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…)

Florida Museum scientists discover megalodon shark nursery

May 10th, 2010

Photos Available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History researchers have discovered a 10-million-year-old Neotropical nursery area for the extinct megalodon shark in Panama, providing fossil evidence the fish used these areas to protect their young for millions of years.

Appearing in this week’s edition of the journal PLoS ONE, the article is the first thorough study of megalodon juveniles and gives scientists a better picture of shark behavior.

“The study provides evidence of megalodon behavior in the fossil record,” said lead author Catalina Pimiento, who just completed a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Florida and worked in the Florida Museum’s vertebrate paleontology division. “Behavior doesn’t fossilize, but we were able to interpret ancient protection strategies used by extinct sharks based on the fossil record.” (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…)

Florida Museum shark exhibit that began in High Springs traveling far and wide

November 2nd, 2009

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — From its humble beginnings at Archie’s Welding Services in High Springs, the Florida Museum of Natural History’s “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived,” exhibit has traveled many miles since its debut in June 2007.

After its display at the Florida Museum in Gainesville, the exhibit made a trans-pacific journey to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu where it was well received by more than 50,000 visitors from Oct. 11, 2008, to Jan. 11. The Miami Science Museum displayed the exhibit from Feb. 21 through Sept. 13 to an audience of more than 60,000.

“I would venture to say that the full-scale model is one of the most favorite parts—it’s definitely mine,” said Adriana Marin, Miami Science Museum marketing manager. “It’s really impressive because you can see it in comparison with your own size.” (more…)

Preserved shark fossil adds evidence to great white’s origins

March 12th, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new Florida Museum of Natural History study could help resolve a long-standing debate in shark paleontology: From which line of species did the modern great white shark evolve?

For the last 150 years, some paleontologists have concluded the great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is a smaller relative of the line that produced Carcharodon megalodon, the largest carnivorous fish known. Other paleontologists disagree, arguing the great white shark evolved instead from the broad-toothed mako shark. The second group contends megalodon, which grew to a length of 60 feet, should have its genus name switched to Carcharocles to reflect its different ancestry.

The study in the March 12 issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology falls squarely into the mako camp. It concludes megalodon and modern white sharks are much more distantly related than paleontologists initially believed. (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…)

Endangered sawfish focus of national collection and recovery efforts

December 1st, 2008

Photo available at: http://news.ufl.edu/2008/12/01/sawfish-multimedia/

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida, keeper of the world’s shark attack records, is also now overseeing a national records collection for another toothy marine predator: the sawfish.

Distinguished by a long rostrum or “saw” that makes it a popular curio item and gives it its name, the sawfish has become a historical and cultural icon that is rapidly disappearing, said George Burgess, a UF ichthyologist and curator of both the International Shark Attack File and the newly expanded National Sawfish Encounter Database.

“Postcards from the turn of the 20th century often depicted this so-called monster that inhabited Florida waters, and if one goes back and looks at newspaper accounts from places outside Florida, every time a sawfish was caught it made the papers,” he said. “Today, it’s difficult to find a bar in South Florida that doesn’t have a sawfish ‘saw’ hanging on the wall.” (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…)

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