Shark attack deaths for 2011 highest since 1993

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The University of Florida's International Shark Attack File reports that worldwide fatalities from shark attacks reached a two-decade high in 2011.

Florida and the U.S. actually saw a five-year downturn in reported unprovoked attacks, and all 12 fatalities occurred outside of the US.  

Ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus believes that the trend might be related to the current economic situation forcing tourists into alternative remote destinations.

"We had a number of fatalities in essentially out-of the way places, where there's not the same quantity and quality of medical attention readily available," Burgess said. "They also don't have histories of shark attacks in these regions, so there are not contingency plans in effect like there are in places such as Florida."

With 12 fatalities from 75 attacks worldwide, the number of fatalities has doubled compared to 2010. There were three fatalities in Australia, two each in Reunion, the Seychelles, South Africa, and one each in Costa Rica, Kenya and New Caledonia.  

To help reduce the number of fatalities emergency plans will be created for these alternative areas, and Burgess has been invited to work on developing a response plan for Reunion Island this spring.

"Ironically, in this very foreign environment that has animals and plants that can do us harm, we often don't seem to exhibit any concern at all, we just jump in," Burgess said.

Surfers accounted for approximately 60% of unprovoked attacks, mainly due to the nature of the activity.  Swimmers accounted for 35% and divers around 5%.  

"When you're inside the water, there's much less chance of sharks making a mistake because both parties can see each other," Burgess said. "Surfing involves a lot of swimming, kicking and splashing."

Although the number of deaths might seem high compared to previous years, it’s still important to remember the threat posed to sharks by humans.

"We're killing 30 to 70 million sharks per year in fisheries — who's killing who?" Burgess said. "The reality is that the sea is actually a pretty benign environment, or else we'd be measuring injuries in the thousands or millions per year."

You can view the 2011 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary online.

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