GAINESVILLE, Fla. Shark attacks edged up slightly in 2006 but continued an overall long-term decline as overfishing and more cautious swimmers helped take a bite out of the aggressive encounters, new University of Florida research finds.
The total number of shark attacks worldwide increased from 61 in 2005 to 62 in 2006 and the number of fatalities remained stable at four, far below the 79 attacks and 11 fatalities recorded in 2000, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at UFs Florida Museum of Natural History.
This was a nice dull year and we love dull years because it means there are fewer serious attacks and fewer victims, Burgess said. Its really quite remarkable when you have only four people a year die in the mouth of a shark and puts in perspective how small shark attack is as a phenomenon.
Fewer sharks are swarming near the shore where humans swim as larger numbers of shark and other fish of prey are killed each year, Burgess said. At the same time, many Third World countries are making strides in improving medical care and beach safety, while many people are getting smarter about where and when to get into the water, he said.
Theyre starting to see that when they enter the sea, theyre engaging in a wilderness experience as opposed to entering the equivalent of a backyard pool, he said.
As a result, the rate of attacks has actually declined over the years as human population has increased, he said.
The number of attacks in the United States, the worlds leader, dipped slightly from 40 in 2005 to 38 in 2006; well below the 53 recorded in 2000, he said.
As in past years, Florida was the worlds shark capital, with 23 attacks, Burgess said. This was slightly higher than the 19 cases reported in 2005 but considerably lower than the annual average of 33 between 2000 and 2003, he said.