Florida Museum shark expert to investigate recent Mexico attacks

May 31st, 2011

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History shark expert George Burgess departs for Mexico today to research three shark attacks near Cancun on Jan. 31 and March 21 and 24.

This marks Burgess’ fourth trip to Mexico to investigate shark incidents in the last 20 years. While attacks in Mexico are not as common as in more populated areas, the events of early 2011 drew media attention because of the tourists involved, Burgess said.

“It’s the same thing as Egypt in December, just a different language,” said Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at the Florida Museum, whose work is featured in the current issue of Playboy magazine.

In early December 2010, Burgess traveled to Egypt to investigate a series of shark attacks he described as the most unusual of his career. It involved six attacks, five within five days, and four of the five caused by two individual sharks.

Burgess concluded the incidents were caused by a combination of over-fishing, warmer-than-usual waters, the feeding of reef fishes and sharks, and the tossing of sheep carcasses from boats into the water.

“It sort of made this ‘perfect storm’ occur in the Red Sea, but there is the commonality of both [places] involving tourist destinations, hence the level of concern by local business and government,” Burgess said of the attacks in waters off Egypt and Mexico. “The real concern in all of these situations is how to make it go away and in that respect, it’s very much like the movie and the book ‘Jaws’.”

Burgess was summoned to Mexico by a representative of the local government and businesses of Cancun and will be working with other scientists to understand the circumstances from various perspectives, identify the species involved and hypothesize causes of the attacks, he said. According to reports, all three victims were injured while swimming about 30 to 300 feet from shore.

“A big part of what we end up doing in these situations is public education,” said Burgess, who was recently interviewed for an article about sharks scheduled to appear in the August issue of Outside magazine. “Sharks only kill four to five humans a year worldwide, but we as humans have to do what we can to reduce the risks.”

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