Greater safety precautions and in-your-face responses to confrontations with sharks went a long way in reducing the total number of attacks from 65 in 2004 to 58 in 2005 and fatalities from seven to four, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History.
In contrast, there were 78 shark attacks -- 11 of them fatal -- in 2000, the all-time high record year for attacks since statistics were kept, he said.
There also were simply fewer sharks to attack people, a result of a decline in populations caused by overfishing of the carnivorous creature, which generally is slow to reproduce, Burgess said.
"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, are doing the right thing to save their lives," he said.
In one such case, a surfer bitten by a great white shark off the Oregon coast on Dec. 24 had the presence of mind to drive it away with a well-timed punch to the nose, he said.
"That gentleman did precisely what he should do under those circumstances," Burgess said. "A person who is under attack should act aggressively toward the shark and not follow the advice given to women who are having their purses snatched in New York City, which is to lie on the ground, play dead and give up the purse."
Despite the worldwide decline, the number of attacks in the United States rose slightly, from 30 in 2004 to 38 in 2005. But that is still considerably lower than the recorded high of 52 in 2000, he said.
The same pattern emerged in Florida, the U.S. shark attack capital, where the number of attacks increased from 12 to 18 but was st
Contact: George Burgess
University of Florida