GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida continued its reign as the global leader in shark attacks last year.
According to an annual report from the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, there were 21 unprovoked shark attacks in 2019 which represented 51% of the U.S. total and 33% of unprovoked attacks worldwide.
But, the research shows Florida saw a significant drop from its most recent five-year annual average of 32 incidents.
Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program, said the recent decline may reflect changes in the migration patterns of blacktip sharks, the species most often implicated in Florida bites.
“We’ve had back-to-back years with unusual decreases in shark attacks, and we know that people aren’t spending less time in the water,” Naylor said. “This suggests sharks aren’t frequenting the same places they have in the past. But it’s too early to say this is the new normal.”
Volusia County had the most shark attacks (9) in the United States last year, representing 43% of the Florida total, in line with the five-year annual average of nine incidents in the area. The other 2019 incidents happened in Brevard (2) and Duval (5) counties, with single incidents occurring in Broward, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach, and St. Johns counties.
Hawaii (9), California (3) and North Carolina (3) followed Florida on the list of most unprovoked attacks in the U.S in 2019. There were also single incidents in Georgia and South Carolina.
The International Shark Attack File investigated 140 alleged shark-human interactions worldwide in 2019. ISAF confirmed 64 unprovoked shark attacks on humans and 41 confirmed provoked attacks.
Australia had the second-most shark attacks globally with 11, a decrease from the country’s most recent five-year average of 16 bites annually. The Bahamas followed, with two attacks, according to the report.
More than half of the total cases involved surfers and those participating in board sports.
There were five fatal attacks worldwide in 2019, according to research, two of which were confirmed to be unprovoked, in the Bahamas and Réunion.
Fatality rates have declined for decades, researchers noted, reflecting advances in beach safety, medical treatment, and public awareness.
Researchers assert the total number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide is extremely low, especially given the number of people who swim in the ocean each year.
Most of the world’s shark populations are in decline or exist at greatly reduced levels, as a consequence of overfishing and habitat loss. Fisheries remove about 100 million sharks and rays annually, according to researchers.