Shark attacks hit all-time high in 2015

Florida had the most attacks with 30


GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The University of Florida reports there were almost an hundred unprovoked shark attacks around the world, 10 more than reported 15 years ago.

Researchers continue questioning the increase, but their speculation involves a few things already noticed last spring and summer - more people… and warmer water sooner. 

Dr. Jim Gelscleichter from University of North Florida says more people are at the beach and swimming in the ocean and that is just one facet to the increased number of shark attacks reported. Experts believe there may indeed be more sharks too, although that doesn’t happen overnight.

“The obvious is that there are more people using the beach and that does seem to be a factor. There are increased numbers of folks utilizing the beach,” Gelscleichter said. “Shark populations reproduce very slowly, so it’s taken decades to slowly rebuild themselves and we do think they’re starting to rebuild. So we are seeing an increased number of sharks in the coastal states.”

The University of Florida report notes that the U.S. led the world in shark attacks, with a total of 59; Florida had the most attacks, with 30. North and South Carolinas had eight each, which points to another factor.

“There have been some cases where the water has become warmer earlier than usual,” Gelscleichter said. “This seems to be the case last year in North Carolina, a lot of species that would normally move up to North Carolina, seemingly moved up faster than usual. So those populations sort of rose earlier than expected. The fact of the matter is, we’ve been protecting the shark population since the 1990s.”

The best advice for reducing shark related injuries include things like, not swimming at the time of day when sharks are more common, more active – for example at dusk and dawn. Also, swim with other swimmers, don’t swim alone or too far off shore, and definitely not swim where active shark fishing is occurring. That seemed to be a factor in abnormally large numbers in North Carolina last year that there was a lot of shark fishing going on in the area were people were bitten.

Here is a breakdown of the shark bites in the local area in 2015:

Sept. 28, 2015 — David Morrison, 22, of Gainesville was surfing at Vilano Beach and lying on his board paddling, when he felt a tug on his leg, and saw a shark biting him. He got 30 stitches.

Sept. 20, 2015 — Joshua Bitner Jr, 12, from Sparks, GA was bitten on the leg at Fernandina Beach.

Filippo Schiavo, 16, of St. Augustine was bitten on the wrist at Vilano Beach, and suffered tendon damage.

Sept. 18, 2015 — Man bitten in the leg by a shark at Big Talbot Island State Park, taken to Baptist Nassau. 

Sept. 17, 2015 — Brian Liebetrau, 20, was bitten by a shark while sitting on his surfboard at 11th Avenue South in Jacksonville Beach. He got 18 stitches.

Aug. 19, 2015 — Kaley Szarmack, 10, was bitten on the leg by a 3-4 foot shark near 25th Avenue South in Jacksonville Beach. She got 90 stitches.

June 26, 2015 — Alison Simpson, 36, was bitten twice in the leg by a shark at Jacksonville Beach.

March 16, 2015 — Hundreds of swimmers get out of the water near the Jacksonville Beach Pier when two large bull sharks were seen close to shore. One of the sharks had just wriggled off a fisherman's hook.

There were a total of seven shark bites locally in 2015, and there were two in 2014 and three in 2013.

The increase in shark attacks was experienced globally 

Worldwide there were 98 unprovoked attacks, beating the previous record of 88 set in 2000, according to the International Shark Attack File housed at the University of Florida. 

Six of the attacks were fatal.

The all-time high came as no surprise to George Burgess, curator of the world’s clearinghouse of shark-attack data housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

With shark populations rebounding and more and more people in the ocean, bites are inevitable, he says.

“Sharks plus humans equals attacks. As our population continues to rapidly grow and shark populations slowly recover, we’re going to see more interactions.”

Although fatalities rose from last year’s low, which saw only three shark-related deaths, they remained stable when looking at the big picture, precisely matching the decade average, Burgess said.

Of the six fatalities, two happened off the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, bringing its total deaths to seven since 2011. Australia, Egypt, New Caledonia and the United States each had single fatalities.

The U.S. led the world in attacks with 59, driven by an abundance of coastline with an ever-growing number of swimmers, surfers and divers in the water, Burgess said.

As usual, Australia and South Africa rounded out the top three, with 18 and 8 attacks, respectively.

Hawaii saw seven attacks and the country’s only fatality, with the remaining incidents occurring in California, Texas, Mississippi and New York.

The New York attack brings to light another factor in the increase in attacks: warming ocean waters. Ocean temperatures that spike earlier in the season and warm a larger range of coastline draw both sharks and humans to the same waters, Burgess said.

“We can and should expect the number of attacks to be higher each year,” he said. “When we visit the sea, we’re on their turf.”


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