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Shark attacks have increased around the world in the last 55 years, but that does not mean you should cancel your beach vacation, according to a new study. The attack rate is actually low and the risk varies, depending on the location.
The researchers used data collected from 1960 to 2015 by the International Shark Attack Archives of the Florida Museum of Natural History for a global statistical analysis of shark attacks.
Some years show several reported attacks in one area, such as the increase in shark attacks in the Carolinas in 2015. So the researchers used the museum’s data to observe shark attacks in 14 countries, including regions in the United States , Australia and South Africa that had the highest number of attacks. Each of these countries has had more than 10 shark attacks since 1960.
The study was published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
“I was curious about the likelihood of shark attacks in a number of years in different parts of the world,” Stephen Midway, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University, said in a statement. . “While several shark attacks are often reported, we segmented into regional human populations to determine the rate of shark attacks worldwide. I think this information could contribute to a more scientific discussion about sharks in general and help their management and conservation. “
The researchers found that shark attack rates are low, but have doubled in densely populated areas such as the east coast of the United States and southern Australia, with attacks that have doubled in the past 20 years. But based on the population of these countries, the rate could be as low as one attack per million people.
“As development increases along the coast and in beach communities, more residents and tourists frequent these waters,” said Midway. “With more people in the water, the possibility of a shark attack increases. However, I must underline the fact that not all places in the world saw an increase. And even in the places where we saw an increase, the possibilities were still one in several million. “
But these are not fatal attacks like those in the movie “Jaws”.
During the 55-year period, 1,215 people reported shark attacks in the United States, but most of these ended with minor skin lesions or injuries similar to a dog’s bite. Only about 2% were fatal.
That’s roughly 6 out of 75 to 100 unprovoked attacks that occur around the world each year, according to the study. Surfing and swimming were the most likely activities before a shark attack, and diving accounted for around 10%.
“We should think about the risk of a shark attack as we would think about the risk of a car accident,” said Midway. “For example, we do not evaluate our personal risk of suffering a car accident according to the national statistics on car accidents year after year. We think about our car, the weather , road conditions and other very local factors. “
In the 14 countries, the most dominant shark species include bull, tiger and white sharks. These species are of interest to researchers because of their migration patterns. But they are also described as a terror for tourists in television shows and movies.
Predicting individual shark attacks was not the goal of the study, and it’s impossible, the researchers said. But knowing long-term trends and by region, in association with human activity, could help determine risk.
“Humans have always demonized sharks because they are elusive and live in an environment that is not common to us: the sea,” said George Burgess, co-author of the study and director emeritus of the Shark Research Program. Florida Museum of Natural History. “We would like people to know that these shark attack events should be put into perspective every time they occur. This study helps us take a step back and look at the big picture. “