Special Report
forwarded by AAF Correspondent: Jim Morris

Shark Attacks Drop WorldWide,
Florida Report Says

Tuesday, March 16, 1999


MIAMI, March 16 (Reuters) - Shark attacks on humans dropped worldwide in 1998 for the third straight year, leaving scientists to puzzle whether overfishing, climate changes or other factors figured in the decline.

Researchers for the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida in Gainesville logged 49 shark attacks on people last year. That was down from 57 in 1997 and was well below the all-time high of 72 in 1995, said a study released on Tuesday.

File director George Burgess said that scientists suspected overfishing of sharks could be a factor, but that the trend would have to continue several more years before they knew for sure.

The drop could also be due to changing weather patterns or variations in currents, which could affect the number of fish available for sharks to feed on close to shore. There could also be fewer people in the water for sharks to bump into.

"If there is a downturn in the economy, you're going to get (fewer) tourists going to the beaches and therefore less time spent in the water," Burgess told Reuters.

More than half of last year's attacks, 25, occurred in North America, with 75 percent of those in Florida. There were 18 attacks in Africa, four in South America, one in Australia and one in the South Pacific.

"The big news was that South Africa had more attacks than it has in many years," Burgess said.

South Africa had 17 shark attacks last year, compared to a yearly average of five over the past decade. Burgess said there were no reports of unusual oceanographic conditions, except for greater numbers of sardines, which could attract more sharks.

Six of last year's shark attacks were fatal -- two in Brazil and one each in Florida, South Africa, Australia and Mozambique.

The Florida fatality was the state's first in a decade. It occurred on Nov. 21, when a six-foot (1.8-metre) tiger shark grabbed a 9-year-old boy off Vero Beach and pulled him under. The boy was flailing to stay afloat in fairly deep water, which probably attracted the shark, Burgess said.

"It's very unusual to have a fatal shark attack in Florida waters," Burgess said. "Most of our cases involve hit-and-run attacks, in which the shark, apparently mistaking a person for a fish, makes a quick grab, then apparently realising its error, lets go and swims away. The damage left to humans is usually nothing more than a few scars."

Overall, Florida shark attacks dropped to 19 last year from 25 in 1997. Most were off the central Atlantic Coast in the Ponce Inlet area near Daytona Beach, a popular spot for wading and swimming.

"Perhaps even more importantly, Ponce Inlet is an area where surfers are found in the greatest abundance in Florida," Burgess said.

Surfers were the most targeted recreational group worldwide, accounting for 69 percent of all 1998 shark attacks, Burgess said. The remaining attacks occurred equally against swimmers and divers, who accounted for 15 percent each.

Surfers were frequent victims because their kicking and splashing at the water's surface mimicked the activities of a mullet or some other food item of the shark, he said.

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