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Worldwide shark attacks hit lowest level since 2009

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 5:50 AM EST, Wed February 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • There were 72 unprovoked shark attacks last year
  • More than half, 47, happened in the United States
  • Globally, 10 people died from shark attacks
  • "Sharks have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them," researcher says

(CNN) -- The number of shark attacks last year dropped to a four-year low, but they were deadlier, a University of Florida report says.

Worldwide, 10 people died in 72 shark attacks last year. That's higher than the average of 6.3 deaths over the past 10 years, said George Burgess, who conducts research on sharks at the University of Florida.

The last time shark attacks were this low was 2009 when there were 67. Since 2001, fatal shark attacks have only been higher once -- in 2011 when there were 13.

Shark attack hot spots include Western Australia with six deaths in the past four years and Reunion Island in the southwest Indian Ocean with five deaths in three years.

Over the past century, shark attacks have been on the increase as more humans have ventured into the water, according to Burgess.

"When sudden increases in shark attacks occur, usually human factors are involved that promote interactions between sharks and people," he said. With more people in the ocean, their interactions with sharks have increased.

In the United States, there were 47 shark attacks last year, down from a peak of 54 attacks the previous year. Nearly half of those attacks occurred in Florida. The lone U.S. death involved a man fishing from a kayak off the coast of Hawaii. He was dangling his legs in the water when a shark took a bite.

"Sharks have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them," Burgess said. "Statistically, shark attacks are extremely rare, especially considering the number of humans that enter the water each year."

Burgess warned that entering the ocean is a "wilderness experience," just like hiking in the woods where bears or mountain lions might live.

"One-on-one in the ocean, the shark has the advantage," he said. "But, by better understanding where and when it is safe to be in the ocean, we can better avoid those encounters."

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