More shark attacks but fewer deaths

"It's amazing, given the billions of hours humans spend in the water, how uncommon attacks are, but that doesn't make you feel better if you're one of them," says George Burgess. (Credit: Joy/Flickr)

Shark attacks in the United States were up slightly last year but only three people died worldwide, far below the average of 6.3 over the past decade.

Australia had two fatalities and South Africa had one. There were no reported deaths from a shark attack in the US, according to the most recent International Shark Attack File report.

The decrease in fatalities follows a downward trend that researchers attribute to advances in beach safety, medical care, and awareness of how to avoid attacks.

Just like a dog bite

Worldwide attacks dropped from 75 in 2013 to 72 last year. But the overall trend decade to decade has been a steady increase in attacks, which will probably continue, says George Burgess, curator of the world shark attack data housed at University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History.

“I am willing to predict that there will be more attacks in the second decade of this century than there were in the first.”

That doesn’t mean sharks are getting a taste for humans, but rather that humans are more likely to be where sharks are feeding. As the human population and the popularity of aquatic pastimes grow, so do the chances of human-shark interaction.

Florida led the nation with 28 attacks, more than half of the country’s 52 incidents. Hawaii had the second-most with seven. South Carolina followed with five, North Carolina and California each had four, while Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas each had one attack.

Florida’s position atop the list isn’t surprising, Burgess says, considering the level of beach tourism it draws each year. But the incidents are low on the Shark-Induced Trauma scale that ranks severity.

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“Most of them are better called bites than attacks. They’re the equivalent of dog bites,” he says.

The International Shark Attack File collects data on shark-human incidents worldwide each year, verifying encounters and evaluating which were unprovoked. (Provoked attacks include situations such as cleaning aquariums or removing hooks.)

While unprovoked attacks are on the rise, beachgoers are far more likely to win the lottery than to encounter a shark, Burgess says.

“It’s amazing, given the billions of hours humans spend in the water, how uncommon attacks are, but that doesn’t make you feel better if you’re one of them.”

Source: University of Florida