Monday, February 10, 2020

There are fewer shark attacks but more unusual incidents

New data from the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File (ISAF) — the world’s “comprehensive database of all known shark attacks” — show that unprovoked shark attacks remained infrequent in 2019.

Scientists in charge of ISAF define “unprovoked shark attacks” as attacks that take place in the shark’s natural territory and do not involve the human trying to initiate interaction.

ISAF data indicate that over the past decade, there have been 799 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide. Yet in 2018, and again in 2019, the numbers were remarkably low.

Last year, there were 64 unprovoked shark attacks in total, with only two more cases than in 2018, when scientists registered a total of 62 such attacks worldwide.

The number of registered attacks in 2019 is also 22% lower than the average of 82 cases per year over the 2014–2018 period.

Two of the shark attacks last year proved fatal, but this number, once more, is lower than the average of four shark attack-related deaths per year. Researchers are not quite sure what could explain this change.

“We’ve had back-to-back years with unusual decreases in shark attacks, and we know that people aren’t spending less time in the water,” says Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program.

“This suggests sharks aren’t frequenting the same places they have in the past. But it’s too early to say this is the new normal,” Naylor cautions.

U.S. still in the lead for shark bites

The ISAF report shows that one trend has remained consistent, however: Once again, most of the unprovoked shark attacks occurred in the United States, which registered as many as 41 such cases last year.

This number was, in fact, higher than the 32 unprovoked attacks that people reported in the U.S. in 2018 but lower than the 5 year average of 61 attacks per year.

Among the U.S. states, Florida led with 21 unprovoked shark attacks, and Hawaii followed with nine cases.

Other than the U.S., only Australia reported a relatively high number of unprovoked shark attacks last year: 11 cases. This country, too, however, saw a decrease from its recent 5 year average of 16 attacks per year.

The Bahama Islands followed, with two cases of unprovoked shark attacks in 2019.

The Canary Islands, Caribbean Islands, Cuba, French Polynesia, Guam, Israel, Mexico, New Caledonia, South Africa, and RĂ©union Island reported one case each.

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