Fla. Museum shark expert called to Mexico after third attack in four weeks

May 30th, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History shark expert George Burgess was summoned to Mexico Monday by the State of Guerrero after a third shark attack off the Mexican coast in a month. The attacks April 28 and May 23 and 24 killed two surfers, alarming government officials in the resort area.

Burgess is working with scientific colleagues and public officials to determine the potential reasons for the increased frequency of attacks and help calm the fears of locals attempting to catch as many sharks as possible from the beaches to eliminate the threat.

“Setting baited hooks to kill sharks only attracts them into the area and thus is counterproductive,” Burgess said. “We want to let people know what factors influence these events and educate them on what they can do. There is a lot of reaction to these attacks specifically because of their frequency.”

The attacks have worried local government and citizens in a coastal region where fatal shark attacks are rare. The last fatal shark attack in the area was in 1997, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File.

Since arriving in Mexico, Burgess has visited the attack sites, interviewing witnesses and examining environmental conditions, specific actions of the victims and other factors that may have contributed to the attacks.

Burgess and his colleagues will continue to examine local oceanographic and beach utilization patterns to see if they may have played a role in these shark-human interactions.

“We are trying to find the causative factors of these attacks,” Burgess said. “Our hope is that we can put this shark situation in perspective now and in the future. We will continue to study the local shark community and begin collaborative efforts to find the cause.”

Each of the three shark victims was surfing prior to being attacked. Adrian Ruiz, an American tourist, was fatally attacked April 28 in the waters off Troncones. The second attack occurred about 6 miles to the south at Pantla, fatally injuring Osvaldo Mata, a Mexican native on May 23. The most recent victim, Bruce Grimes, an American now living in Mexico, was attacked Saturday off of Playa Linda, but was able to escape with injuries to his arm and hand.

Burgess is director of the International Shark Attack File and the Florida Program for Shark Research, both housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus. In recent years, Burgess has been asked to visit various locations including Pensacola; Hong Kong and Cozumel, Mexico when high frequencies of attacks or unusual attacks have occurred.

For more information on the International Shark Attack File and the Florida Program for Shark Research visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu.

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Source: George Burgess, 352-392-2360, gburgess@flmnh.ufl.edu
Writer: Caroline Glagola
Media contact: Paul Ramey, 352-273-2054, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu