What is believed to be a great white shark attacked and killed a 66-year-old swimmer off Solana Beach, San Diego, on Friday, leading to a beach closure, mourning among friends and relatives, and rampant media attention.
Such fatal attacks have been relatively rare.
A single swimmer in the South Pacific was the only person to die from a shark attack in 2007, but total shark attacks rose nearly 13% over 2006, according to statistics released in February by Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.
The number of fatal shark attacks hit a 20-year low. In 1987, there were no fatalities. (There were four deaths each in 2005 and 2006, and seven in 2004.)
Its quite spectacular that for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide spending hundreds of millions of hours in the water in activities that are often very provocative to sharks, such as surfing, there is only one incident resulting in a fatality, the lead author, George Burgess, said at the time. The danger of a shark attack stays in the forefront of our psyches because of it being drilled into our brain for the last 30 years by the popular media, movies, books and television, but in reality the chances of dying from one are infinitesimal.
The number of shark attacks overall increased from 63 in 2006 to 71 in 2007, a nearly 13% increase, continuing a gradual upswing during the past four years.
One would expect there to be more shark attacks each year than the previous year simply because there are more people entering the water, Burgess said. For baby boomers and earlier generations, going to the beach was basically an exercise in working on your suntan where a swim often meant a quick dunking. Today people are engaged in surfing, diving, boogie boarding and other aquatic activities that put them much closer to sharks.
Often, about half of the worlds attacks occur in United States mainland and Hawaiian waters, but the proportion was greater in 2007, Burgess said. Last years total of 50 attacks returned to 2000 and 2001 levels of 53 and 50, respectively, after dropping from 30 to 40 for each year between 2003 and 2006, he said.
There also was an upswing in attacks along the Florida coast, jumping from 23 in 2006 to 32 in 2007. There has been a gradual increase in human-shark skirmishes in the Sunshine State since they dropped from 37 in 2000 to an 11-year-low of 12 in 2004, he said.
Within Florida, Volusia County continued its dubious distinction as the worlds shark bite capital with 17 incidents, its highest yearly total since 2002, Burgess said. Attractive waves off New Smyrna Beach on the central Atlantic coast are popular with surfers, he said.
Additional U.S. attacks were recorded in Hawaii seven marking a five-year high, along with South Carolina, five; California, three; North Carolina, two; and Texas, one.
Elsewhere, there were 12 attacks in Australia, up from seven in 2006 and 10 in 2005, but down slightly from the 13 attacks recorded in 2004. There were two attacks each last year in South Africa and New Caledonia, with single incidents reported in Fiji, Ecuador, Mexico and New Zealand.
Most of those attacked (56%) were surfers and windsurfers, followed by swimmers and waders (38%) and divers and snorkelers (6%). The one 2007 fatality was a snorkeler from France visiting the Loyalty Islands archipelago in French New Caledonia.
We advise not getting yourself isolated because there is safety in numbers, Burgess said. Sharks, like all predators, tend to go after solitary individuals, the weak and the infirm, and are less likely to attack people or fish in groups.
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