(Great White Shark; Image: SharkDiver.com)
Worldwide, shark attacks also increased, with 79 occurring in 2010, the highest since the year 2000, when sharks attacked 80 people. Shark-related fatalities for last year were also above average, with six deaths reported.
The news might have been even worse in shark-popular spots like Florida, were it not for the lousy economy.
“Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12,” said ichthyologist George Burgess in a press release.
“Maybe it’s a reflection of the downturn in the economy and the number of tourists coming to Florida, or the amount of money native Floridians can spend taking holidays and going to the beach,” added Burgess, who is director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.
Although Florida’s number of shark attacks declined in 2010, the state still led the U.S., with 13 reported attacks. Twenty-three other attacks happened in these other states:
North Carolina: 5
South Carolina: 4
Outside of the U.S., the following countries also experienced shark attacks in 2010:
South Africa: 8
Egypt is noteworthy because five of its six attacks, which included one fatality, all happened during early December and were attributed to just two sharks. The attacks occurred within a 5-day period.
“This was a situation that was hugely unusual by shark-attack standards,” said Burgess, who has researched sharks at the museum for more than 35 years. “It was probably the most unusual shark incident of my career.”
He thinks a combination of natural and human factors contributed to the attacks in the Red Sea. These include higher than normal water temperatures caused by an unusually hot summer, international livestock traders dumping sheep carcasses into the water, and divers feeding reef fishes and sharks.
“The reality is, going into the sea is a wilderness experience,” he said. “You’re visiting a foreign environment — it’s not a situation where you’re guaranteed success.”
With that in mind, it might not be such a good time to swim off the coast of Florida, where 100,000 sharks were recently spotted swimming close to shore. Helicopter pilot Steve Irwin, who saw the sharks, believes they were spinner sharks, which received that name because of their unusual method of feeding. They swim rapidly through schools, spinning along the axis of their bodies and sometimes leaping out of the water.
Here’s video footage showing the sharks:
Irwin couldn’t believe so many spinner sharks were together near Florida.
“It was an truly amazing sight,” he told the Daily Mail. “I’ve been a fisherman for 20 years and I also kayak out there and it’s common to see them twist and turn and shoot through the air. They’re prevalent at this time of year but what amazed me was the sheer numbers of them. There were tens of thousands of them — I’d say maybe 100,000.”
Irwin added: “I kept on flying for about 20 miles and they just kept on coming. It’s common to see large predatory sharks come in and feed on schools of bait-fish – the odd thing was I didn’t see any bait-fish at all!”
If you wish to avoid becoming shark bait yourself, take particular care if you surf. Surfers were the victims of slightly more than half of the incidents reported in 2010, nearly 51 percent of the cases. Swimmers and waders were the second-largest group affected, accounting for nearly 38 percent of the shark attacks internationally.
Burgess believes there are simple ways to reduce the possibility of a shark attack, such as avoiding fishing areas and inlets where sharks gather and leaving the water when a shark is sighted.
Even with the rise in shark attacks and fatalities, the number of sharks killed by humans each year is staggering, with 30 to 70 million sharks killed by fisheries alone.
“One-on-one in the sea, the sharks are going to win in a confrontation with humans if they really want to do so,” Burgess said. “But out of the sea, we can sit high and dry with a beer in our hand, put a line overboard and catch the fiercest animal in the sea.”
To watch a video report on the 2010 International Shark Attack File annual report, please visit this University of Florida News page.