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Shark attacks up worldwide; Hawaii records 4 in 2010

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The number of reported shark attacks last year increased worldwide but declined in Florida, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File annual report.

Ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said Florida typically has the highest number of attacks worldwide, but 2010 marked the state’s fourth straight year of decline.

Florida led the U.S. with 13 reported attacks, but the total was significantly lower than the yearly average of 23 over the past decade. Hawaii recorded four attacks; same as 2009.

“Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12,” Burgess said. “Maybe it’s a reflection of the downturn in the economy and the number of tourists coming to Florida, or the amount of money native Floridians can spend taking holidays and going to the beach.”

Worldwide, 79 attacks occurred in 2010, the highest number since 2000 (80), but the global total of six fatalities was only slightly above average, Burgess said. Attacks worldwide numbered 63 in 2009, close to the yearly average over the past decade of 63.5.

“Based on odds, you should have more attacks than the previous year,” Burgess said. “But the rate of attacks is not necessarily going up — population is rising and the interest in aquatic recreation grows. That will continue as population rises.”

As in recent years, North American waters had the most (42 percent or 32 attacks) unprovoked attacks in 2010. The total of 36 attacks in the United States was on par with the 2001-2010 decadal average of 38.6.

Elsewhere, attacks occurred in Australia (14), South Africa (8), Vietnam (6) and Egypt (6), with a single incidents reported from the Bahamas, Brazil, Fiji, Madagascar, Mascarene Islands, Solomon Islands, Canary Islands, Tonga, United Arab Emirates.

Florida’s four-year decline began in 2007 with 31 attacks, followed by 28 in 2008, 18 in 2009 and 13 last year.

Surfers (50.8 percent of cases) and swimmers/waders (37.7 percent) and were the recreational groups most often involved in shark attacks in 2010. Less affected were snorkelers/divers (8.2 percent) and those using inflatable rafts and inner-tubes (3.3 percent).

Following recent trends, Florida again had most of the unprovoked attacks in the United States. The total of 13 attacks was the lowest total since a dozen incidents were documented in 2004 and fell well below the 2001-2010 average of 23.1. Additional U.S. attacks were recorded in North Carolina (5), California (4), South Carolina (4), and Hawaii (4), with single attacks occurring in Georgia, Maine, Washington, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia.

The most unusual event in 2010 occurred off the coast of Egypt in early December with five attacks, including one fatality. The attacks occurred within five days and four of the five were attributed to two individual sharks.

“This was a situation that was hugely unusual by shark attack standards,” said Burgess, who has researched sharks at the museum for more than 35 years. “It was probably the most unusual shark incident of my career.”

Burgess suggests the attacks in the Red Sea may be attributed to a combination of natural and human factors. Some of the reasons include higher water temperatures caused by an unusually hot summer, international livestock traders dumping sheep carcasses into the water and divers feeding reef fishes and sharks, he said.

“The reality is, going into the sea is a wilderness experience,” Burgess said. “You’re visiting a foreign environment — it’s not a situation where you’re guaranteed success.”

Thankfully, in the sea the risks are low and the number of shark attacks in a year could be cut in half if people just used more common sense, Burgess said. There are simple ways to reduce the possibility of a shark attack, he said, including avoiding fishing areas and inlets where sharks gather and leaving the water when a shark is sighted.

“The sea is actually very forgiving, certainly from the standpoint of the animal life,” Burgess said. “When you look at the big picture, it’s kind of ironic that these animals which are apex predators, the top of the food chain in the sea, are so readily caught.”

Because they are experts at finding their next meal, sharks are threatened by the lure of fishing lines. Humans kill 30 million to 70 million sharks per year in fisheries, while sharks claim an average of five human lives each year — the number of deaths caused by sharks is minimal compared to the billions of hours humans spend in the sea every year, he said.

“One-on-one in the sea, the sharks are going to win in a confrontation with humans if they really want to do so,” Burgess said. “But out of the sea, we can sit high and dry with a beer in our hand, put a line overboard and catch the fiercest animal in the sea.”

The International Shark Attack File, internationally recognized as the definitive source of scientifically accurate information on shark attack, is a compilation of all known shark attacks. In existence since 1958, it is administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida under the auspices of the American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s foremost international organization of scientists studying sharks, skates and rays.

— Find out more:
2010 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary: www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/…
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/… www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/…
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/…
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/…

One Response to “Shark attacks up worldwide; Hawaii records 4 in 2010”

  1. Stefanie says:

    I love the beach but didnt know the amount of shark attacts that are around were I love to swim!

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