17 February 2006

Worldwide shark attacks down in 2005, continuing trend

The number of fatal and nonfatal shark attacks worldwide dropped in 2005, continuing a five-year trend, researchers said Monday.

There were 58 attacks in 2005, compared to 65 in 2004, while the number of fatal attacks dropped from seven to four, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, housed at the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History.

In contrast, there were 78 attacks in 2000, 11 of them fatal, the record year for attacks.

Surfers were the most frequent victims last year, accounting for 29 attacks, followed by 20 attacks on swimmers and waders and four attacks on divers.

"It appears that humans are doing a better job of avoiding being bitten, and on the rare occasion where they actually meet up with a shark, and are doing the right thing to save their lives," Burgess said.

Burgess said swimmers need to fight back aggressively if a shark attacks, pointing to a surfer who survived a Dec. 24 attack off the Oregon coast. He saved his life with a well-timed punch to the shark's nose. Punching the gills and poking the eyes also work.

Despite a worldwide decline, the number attacks in the United States rose slightly from 30 in 2004 to 38 in 2005, but well below the record of 52 in 2000.

Florida remained to U.S. shark attack capital, where the number of attacks increased from 12 to 18, but below the record of 37, Burgess said.

One of last year's four fatalities occurred in Florida, two were in Australia and one on the island of Vanuatu.

The Florida attack occurred June 25 along the Gulf Coast, where 14-year-old Jamie Daigle was attacked by a bull shark while swimming off Sandestin. It was the state's first fatal shark attack in four years. Two days later, Craig Hutto, 16, lost his right leg to a shark while fishing in waist-deep water off Cape San Blas, also in the Florida Panhandle.

Five of Florida's 18 attacks occurred on the Gulf Coast and the remainder occurred on the state's Atlantic coast. Five attacks occurred in South Carolina, four each in Texas and Hawaii, three in California, two in North Carolina and one each in New Jersey and Oregon.

The number of shark attacks depends on a variety of factors including ocean and weather conditions, abundance of prey and the amount of time people spend in the water, Burgess said.

Source: www.myrtlebeachonline.com


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