Jaw(s)-Dropping Rise in U.S. Shark Attacks

Tiger shark.
Tiger shark.

Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville reported 53 shark attacks in the U.S. last year, the highest total in 12 years.

The school’s International Shark Attack File report also showed seven fatalities worldwide, a lower number than the previous year but much higher than the yearly average of 4.4 deaths.

Global hotspots included Western Australia, a favorite haunt of great whites, and Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, a popular habitat of bull sharks. Both locations saw multiple attacks (five and three, respectively).

So what’s the reason behind the uptick in attacks? “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,” said George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. (English translation: It’s people’s fault.)

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.

As any fan of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week knows, attacks are extremely rare and usually occur when shark mistakes a person for a food source. Most take place in shallow coastal waters.  If you should be so unlucky as to have attracted the attention of an eager elasmobranch, take a proactive response and fight back. A good bop on the nose may disorient the shark and cause it to loosen its jaws.

“The responsibility is upon us, as humans, to avoid such situations or else pay the consequence,” added Burgess.

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