University of Florida reports 2012 U.S. shark attacks highest since 2000

February 11th, 2013

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks in the U.S. reached a decade high in 2012, while worldwide fatalities remained average, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File report released today.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, displays a dusky shark jaw and sharpnose shark embryo specimens in Dickinson Hall on the University of Florida campus. ©Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, displays shark specimens in Dickinson Hall on the University of Florida campus.
©Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Eric Zamora

The U.S. saw an upturn in attacks with 53, the most since 2000. There were seven fatalities worldwide, which is lower than 2011 but higher than the yearly average of 4.4 from 2001 to 2010. It is the second consecutive year for multiple shark attacks in Western Australia (5) and Reunion Island (3) in the southwest Indian Ocean, which indicates the localities have developed problematic situations, said George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“Those two areas are sort of hot spots in the world – Western Australia is a function of white shark incidents and Reunion is a function most likely of bull shark incidents,” Burgess said. “What I’ve seen in all situations when there’s been a sudden upswing in an area is that human-causative factors are involved, such as changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance, or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we’re doing.” (more…)

New study documents first cookiecutter shark attack on a live human

June 30th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers provides details on the first cookiecutter shark attack on a live human, a concern as warm summer waters attract more people to the ocean.

The study currently online and appearing in the July print edition of Pacific Science warns that swimmers entering the cookiecutter’s range of open ocean tropical waters may be considered prey. The sharks feed near the surface at night, meaning daytime swimmers are less likely to encounter them. The species is small, with adults reaching about 2 feet, but their unique jaws specialize in scooping out a piece of flesh, leaving victims with a crater-like wound.

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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. (more…)

Shark attacks increase worldwide; Florida continues four-year decline

February 7th, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The number of reported shark attacks last year increased worldwide, but declined in Florida, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File annual report released today.

Ichthyologist George Burgess, director of the file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, said Florida typically has the highest number of attacks worldwide, but 2010 marked the state’s fourth straight year of decline. Florida led the U.S. with 13 reported attacks, but the total was significantly lower than the yearly average of 23 over the past decade.

“Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12,” Burgess said. “Maybe it’s a reflection of the downturn in the economy and the number of tourists coming to Florida, or the amount of money native Floridians can spend taking holidays and going to the beach.” (more…)

Florida Museum case study analyzes why, where and when of leading shark attack site

May 26th, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shark attacks are most likely to occur on Sunday, in less than 6 feet of water, during a new moon and involve surfers wearing black and white bathing suits, a first-of-its-kind study from the University of Florida suggests.

Researchers analyzed statistics from shark attacks that occurred in Florida’s Volusia County, dubbed the “Shark Attack Capital of the World,” between 1956 and 2008. They also spent a year observing people between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. (more…)

Shark attacks sharply decline in Florida and the United States last year

March 1st, 2010

Multimedia: Shark attacks sharply decline in Florida and the United States last year

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Despite last month’s fatality off the Florida coast, the number of shark attacks in the United States continued its downward trend by taking a plunge in the latest recorded year, according to a new report from the Florida Museum of Natural History.

There might not be a sea change in the violent encounters because attacks worldwide edged up from 60 in 2008 to 61 in 2009, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum.

“The big story is that the number of attacks in the United States dropped dramatically from 41 in 2008 to 28 in 2009,” he said. “Considering there were 50 attacks in 2007, we may have a bit of a trend, but only time will tell.” (more…)

New forensic technique gives clues about sharks from bite damage

December 1st, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hit-and-run attacks by sharks can be solved with a new technique that identifies the culprits by the unique chomp they put on their victims, according to a University of Florida researcher and shark expert.

In a method analogous to analyzing human fingerprints, scientists can make identifications by precisely comparing shark bites to the jaws and teeth of the powerful predators, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History.

“Every time we investigate a shark attack one of the pieces of information that we want to have is what species was involved and what size it was,” he said. “Because I’ve been looking at shark attack victims for 30 years I can estimate what did the damage, but I have never been able to actually prove it.” (more…)

Shark attacks decline worldwide in midst of economic recession

February 19th, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The recession may be responsible for a slump of a different sort: an unexpected dive in shark attacks, says a University of Florida researcher.

Shark attacks worldwide in 2008 dipped to their lowest level in five years, a sign that Americans may be forgoing vacation trips to the beach, said George Burgess, ichthyologist and director of the International Shark Attack File, which is housed at UF.

According to the latest statistics released today, the total number of shark attacks declined from 71 in 2007 to 59 in 2008, the fewest since 2003, when there were 57, said Burgess, who works at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

“I can’t help but think that contributing to that reduction may have been the reticence of some people to take holidays and go to the beach for economic reasons,” Burgess said. “We noticed similar declines during the recession that followed the events of 2001, despite the fact that human populations continued to rise.” (more…)

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.” (more…)

Human deaths from shark attacks hit 20-year low last year

February 12th, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fatal shark attacks worldwide dipped to their lowest levels in two decades in 2007 with the sole casualty involving a swimmer vacationing in the South Pacific, according to the latest statistics from the University of Florida.

Except for 1987, when there were no fatalities, the last year a single human death occurred from a shark attack was in 1985, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at UF’s Florida Museum of Natural History. By comparison, there were four deaths each in 2005 and 2006, and seven in 2004.

“It’s quite spectacular that for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide spending hundreds of millions of hours in the water in activities that are often very provocative to sharks, such as surfing, there is only one incident resulting in a fatality,” he said. “The danger of a shark attack stays in the forefront of our psyches because of it being drilled into our brain for the last 30 years by the popular media, movies, books and television, but in reality the chances of dying from one are infinitesimal.” (more…)