote all over and the public mind has has been deeply ingrained with an unnecessary fear of falling coconuts ever since. Sadly today most homeowners in Hawaii prefer to neuter their trees (cut all the young flowers from the tree before they mature) so no fruit ever even sets, reinforcing the statistic we prefer to propagandize instead. That - “In Hawaii you are more likely to die from a shark falling out of a tree, then by a falling coconut.”