UF study: World shark attacks sink again, may signal long-term trend

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The number of shark attacks worldwide took a dip for the third straight year, in part perhaps because more people are realizing the ocean is a wild place instead of a backyard swimming pool, a new University of Florida study finds.

"I think people are beginning to get a little more intelligent about when and where they enter the water," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History. "There seems to be more of an understanding that when we enter the sea, it's a wilderness experience, and we're intruders in that environment."

Last year's total of 55 unprovoked attacks worldwide dropped nearly 13 percent from the 63 reported in 2002, and was down considerably from the 68 in 2001 and the all-time record of 79 in 2000, said Burgess, who oversees the file, the world's largest database of shark attacks.

More important, he said, the overall fatality rate continues to be lower than in the past, making up only 7 percent of the attacks that occurred in 2003, in contrast to an annual average of 13 percent during the 1990s.

Last year there were four deaths from shark attacks compared with three in 2002, four in 2001 and 11 in 2000. They occurred in the United States, Australia, South Africa and Fiji.

The most highly publicized attack involved Deborah Franzman, a 50-year-old woman who was mauled to death by a great white shark on Aug. 19 while swimming alongside a group of seals off the California coast, Burgess said. Another high-profile incident that didn't end in fatality was a Halloween attack off Kauai's North Shore on 13-year-old surfing champion Bethany Hamilton, whose left arm was severed below the shoulder during practice.

Normally, scientists don't put much stock in year-to-year fluctuations in the number of attacks. Such variations could be caused by a variety of changes in meteorological and oceanographic conditions, such as an up

Contact: George Burgess
University of Florida

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