February 12, 2013
Shark Attacks Increased In The US During 2012
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The International Shark Attack File report released this week by the University of Florida reveals shark attacks in the US reached a decade high in 2012. Worldwide fatalities, however, remained average.
In 2012, the US saw 53 shark attacks. This is the highest number since 2000. Globally, there were seven fatalities due to shark attack, which is lower than 2011, but higher than the average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2011. According to George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, 2012 is the second consecutive year for multiple shark attacks in Western Australia (5) and Reunion Island (3) in the southwest Indian Ocean. This indicates the localities have developed problematic situations, said Burgess.
“Those two areas are sort of hot spots in the world — Western Australia is a function of white shark incidents and Reunion is a function most likely of bull shark incidents,” Burgess said. “What I´ve seen in all situations when there´s been a sudden upswing in an area is that human-causative factors are involved, such as changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance, or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we´re doing.”
Overall, there were 80 unprovoked attacks worldwide. This is slightly higher than 2011. Four of those attacks were in South Africa, three of which resulted in a fatality. This is higher than South Africa's recent average of one fatality per year. With 14 attacks and two fatalities, Australia had an average year, despite the media attention regarding incidents in Western Australia that resulted in a government-sanctioned culling hunt for endangered white sharks.
“The concept of ℠let´s go out and kill them´ is an archaic approach to a shark attack problem, and its opportunities for success are generally slim-to-none,” Burgess said. “It´s mostly a feel-good revenge — like an ℠eye for an eye´ approach — when in fact you´re not likely to catch the shark that was involved in the situation. The shark involved in the situation also isn´t necessarily likely to do it again.”
Most shark bites (42) occurred in North American waters, following long-term trends. The 53 incidents in 2012 include Hawaii and Puerto Rico. These two localities are not recorded as occurring in North American waters in the International Shark Attack File database. Of the US attacks, Florida led the country with 26, followed by Hawaii (10), California (5), South Carolina (5), North Carolina (2) and one each in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Puerto Rico. Hawaii had a record number of attacks — seven — the highest number since 2007, more than its average of four per year. Burgess said most attacks in Florida took place in Brevard (8) and Volusia (7) counties because these central east coast beaches are high aquatic recreation areas, especially for surfers.
“The numbers from an international standpoint were on target for the last couple of years because, in theory, each year we should have more attacks than the previous year owing to the rise of human population from year to year,” Burgess said. “Thus the shark attack rate is not increasing even though the number of shark attacks is rising. Shark attack as a phenomenon is extremely uncommon, considering the millions of hours humans spend in the water each year.”
The fatality rate in the US for 2012 was 2 percent, far below the global rate of 22 percent. Burgess attributes this to superior safety and medical capabilities.
“We could reduce risks by avoiding areas and times when sharks are most common, and where danger is at its highest,” Burgess said. “A perfect example of that is in Western Australia, where people have been getting hit in areas of known white shark abundance at times of year when white shark numbers are at their highest — the responsibility is upon us, as humans, to avoid such situations or else pay the consequence.”
The majority of shark attacks are suffered by surfers — 60 percent — mostly due to the provocative nature of surfing, while swimmers suffered 22 percent of the attacks and divers only eight percent.
Humans pose a greater threat to sharks than sharks do to humans, Burgess says, with 30 to 70 million sharks a year killed in fisheries. Overfishing, especially to meet the demands for flesh and fins used in shark fin soup, contributes every year to the decline in shark populations.
In the event of a shark attack, the research team suggests taking a proactive and somewhat aggressive stance, such as hitting the shark on the nose. Sharks tend to respect size and power.
“Shark attacks are rare and it doesn´t matter whether you call them attacks or bites or bumps — your chances of having any of them are slim,” Burgess said.