Coconuts falling from their tree and striking individuals cause serious injury to the back, neck, shoulders, and head. They can potentially be fatal.
Following a 1984 study on "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts", exaggerated claims spread concerning the number of deaths by falling coconuts. Falling coconuts, according to urban legend, kill a few people a year. This legend gained momentum after the 2002 work of a noted expert on shark attacks was characterized as saying that falling coconuts kill 150 people each year worldwide. This statistic has often been contrasted with the number of shark-caused deaths per year, which is around five.
Concern about the risk of fatality due to gravity's pull on coconuts led local officials in Queensland, Australia to remove coconut trees from beaches in 2002. One newspaper dubbed coconuts "the killer fruit." Historical reports of actual death by coconut nonetheless date back to the 1770s. Coconuts also played a lethal role in the South Pacific during World War II. According to published accounts, Japanese forces weaponized the tropical fruit by turning them into "coconut bombs" filled with acid and a hand grenade.
Coconut fruit comes from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) which can grow up to 30 m (98 ft) tall, with pinnate leaf 4–6 m (13–20 ft) long, and pinnae 60–90 cm long. Older leaves will break away cleanly from the tree leaving a smooth trunk. While a mature and thriving tree can yield up to 75 fruits per year, it is more common to get fewer than 30. A full-sized coconut weighs about 1.44 kg (3.2 lb). Coconut palms are cultivated in more than 80 countries of the world, with a total nut production of 61 million tonnes per year.
The origin of the death by coconut legend was a 1984 research paper by Dr. Peter Barss, titled "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts, published in the Journal of Trauma (now known as the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery). In his paper, Barss observed that in Papua New Guinea (where he was based), for four years, 2.5% of trauma admissions were for those injured by falling coconuts, with at least two fatalities. That figure went on to be misquoted as 150 worldwide, which was based on the assumption that other places would suffer a similar rate of falling coconut deaths. In March 2012, Barss received an "Ig Nobel Award" from the Annals of Improbable Research in recognition of research that "cannot or should not be replicated." In response to the dubious distinction, Barss told the Canadian Medical Association Journal, "when you're treating these injuries daily, it's not funny at all."