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U.S. registers sharp drop in shark attacks last year

March 4, 2010 | 12:06 pm

Shark3

Surfers and other ocean-sport enthusiasts might find solace in the news that shark attacks in the United States declined in 2009, according to a University of Florida report released Monday.

"The big story is that the number of attacks in the United States dropped dramatically from 41 in 2008 to 28 in 2009," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the university. "Considering there were 50 attacks in 2007, we may have a bit of a trend, but only time will tell."

One possibility for the decline of attacks in U.S. coastal waters may be that fewer people visited the shore due to the recession.

"Florida's population hasn't gone down, so I suppose the economy could have had an effect on how many times people can afford to put gas in their cars and go to the beach," added Burgess.

Worldwide is a different story, however, with attacks edging up ever so slightly, from 60 in 2008 to 61 in 2009.

"More than half the attacks -- 33 out of 61 -- were surfers and this continues a trend that we've been seeing for quite awhile," said Burgess.

Swimmers comprised the second largest group of victims, at 10. The remaining attacks involved just about every other ocean sport, including scuba diving, body and kite surfing, paddle and boogie boarding, snorkeling and spearfishing, plus some who were just wading or floating in the ocean when attacked.

At 28, the U.S. still led the world in the number of shark attacks -- Australia was second with 20, then South Africa with six.

Of those attacks in the U.S., 19 were in Florida, four in California, three in Hawaii and one each in Georgia and Texas.

The Florida Museum of Natural History website includes information on how to reduce the chances of being attacked by a shark, including using extra caution when waters are murky, avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours and always stay in groups since sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Dorsal fin of a white shark. Credit: Caterina Gennerao

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