Thursday 29 September 2016

Swimmers beware: shark attacks set to rise to record highs around the world

Barbara Goldberg

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

'By the late 1980s, shark populations were crashing, and scientists sounded the alarm. The first law protecting sharks was passed in the 1990s in Florida and limited the daily catch to one shark per person' Photo: Depositphotos
'By the late 1980s, shark populations were crashing, and scientists sounded the alarm. The first law protecting sharks was passed in the 1990s in Florida and limited the daily catch to one shark per person' Photo: Depositphotos

As the summer beach season opens, at least one expert is predicting an increase in shark attacks around the world this year that will surpass last year's record number.

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"We should have more bites this year than last," George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, said.

In 2015, there were 98 shark attacks, including six fatalities, according to Burgess.

Why the increased bloodshed? Shark populations are slowly recovering from historic lows in the 1990s, the world's human population has grown and rising temperatures are leading more people to go swimming, Burgess said.

Still, the university notes that fatal shark attacks are so infrequent that beachgoers have a higher chance of being killed by sand collapsing as a result of overachieving sand- castle builders.

With their fearsome teeth and dorsal fins the inspiration for hit movies, it is hard to believe that a century ago scientists did not believe sharks would fatally attack humans in temperate North Atlantic waters without provocation.

That all changed in July 1916, when four swimmers were killed in attacks near the New Jersey shore, a series of deaths blamed on a sea turtle until a great white shark with human remains in its stomach was captured nearby.

Since those attacks, public opinion of sharks has changed dramatically, with swimmers' fears fanned by fiction, including from the 1975 Academy Award-winning film Jaws. But Jaws also turned the hunter into the hunted, Burgess said.

"Every red-blooded American man felt obliged to go out and catch sharks, which were readily capturable," he added.

By the late 1980s, shark populations were crashing, and scientists sounded the alarm. The first law protecting sharks was passed in the 1990s in Florida and limited the daily catch to one shark per person.

Federal safeguards followed, as well as more state efforts like the shark fin ban that has now gone into effect in 10 US states.

Sunday Independent

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