Shark attack increase blamed on humans

By AAP with AG staff 15 February 2012
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A rise in shark attacks around the globe has been attributed to more tourists visiting shark territories.

SHARKS KILLED TWICE AS many swimmers and surfers last year than in 2010, with the increase due largely to a growth in tourism and changing shark patterns due to global warming.

There were 12 deaths in 46 shark attacks in 2011, a mortality rate of more than 25 per cent compared to an average of under 7 per cent in the last 10 years, according to statistics from the University of Florida.

Countries that recorded shark attack deaths included Australia with three fatal out of 11 attacks; South Africa, two fatal out of five; the French island of Reunion, two deaths in four attacks; and Seychelles with two fatal attacks.

Other countries with non-fatal shark attacks included Indonesia (three), Mexico (three), Russia (three) and Brazil (two).

Tourists and sharks don’t mix

Three locations not normally associated with high numbers of shark attacks – Reunion, Seychelles and New Caledonia – registered a total of seven attacks with five fatal outcomes, according to George Burgess, director of shark research at the University of Florida.

“Those areas were not traditional areas for tourism in recent years,” he said. “Over the last decade, more and more tourists have been going there … So we are getting more people coming to places where there are sharks, and the local communities are not prepared for the number of people going into the water at this time.”

He said medical facilities in these areas may not be developed enough to provide treatment in emergencies of this type.

In addition to the influx of tourists, the effects of global warming has meant sharks migrating to regions where they were not normally seen.

In August last year, authorities even in far eastern Russian reported three non-fatal shark attacks in the Primorye region – not a normal location for the predator.

Shark attacks most common in the US

The United States experienced the most shark attacks last year, with a total of 29 out of 75 reported around the world, but had no fatal cases, Burgess said.

“In the US and in Florida, where the most shark attacks occur in the US, we have seen a decline over a 10-year period,” he said of the fatalities.
According to Burgess, this could be a result of the economic crisis of recent years, which has reduced the number of tourists visiting Florida beaches.

He said the US had done a “good job” to ensure safety in areas where sharks and humans get together.

Burgess said the reduction in the number of fatalities had been made possible due to good beach safety personnel, reliable emergency care and the availability of many good hospitals and other medical facilities.
“As a result, when trauma occurs, when there are serious injuries in the water, we can get the people to the hospital quickly,” he said.

Sharks are victims more than killers

Still, the number of fatal shark attacks remains very low compared to other causes of death, Burgess said.

The number also appears lower still compared to the 30 million to 70 million sharks killed by humans each year, noted the scientist. The shark killing, he said, was a “tragedy”.

A third of all shark species, including the great white, are threatened with extinction because of overfishing and demand in Asia for their fins, to which people wrongly attribute aphrodisiac properties.