UF reports fewer shark attacks in 2013

Published: Friday, February 21, 2014 at 11:24 AM.

The 47 U.S. incidents include Hawaii, which is not recorded as occurring in North American waters by the International Shark Attack File database. Florida led the country with 23, followed by Hawaii (13), South Carolina (6) and one each in Alabama, California, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas. The single U.S. fatality occurred in Hawaii.

Most incidents in Florida occurred in Volusia County (8), a historical hot spot that has experienced more than one-third of Florida’s shark attacks, which is attributable to the heavy draw of surfers and tourists to its attractive beaches, Burgess said.

The 13 attacks recorded in Hawaii were higher than its recent average of 4.3. Burgess said spikes occurring over the past two years on the island of Maui could be due to an increase in area surfers, who globally encountered sharks most often in 2013 in 46 percent of reported cases, while swimmers were affected by 31 percent of attacks, followed by divers, with 14 percent. Although Australia experienced an average year with 10 attacks and two fatalities, international attention has been drawn to the country regarding incidents in Western Australia that resulted in the controversial reinstatement of government-sanctioned culling hunts for endangered white sharks in December.

“Even if one ignores that an endangered species is involved, the archaic reaction can only be characterized as ‘revenge killings,’” Burgess said. “Although infrequent, shark attacks are high-profile events that excite the emotions of human beings and often impact a community. Killing 10 sharks after a death is not the answer as it does not result in reduced attacks. This problem has been faced in other locations around the world and addressed in more effective ways.”

In addition to shark-culling activity in Australia and in Natal, South Africa, Burgess said shark populations are declining significantly as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss, with 30 million to 70 million sharks killed every year by fisheries. People, he said, pose a greater threat to sharks than sharks do to humans.

“Sharks have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them,” Burgess said. “Statistically, shark attacks are extremely rare, especially considering the number of humans that enter the water each year.”

Burgess said that as in any wilderness experience, it is humans’ responsibility to avoid dangerous situations, or risk meeting a shark and potentially paying the consequences. He emphasized the role that scientific research can have in reducing shark attacks by creating a better understanding of the species.



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