The annual total of 60 unprovoked attacks worldwide was less than the 72 reported in 2001 and 85 recorded in 2000, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at UF.
Not only did the number drop, fewer of the attacks were serious. The number of fatalities declined to three in 2002, from five in 2001 and 13 in 2000. Two of last year's fatal attacks occurred in Australia and the third took place in Brazil.
"The number of shark attacks has declined for the last two years at all three levels, internationally, nationally and in Florida, the so-called shark capital of the world," he said.
"I think it underscores the views scientists enunciated in 2001 that that year was not particularly unusual and that attacks were not on an upswing," said Burgess, a biological scientist and coordinator of museum operations at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. Burgess just completed compiling the annual report for the shark attack file, a record of all known shark attacks. Coinciding with Time magazine's label "The Summer of the Shark," the prevailing perception was that 2001 was a banner year for shark attacks, Burgess said. But scientists put more stock in decade-long trends than year-to-year fluctuations, which can result from a variety of oceanographic, meteorological and economic conditions, he said.
One explanation for the recent decline in attacks may be over fishing of sharks, Burgess said.
"Shark populations are at low levels, not only on the East Coast of the United States but worldwide, primarily because of over fishing and to a lesser extent because of habitat alteration," he said. "It appears that fishery management practices have stemmed the tide and these East Coast populations may be b
Contact: George Burgess
University of Florida