Shark Attacks Decline. The Good News and the Bad.
An Interview with the University of Florida’s Shark Specialist, George Burgess.
By Chris Dixon
Last week, the University of Florida published an article stating that for the third straight year in a row, shark attacks have declined by some 30 percent worldwide.
The shark attack data came from George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University’s Museum of Natural History.
According to the file:
*The number of shark attacks dropped for the third year in a row, with 55 unprovoked attacks reported in 2003.
*In 2002, there were 63, in 2001 there were 68 and 2000 saw 79 reported attacks.
*Of worldwide fatal attacks, 11 occurred in 2000, 4 in 2001, 3 in 2002 and 4 in 2003.
*A total of 36 attacks occurred in American waters in 2003, and not surprisingly, Florida led the list with 31.
*Volusia County, home of New Smyrna Beach had 14 attacks, compared with 18 in ’02 and 22 in ’01.
*Of American attacks in 2003, 29, or 54 percent had victims who were surfers or windsurfers.
The report went on to back up a possible reason for the drop in attacks to overfishing. On the East Coast, some species have dropped 40 to 50 percent in population in the last 15 years. A few species have seen their numbers drop 70 percent.
While on its face, a drop in attacks is good news for surfers, is a decline in shark numbers good news on the whole? In the interest of learning a little more, I phoned Dr. Burgess in Florida. He turned out to be a cornucopia of information on sharks, and he did a great job of explaining differences in attack patterns in Florida, California and Hawaii. He also went to explain why, the next time you reel in a little shark while fishing, maybe you should throw it back rather than let it flop to death on the deck of your boat.