Shark Attack on Kite Surfer Extremely Rare

Stephen Schafer, the kite surfer killed by a swarm of sharks off the coast of Florida Wednesday, was the victim of a terrifying but rare attack.

Globally there are a few dozen shark attacks a year, with 4 deaths in 2008 (official numbers for 2009 have yet to be compiled). In Florida, there were 32 shark attacks in 2008 and the same number in 2007, with no fatalities.

The overall number of attacks had risen slightly in recent years, largely because more people go into the water where sharks are, but that trend has reversed of late. The recession has meant fewer people vacationing at places where they might swim and become shark bait.

Sharks don't generally eat people. The attacks on humans are accidental, experts say. A paddling surfer looks a lot like dinner from below. Often, victims are able to get away after a shark realizes it has not found its normal food.

New Zealand girl Lydia Ward, waist-deep in water earlier this week, beat off a shark with her boogie board after it attacked her hip.

The risk of being bit by a shark is about the same as the chances of getting bit by animals in New York City, hit by lightning or being attacked by an alligator, according to officials at the International Shark Attack File (ISAF). Of course, if you don't ever go in the water, your chances are zero.

The shark attack capital of the United States is New Smyrna, Fla., sort of, according to the ISAF. The beach is in a county that has logged 210 attacks on humans. No. 2 is North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii and Long Beach Island in New Jersey gets the No. 3 spot.

Meanwhile, by some estimates, 73 million sharks are killed every year, often just for their fins, and that's taking a bite out of their ability to attack humans.

Live Science Staff
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.