Scientists Ponder Ocean's Latest 'Anomaly'

There are fewer unprovoked shark attacks worldwide; researchers aren't quite sure why
By Marcel Wiel,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2019 11:20 AM CST
Latest Ocean Head-Scratcher: a Sharp Fall in Shark Attacks
A shark swims off the coast of Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands   (Wyland/NOAA via AP)

Despite the massive media coverage when a shark attack happens, the worldwide number of such unprovoked attacks actually fell sharply in 2018: down to 66 from 2017's 88, reports Quartz; the five-year average had been 84. Of those 66 attacks, four led to fatalities—a figure that's also down from a long-term average of six fatalities caused each year by unprovoked attacks, notes the Guardian. "Statistically, this is an anomaly," says Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History's shark research program. He suggests the significant fall in figures for last year may be caused either by people being more careful and responsive to beach safety advice, or that there are simply fewer sharks swimming in our oceans.

The US recorded 32 attacks and one fatality in 2018, the highest number recorded worldwide. Still, that number fell steeply from the 53 attacks there in 2017. Florida accounted for half of all US shark attacks, with most caused by blacktip sharks, whose numbers have dropped significantly over the last few years. (This may explain why it recorded only 16 attacks in 2018, down from 31 in 2017.) These figures were recorded in the International Shark Attack File, maintained by scientists at the University of Florida. The database shows that after the US, Australia suffered the greatest number of shark attacks, with 20 attacks in 2018, one of which was a fatality; the long-term annual fatality average there is two. (More shark attack stories.)

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