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U.S. led the world in shark attacks last year

February 8, 2011 |  8:37 am

Great white shark prowls the waters near Guadalupe Island off Baja California.

The U.S. led the world again in the number of shark attacks last year, according to a University of Florida report released this week.

Worldwide, 79 attacks occurred in 2010 -- the highest number since 2000 (80) -- with 36 reported in the United States. Australia was second with 14, then South Africa with eight and Vietnam and Egypt with six each.

While Florida led the nation with 13 reported attacks, this total was significantly lower than the state's yearly average of 23 over the past decade.

"Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the university. Florida typically has the highest number of attacks worldwide, but 2010 marked the state’s fourth straight year of decline, Burgess said. "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."

Of those attacks in the U.S. outside of Florida, five were in North Carolina, with four each in California, Hawaii and South Carolina. There were single attacks in Georgia, Maine, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Surfers were the victims of slightly more than half of the incidents reported worldwide in 2010, nearly 51% of the cases. An economic downturn will usually influence tourists but not necessarily surfers, whose sport is relatively low-cost, Burgess said.

Swimmers and waders were the second-largest group affected, accounting for nearly 38% of the shark attacks internationally.

The most unusual event took place in early December off the coast of Egypt when there were five attacks, including one fatality. The attacks occurred within five days, and four of the five were attributed to two individual sharks.

"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."

Burgess suggests that these attacks may be attributed to a combination of natural and human factors, including higher 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 number of shark attacks in a year could be reduced by half if people just used more common sense, Burgess said, including avoiding fishing areas and inlets where sharks gather and leaving the water when a shark is sighted.

"The reality is, going into the sea is a wilderness experience," Burgess said. "You’re visiting a foreign environment -- it’s not a situation where you’re guaranteed success."

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: Great white shark prowls the waters near Guadalupe Island off Baja California. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times