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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Shark attacks drop in Florida, U.S.

A failing economy may be your lifeline.

Data released by the Florida Program for Shark Research indicates overfishing and the economic downturn may be behind the recent decline in shark attacks.

According to the International Shark Attack File released last week by the program, which is jointly administered by the Florida Museum of Natural History, the number of unprovoked shark attacks decreased from 71 in 2007 to 59 in 2008.

While this may sound like good news to some, George Burgess, director of the program, said the decline in attacks is partially explained by the decrease in the shark population due to overfishing by humans.

"Almost everyone will tell you the real story isn't shark bites man, but man bites shark," Burgess said.

Burgess said regulations need to be put in place to stop overfishing, which, according to the file, has left many shark populations at "critically low levels."

Other factors might have led to the decrease as well, including fewer beachgoers, Burgess said.

With the dismal state of the economy, people are less inclined to travel, so there have been fewer tourists at beach destinations, Burgess said. There has also been a general decline in travel since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

People may also be getting smarter about protecting themselves from shark attacks, he said. Media hype in recent years has played a role in educating people about safe practices, such as not swimming at dawn or dusk when sharks are feeding, he said.

Of the 59 attacks last year, 41 occurred in U.S. waters, according to the file. With 32 attacks, Florida had the most in the U.S.

Burgess said Florida, with the longest coastline in the U.S. and warm waters, which support more species of sharks and attract a lot of tourists, is "an accident waiting to happen."

"There's lots of water and lots of people that come to use it, and amazingly enough, there have been lots of shark attacks," he said.

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According to the file, 56.6 percent of the attacks involved surfers or windsurfers.

"The activity of surfers is, by definition, quite provocative," Burgess said.

The motions that surfers make while in the water mimic those of animals the sharks consider prey, he said. Thus, most incidents involving surfers are better characterized as bites than attacks because after nipping the surfers, sharks usually realize their error, he said.

Kevin Neal, who has surfed for six years and has lead eight surfing trips with UF's Travel and Recreation Program, or TRiP, said the program has never experienced a shark attack.

Trips are planned so they don't occur when sharks have migrated to Florida, he said. Also, leaders always consider factors such as water temperature and clarity, which can increase the likelihood of attacks, before allowing surfers in the water.

Neal said sharks are always present, but with proper precautions, the chances of getting attacked are so small surfing is worth the risk.

"It's just something that you accept with the sport," he said. "Every sport has its risks, and this is one of them."

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