Shark attacks in the United States rose this year with Florida leading the way by a long shot. The 2013 Shark Attack File stated that there were 53 authenticated, unprovoked shark attacks reported, which includes two fatalities in Hawaii. Twenty four of those attacks took place in Florida, sixteen in Hawaii, four in California, four in South Carolina, one in North Carolina, one in Oregon, one in Texas, one in New Jersey, and one in Alabama.
Meanwhile, worldwide shark attack statistics remained at a normal level. In 2011, there was a low of only 29 unprovoked shark attacks in the United States–a huge difference from the 2012 and 2013 reports. All encounters between sharks and humans are generally influenced by population dynamics. Robert Collier, Founder and President of the Shark Research Committee explained, “The more people that are in the water, the more shark encounters there are going to be. Sharks are not sedentary. They move to different areas to hunt and sometimes those areas are hot spots for surfers or beachgoers.”
Sharks tend to move closer to shore at dusk and dawn to hunt. Therefore, it seems that surfers are the most likely targets to be out during those time frames. Collier stated, “The spike in shark attacks recently is nothing new. Look far enough back and you will see the same spikes.”
Today, it is not uncommon to walk down the beach in Malibu and see a seal on the sand. During the ’60s and ’70s, this was not the case. Seals were hunted for their fur, which in turn caused their population to go down drastically. Sharks left the coasts and went to the islands to find food and the number of encounters dropped. Sharks follow patterns, just like humans do.
Collier said, “More encounters are going to occur if shark migratory patterns collide with people patterns.” Surfers have a higher chance of getting attacked by a shark, for the simple fact that they are usually in the ocean a lot longer than anyone else. Sharks also need to eat more in warm water. Their metabolic rate is based on the environment. The warmer the water the quicker their food burns out, which is one of the reasons Florida has become a hot spot. Collier explained, “If you consider the amount of people that go in the ocean every year…the number of shark attacks won’t seem as high.”
Despite any personal apprehension, sharks are apex predators that help balance ecosystems in the ocean. Sharks, like most animals, are beneficial to each other and the earth. Their disappearance would have negative and cascading consequences to the ecosystem. To avoid shark encounters, surfers should be informed on shark sightings. Visit www.sharks.org to stay up to date on shark-related developments.