There are more shark attacks in U.S. waters than in any other region of the world.
Credit: NOAA photo library. Used with permission.
Last year, shark attacks in the United States tied 2000's record high of 53, according to a report released this week.
Meanwhile, worldwide shark attacks and related fatalities stood at average levels in 2012, with 80 confirmed incidents, seven of them deadly.
The most unprovoked attacks — 26 — occurred in Florida, followed by 10 in Hawaii, five each in California and South Carolina, and two in North Carolina, according to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File. Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Puerto Rico each had one incident. Just one of the U.S. shark attacks, on a surfer in California, was fatal.
The 2012 numbers for the United States mark a big increase from the 31 unprovoked attacks recorded in 2011. Researcher George Burgess, who maintains the attack file, says such an upswing can often be blamed on human factors, including "changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance, or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we're doing."
Burgess adds that it's not feasible to launch a "Jaws"-style revenge campaign as a prevention strategy, as officials in Western Australia did last year after a string of attacks on beachgoers. (Rumors of a so-called rogue man-eating shark spread at the time, though scientists said the more likely reason for the string of attacks came from different great whites that were following the annual migration of whales up the western Australian coast.)
"The concept of 'let's go out and kill them' is an archaic approach to a shark attack problem, and its opportunities for success are generally slim-to-none," Burgess explained in a statement. "It's mostly a feel-good revenge — like an 'eye for an eye' approach — when in fact you're not likely to catch the shark that was involved in the situation. The shark that was involved in the situation also isn't necessarily likely to do it again."
Instead, humans could reduce risks by avoiding known areas where, and times when, sharks are most common, and where danger is at its highest, Burgess suggests.
Researchers tend to emphasize that humans pose a much bigger threat to sharks than sharks do to people. Burgess noted that up to 70 million sharks are killed every year in fisheries, with the shark finning industry especially taking a toll on the fishes' population. Sharks are apex predators that help balance ecosystems in the world's oceans, and besides overfishing, they're threatened by pollution and habitat loss.