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Sharks that might 'attack' in Southwest Florida
Sharks that might 'attack' in Southwest Florida: Find out the sharks most likely to "attack" in Southwest Florida along with some interesting facts. Video by David Plazas/news-press.com.
Bull shark female in seasonal breeding Playa del Carmen, near Cancun, Mexico, in the Caribbean sea. / Getty Images

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As usual, Florida led the world in shark attacks last year.

According to the International Shark Attack File’s 2012 Shark Attack Summary, released Monday, there were 26 unprovoked shark attacks in Florida and 53 attacks in the U.S. and U.S. territories — outside the U.S., the leading shark attack country was Australia, with 14.

With eight attacks, Brevard County ranked first in Florida, followed by Volusia County with seven.

“Those were mostly surfers,” said George Burgess, director of the shark attack file. “The shark species were blacktips and spinners, fish-eating sharks that like the surf zone and are attracted to movement. If they see a splash, they’ll go after it, and sometimes that splash is a hand or foot.”

The surfers’ injuries were minor, Burgess said.

“Frankly, the word ‘attack’ is a misnomer,” he said. “I prefer to call them ‘bites.’ They’re equivalent to a dog bite. With surfers, the first thing they ask is when they can go back in the water. And, for a surfer, it can be a plus: A little shark scar works wonders Friday and Saturday night at the bars.”

Elsewhere in Florida, four shark bites occurred in Martin County, two each in Duval and Palm Beach counties, and one each in Indian River, Miami-Dade and St. Johns counties.

There were 10 shark incidents in Hawaii, five in California and South Carolina, two in North Carolina and one in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York and Puerto Rio.

Last year’s 80 unprovoked shark attacks worldwide are slightly higher than the 2011 total of 78, and the 53 Florida attacks were well above the 31 attacks in 2011, but Burgess said scientists look at long-term trends rather than yearly ups and downs.

“A lot of variables come into play from year to year, but when you average the numbers over decades, those variables even out,” he said. “Over the past 11 decades, the number of attacks has gone up. If you graph out the rising human population during that same 110 years, you’ll find the growth almost identical. At the same time, shark populations are down due to overfishing and habitat loss.

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“This demonstrates that the shark attack phenomenon is dictated by humans rather than by sharks.”

Seven 2012 shark attacks were fatal, three in South Africa, two in Australia, one in Reunion, an island in the Indian Ocean, and one in California.

Following five great white shark attacks in Western Australia last year, the state government sanctioned the killing of any great whites that got close to beaches.

“That’s a sad situation,” Burgess said. “I understand that the local government wants to cool off the local populace, but those are revenge killings. It’s human nature to want to form a posse.”

A big problem for shark scientists and sharks is sensational media coverage, Burgess said.

“When you have a high-profile attack, there’s an inclination by reporters or headline writers to hype it,” he said. “Sharks sell. The major reason we put out our stats is to keep you guys happy.

“If sharks are going to be in the news, we want it to be in a level-headed way. It gives us a bully pulpit to talk about the important things, that sharks are in decline. That’s the real story of shark science, not shark attacks.”

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