Year of shark 'hype,' says expert
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Despite two fatal shark attacks this week and huge media coverage of almost every shark attack this summer, experts say such assaults by the cartilaginous fish are down in numbers this year.
"This is the summer of the shark hype, not the summer of the shark," Sam Gruber, a marine biologist at the University of Miami, told CNN.
Gruber, considered one of top experts on sharks, said the real feeding frenzy has been by the media, not the sharks. And it all started because the story of shark victim Jessie Arbogast, attacked near Pensacola, Florida, was so compelling.
"Because sharks have this inappropriate media image: the death fish from hell. That fear was played upon by the media. And then there was another similar incident in the Bahamas and all hell broke loose," Gruber said.
The shark-feeding show at the Miami Seaquarium has always been hugely popular, but not since the movie "Jaws" made a big splash 25 years ago have sharks drawn such big crowds, lining up six people deep to trade stares with the steely eyed fish.
Sharks gained mythic reputations for evil cunning after "Jaws."
Author Peter Benchley, who wrote the book of the same name that the movie was based on, said statistics do not support the fear people have of sharks.
"You're much more likely to be attacked by lightning or by your own toilet than you are by a shark," said Benchley.
He said that although shark attacks are rare, attacks on sharks are not.
An estimated 25 million sharks a year are killed for their fins, meat or skin, Benchley said. He said some species of sharks are being depleted and are in danger of extinction.
According to the International Shark File, there were 79 shark attacks worldwide last year. So far this year there have been 51 attacks, with 28 of them occurring in Florida. Despite the media spotlight, it is not the shark attacks that worry the tourism-conscious governor of the Sunshine State.
"I think recessions in other parts of the country will impact tourism a lot more," said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
In fact, state tourism officials told CNN they have received 100 calls from reporters about sharks --but only one call from a concerned tourist.
And reports of shark attacks will not keep some people on dry land.
"I've been surfing so many years and it's a pretty strong part of my life so I'm not gonna give that up," said Florida surfer John Dean.
-- CNN Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella contributed to this report.
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