February 13, 2006

Shark attacks fall in 2005 as humans fight back

By Jane Sutton

MIAMI (Reuters) - Shark attacks dropped in 2005 because
people are fighting back more often when threatened and the
ranks of ocean predators are thinning, a University of Florida
report said on Monday.

Worldwide there were 58 shark attacks in 2005, down from 65
a year earlier, and fatalities fell to four from seven, said
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File
housed at the university's Florida Museum of Natural History.

Attacks have been on the decline for five years, since
reaching a record high of 78, 11 of them fatal, in 2000,
Burgess said in the center's annual tally of shark attacks
reported by scientists around the world. The center has kept
records since 1958.

Human-shark encounters are dropping partly because there
are fewer sharks, a decline caused by overfishing of the
species, which generally is slow to reproduce, Burgess said.

Humans are also taking greater care to avoid areas where
sharks gather and fighting back when they get bitten, Burgess
said. A surfer bitten by a great white shark off the Oregon
coast on December 24 drove it away with a punch to the nose, he

"If you're being approached by a shark, you certainly want
to act aggressively toward the animal. They're a predator, they
respect size and power," Burgess said.

"If you can smack them on the nose, certainly do so ...
sharks seem to respect pops on the nose."

Those already in the jaws of a shark should "claw at the
eyes and the gills to impress the animal that you're not going
to go down easily," he advised.

Surfers were the most frequent victims last year, with 29
incidents, followed by swimmers and waders, 20, and divers,


Despite the worldwide decline, the number of attacks in the
United States rose slightly, to 38 last year from 30 a year
earlier and well below the recorded high of 52 in 2000.

Most U.S. shark attacks occur in Florida. The state had 18
shark attacks last year, compared with 12 in 2004, a year in
which a spate of hurricanes kept people out of the water. The
record was 37 in 2000.

After the United States, Australia was the most likely spot
for an unfriendly encounter with a shark. Burgess tracked 10
attacks in Australia, four in South Africa and one each in the
Bahamas, St. Martin, Mexico, Fiji, Vanuatu and South Korea.

Australia has seen a relatively high number of shark
attacks in the last two years, but the per capita rate of shark
attacks has not risen over the past century, Burgess said. The
increase coincides with a booming human population and
Australia's growing attraction to tourists in recent decades,
he said.

Of the four fatalities in 2005, two were in Australia, one
in the Pacific island of Vanuatu and one in the United States.

The U.S. attack occurred June 25 along Florida's Gulf
Coast, when a 14-year-old boy was attacked by a bull shark
while swimming off Sandestin. It was the first death from a
shark attack in four years in Florida.