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North American Shark Attacks Hit Decade High

MONDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- A new report says the 53 shark attacks in 2012 off the coast of the United States were the most in more than a decade.

The attacks included one fatality, in California.

Meanwhile, seven people died last in shark attacks worldwide last year, a bit higher than the average from 2001 to 2010.

However, the rise isn't unexpected and it's not a particular cause for concern, a report author noted.

"The numbers from an international standpoint were on target for the last couple of years because, in theory, each year we should have more attacks than the previous year, owing to the rise of human population from year to year," George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, said in a University of Florida news release. "Thus, the shark attack rate is not increasing even though the number of shark attacks is rising. Shark attack as a phenomenon is extremely uncommon, considering the millions of hours humans spend in the water each year."

The shark attack database's report said 2012 was the second year in a row when multiple shark attacks occurred in Western Australia (five) and Reunion Island (three) in the southwest Indian Ocean.

"Those two areas are sort of hot spots in the world -- Western Australia is a function of white shark incidents and Reunion is a function most likely of bull shark incidents," Burgess said. "What I've seen in all situations when there's been a sudden upswing in an area is that human-causative factors are involved, such as changes in our behavior, changes in our abundance or an overt shark-attracting product of something that we're doing."

North American waters were the sites of the most shark bites, with 26 in Florida followed by Hawaii (10), California (five), South Carolina (five), North Carolina (two) and one apiece in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.

"We could reduce risks by avoiding areas and times when sharks are most common, and where danger is at its highest," Burgess said. "A perfect example of that is in Western Australia, where people have been getting hit in areas of known white shark abundance at times of year when white shark numbers are at their highest; the responsibility is upon us, as humans, to avoid such situations or else pay the consequence."

Surfers suffered from the most attacks -- 60 percent of them. Swimmers (22 percent) and divers (8 percent) were also attacked.

Overall, "shark attacks are rare and it doesn't matter whether you call them attacks or bites or bumps -- your chances of having any of them are slim," Burgess said.

More information

For safety tips and information on shark attacks, see the 2012 Worldwide Shark Attack Summary.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, Feb. 11, 2013

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