UF reports fewer shark attacks in 2013

George Burgess

George Burgess, curator of the shark file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

Ray Carson | University of Florida
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 11:24 AM.

The world experienced the lowest number of shark attacks since 2009, although fatalities in 2013 were above average, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File report released today.

The U.S. saw a decrease in attacks with 47, lower than the 2012 total of 54, which was the highest yearly total of the current century. There were 10 fatalities worldwide, which is higher than the 10-year average from 2003 to 2012.

Two localities, Western Australia (six deaths in past four years) and Reunion Island (five deaths in three years) in the southwest Indian Ocean, remained shark-attack hot spots, while places where shark activity is typically rare or nonexistent also experienced attacks, said George Burgess, curator of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“When sudden increases in shark attacks occur, usually human factors are involved that promote interactions between sharks and people,” Burgess said. “Shark populations are not in a growth phase by any means, so a rise in the number of sharks is not to blame. However, we can predict with some reliability that shark attacks will concurrently rise with the growth of human populations, a trend we saw throughout the past century.”

Seventy-two unprovoked attacks occurred worldwide, which was lower than 2012 and represents the lowest global total since 2009 when there were 67 attacks. In recent years, Burgess said, globalization, tourism and population growth worldwide have led to shark attacks in historically low-contact areas like Reunion Island, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Solomon Island and the small island Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which in 2013 saw its first recorded shark attack. As more people enter the water in these areas, they become equal opportunity locations for shark-human interaction, he said.

“Globalization of societies and the ease of modern travel means that we have access to places that have never been frequented by tourists before,” Burgess said. “Remote destinations are not typically medically equipped to handle a serious shark attack. This situation is a key factor in the higher death rate this year. When a shark attack happens in a remote place, the results are going to be more dire than if it happened on a Florida beach, for instance.”

Traditionally leading the world in shark attacks, North American waters saw 34 attacks in 2013 compared with 43 in 2012. Yearly fluctuations in attacks are normal because changes in ocean systems and economics, and human conditions affect the opportunities for humans to encounter sharks, Burgess said.



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