GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The number of shark attacks in the world hit an all-time high in 2000, led by an upswing of incidents in the United States and Florida, a new University of Florida study shows.
Last year’s total of 79 unprovoked attacks on humans was the largest since the International Shark Attack File, or ISAF, a compilation of all known incidents, began recording statistics in 1958, said George Burgess, director of the file, which is housed at UF.
By comparison, 58 such attacks were recorded in 1999 and the yearly average during the ‘90s was 54, he said.
Contributing to last year’s world record was an upswing in U.S. shark attacks from 37 in 1999 to 51 in 2000, as well as those in Florida from 25 to 34 in the same period.
The increase is a result of more people spending time in the water, often in remote parts of the world, and a greater number of human-shark skirmishes coming to the attention of the scientific community, thanks to news on the Internet and victims taking the initiative to report their own attacks via e-mail, Burgess said.
"Attacks are basically an odds game based on how many hours you are in the water," he said. "Some of these attacks are beginning to pop up in far-flung corners of the Earth as tourists can afford to vacation in areas they wouldn’t normally have gone to in the past.
"Unfortunately, lots of these tourists gleefully enter waters that natives -- who learn over the years where to swim and not swim -- might choose not to go into," said Burgess, an ichthyologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.
Among the exotic island locales where tourists unwittingly encountered sharks were Kiribati, the Galapagos, Fiji and the Indian Ocean’s remote Reunion Island.
Such victims now help in scientific investigations by surfing the Internet for information on shark attacks, finding the ISAF’s Web site and e-mailing their personal stories, Burgess said. The Web site is part of the museum’s fishes Web site, which receives more than 3 million hits a month and has a shark attack questionnaire that can be downloaded and filled out in four different languages.
"Assuming they’re not injured too badly, people are now able to get on the Web and send us an e-mail the same day they’re attacked," Burgess said. "They’re also scanning photographs of their injuries and attaching them to the e-mail.
"For example, one day out of the blue, we got an e-mail from a French diver in the Galapagos saying he was attacked," he said. "In the past, he never would have known about us and we never would have been able to track down that there had been an attack."
Not only do Burgess and his team get information directly from victims, but they also use the Internet to learn details immediately from scientific colleagues, as well as radio and TV stations in foreign countries, rather than spend days to get specifics the old-fashioned way through the mail, he said.
They found that Australia had seven attacks, followed by South Africa (5), the Bahamas (4), Reunion Island (2), Papua New Guinea (2) and Tanzania (2). Single incidents were recorded in Fiji, the Galapagos Islands, Japan, Kiribati, New Caledonia and Tonga.
Ten people died from their wounds last year, six more than in 1999. The fatality rate for 2000 was fairly typical, however, since it matched the decade average of 12.7 percent, he said. Three fatalities were recorded in Australia; two in Tanzania; and one each in Fiji, Japan, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and the United States.
The lone U.S. death occurred in St. Petersburg, Fla,. on Aug. 30, when Thadeus Kubinski jumped off his dock in Boca Ciega Bay, landing close to a feeding shark.
Volusia County earned the distinction of having the greatest number of attacks within Florida (12), largely because of the enormous number of beach-goers in the region and surfers’ attraction to the waves at Ponce de Leon Inlet near New Smyrna Beach, he said.
Other states reporting attacks last year in North Carolina (5), California (3), Alabama (2), Hawaii (2), Texas (2), Louisiana (1) and South Carolina (1). Puerto Rico also had one.
Swimmers and waders were the most frequent victims (46 percent), followed by surfers and windsurfers (32 percent); divers and snorkelers (18 percent), body surfers (3 percent) and people just entering the water (1 percent).
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