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Report: Number Of Shark Attacks At 12-Yr High; 'Human-Causative Factors Are Involved'

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GAINESVILLE, Florida -- Shark attacks in the U.S. reached a decade high in 2012, while worldwide fatalities remained average, according to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File report released today.

The U.S. saw an upturn in attacks with 53, the most since 2000. There were seven fatalities worldwide, which is lower than 2011 but higher than the yearly average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2010. It is the second consecutive year for multiple shark attacks in Western Australia (5) and Reunion Island (3) in the southwest Indian Ocean, which indicates the localities have developed problematic situations, said George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

"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."

Eighty unprovoked attacks occurred worldwide, slightly more than 2011. Four attacks were recorded in South Africa, three of which resulted in death, which is higher than its recent average of one fatality per year. Australia had an average year with 14 attacks and two fatalities, 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 that was involved in the situation also isn't necessarily likely to do it again."

Following long-term trends, most shark bites occurred in North American waters (42). The 53 U.S. incidents include Hawaii and Puerto Rico, which are not recorded as occurring in North American waters in the International Shark Attack File database. 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. One fatality occurred in California, and Hawaii had the highest number of attacks since seven in 2007, more than its yearly average of four. Most incidents in Florida occurred in Brevard (8) and Volusia (7) counties because these central east coast beaches are high aquatic recreation areas, especially for surfers, Burgess said.

"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 2012 U.S. fatality rate of 2 percent is far lower than the 22 percent for the rest of the world, likely due to superior safety and medical capabilities in the U.S., Burgess said.

"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."

Surfers experienced a majority of shark incidents with 60 percent, largely due to the provocative nature of the activity. Swimmers were affected by 22 percent of attacks, followed by divers, with 8 percent.

Burgess said 30 million to 70 million sharks are killed every year in fisheries, and people need to recognize humans pose a greater threat to elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) than sharks do to humans. Worldwide over-fishing, especially to meet demands for flesh and fins used in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy, continues to contribute to the decline in shark populations, Burgess said.

In the case of a shark attack, researchers advise taking a proactive response, such as hitting the shark's nose, since they 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.

For additional safety tips and to view the 2012 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary, please visit

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

2 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

Scavenging sharks are the biosphere's means of breaking large chunks of rotting stuff (and other opportunistic morsels)into more manageable portions for the smaller scavengers to process back into base nutrients. When the system is left alone it is wonderfully regenerative; 400,000,000 years and counting. Unfortunately, most of the garbage that scavenging shark species eat is found along the sea coasts of continents and islands and those very same places are the ones at which water sports enthusiasts congregate in massive numbers. This leads to an inevitable increase of intraspecific warfare and therein is where humanity shows its real advantages. We're the dominant macropredator, after all. Killing is what we do best, despite the efforts of our prophets, saints, and bodhisatvahs,to the contrary and the general decline in sea life populations over the past twenty years is clear evidence of it. I weep for the wild world that was, and can never be again, while men are at large on land and sea, but I am a human and I would not have some other species destroy ours instead.
   comment# 1   - wildbillcox · Pittsburgh, USA. · Feb 12, 2013 @ 2:40pm

As a threshold matter, I am perplexed as to how surfing constitutes "provocative" behavior. There is nothing about the activity that is materially different than other ocean activities. The only difference is that certain sharks known to attack and consume humans (albeit rarely) tend to hunt in the areas where surfers frequent. But that is choosing to "be in the wrong place at the wrong time," i.e., a hungry shark may opt to realize a feeding opportunity at our expense. Secondly, the notion human behavior that may or does, in fact, "attracts" sharks "explains" why sharks attack us is non sequitur. In other words, the scientific record proves that sharks view people as tertiary prey and have been always known to eat simply drawing sharks to a "hot spot" (e.g., the purported nexus between 'dumping sheep' off W. Australian waters) hardly explains "why" humans are being targeted in a higher frequency. A more plausible hypothesis is that material depletion of fish stocks in any given "hot spot" (e.g., via commercial fishing and/or climate change) causes a disruption in the marine ecosystem's harmony. Sharks are opportunists. (enter JAWS music) "Opportunity makes a thief." - Francis Bacon
   comment# 2   - drudown · Solana Beach, CA · Feb 13, 2013 @ 2:14pm
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