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Florida is the shark attack capital of the world, again

FLORIDA — Shark attacks in Florida are lower than its five-year average, but the Sunshine State still led the world in unprovoked attacks last year.

Like most years, Florida had the most reported unprovoked shark attacks in 2019, according to the Yearly Worldwide Shark Attack Summary issued by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF).

Of the 64 unprovoked attacks worldwide, 21 of them were in Florida. That’s one-third of all attacks and half of the 41 unprovoked attacks reported in the United States.

Nine of the attacks were in Volusia County, Florida, home to New Smyrna Beach, unofficially known as the shark attack capital of the world. Three of the attacks occurred on the same day.

However, Florida’s 21 attacks are a significant drop from its most recent five-year annual average of 32 incidents. That coincides with the worldwide average, as ISAF says the 64 unprovoked attacks in 2019 were “significantly lower” than the five-year average of 82 bites.

The number of shark attacks varies yearly, and the recent decline may reflect changes in the migration patterns of blacktip sharks, the species most often implicated in Florida’s attacks, said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program.

“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.”

ISAF, run by the Florida Museum of Natural History and the University of Florida, is the only global scientifically verified database of shark attacks.

Two fatal unprovoked attacks in 2019

There were two confirmed unprovoked fatal attacks in 2019. None of the attacks in Florida or the US were fatal, ISAF said.

“Fatality rates have declined for decades, reflecting advances in beach safety, medical treatment, and public awareness,” the group says on their website.

ISAF said surfers and those participating in board sports accounted for 53% of attacks. “This group spends a large amount of time in the surf zone, an area commonly frequented by sharks, and may unintentionally attract sharks by splashing, paddling, and ‘wiping out,'” according to the report.

Of the remaining incidents swimmers and waders accounted for 25%, with remaining incidents divided between snorkelers and free divers, body surfers and scuba divers.

ISAF says the best way to survive a shark attack is to hit it in the nose and claw at its eyes and gill openings. “You should not act passively if under attack as sharks respect size and power,” ISAF says.

To avoid a shark attack, the group advises people to swim in groups, stay close to the shore and to not swim at dusk or dawn when sharks are most active.

ISAF defines an unprovoked attack as when an attack on a live human occurs in the shark’s natural habitat with no human provocation of the shark.

The group defines a provoked attack as one that occurs when a human initiates interaction with a shark in some way. As examples, the group cited instances when divers are bitten after harassing or trying to touch sharks, attacks on spearfishers, or attacks on people attempting to feed sharks.

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