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Shark attacks down for a second year

From John Couwels, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Data show fewer U.S. shark attacks in 2009 than in 2008, 2007
  • Official with University of Florida International Shark Attack File says this could be a trend
  • He also says decline may be because of tourism drop, but surf shop manager disagrees

Daytona Beach, Florida (CNN) -- Remember the "summer of the shark"?

That's when the news media -- including CNN -- relentlessly covered nearly every shark-related incident in 2001. The coverage was triggered when an 8-year-old boy lost his arm in a shark attack off Pensacola, Florida.

It turned out there was a drop in shark attacks in 2001, compared with the year before.

Over the past decade, the number of shark attacks in the United States has gone up and down, with a peak of 50 attacks in 2007.

Now, shark attacks may be declining. Data released this week show a steady drop in recorded attacks in recent years: 28 in 2009, compared with 41 in 2008 and 50 in 2007.

U.S. SHARK ATTACKS
- 2000: 53 attacks, 1 fatal
- 2001: 50 attacks, 3 fatal
- 2002: 47 attacks, 0 fatal
- 2003: 40 attacks, 1 fatal
- 2004: 30 attacks, 2 fatal
- 2005: 40 attacks, 1 fatal
- 2006: 39 attacks, 0 fatal
- 2007: 50 attacks, 0 fatal
- 2008: 41 attacks, 1 fatal
- 2009: 28 attacks, 0 fatal

"We may have a bit of a trend, but only time will tell," said George Burgess with the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File, which released the data.

He said the drop could be related to the weak economy: less tourism means fewer people in the water.

"I am not doing a economic analysis, I'm just saying there could be a correlation," Burgess said.

There's no doubt that the economy has affected the surfing industry. The Salty Dog Surf Shop in Daytona Beach, Florida, has seen its sales plunge, like most small businesses in the United States these days.

"Business is down, it's down by a lot ... by 30 percent," store manager and surfer Justin Willis said.

But Willis doubts that there's a link between the economy and fewer shark attacks.

"I don't know the exact reason why it's down, but it's not because of tourism being down," Willis said. "Generally, the people getting bit are the people who are in the water anyways. It's typically the [local] surfers."

We may have a bit of a trend, but only time will tell.
--George Burgess, International Shark Attack File
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Surfers are the most common victims of shark bites, followed by people wading in the water, according to Burgess' data. His research shows that the average shark bite victim is a young white male.

Willis said three of his employees, who also surf, have been bitten by sharks.

"They've always been on a board. No one I've even spoken to had just been wading in the water and been bit," he said.

Daytona Beach is along central Florida's east coast, which is widely considered the shark bite capital of the world. Many attacks happen off a 200-yard stretch of New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County, popular with both sharks and surfers because of the constant waves.

The University of Florida's data showed a 50 percent drop in shark attacks in Volusia County last year.

"New Smyrna, where most of the bites happen, I think we had eight last year and the year before that, 24," said Capt. Scott Petersohn with the Volusia County Beach Patrol.

Florida recorded 32 shark attacks in both 2007 and 2008. Last year, that number went down to 19 -- a dramatic decrease that tourism officials hope will alleviate any negative effects from the 2001 "summer of the shark."

Burgess and other researchers stress that even when shark attacks were at their peak, the chances of such an encounter were still very slim.

"I would say lightning probably affects more people than shark bites do," Petersohn said. "And how rare is it [to be] struck by lightning?"

 
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