Shark attacks decline in U.S., but fatalities increase worldwide

Shark attacks continued to decline in the United States last year, but worldwide fatalities doubled, jumping to their highest level since 1993, according to a report released Tuesday.

Of the 75 shark attacks around the globe in 2011, a dozen were fatal, up from six the year before, according to the annual report by the International Shark Attack File, which is compiled by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida.

The United States, with 29 shark attacks but no deaths, continued a decade-long decline in attacks, all the more notable because shark numbers have been slowly rebounding since the 1990s.

Florida led the United States last year with 11 shark attacks. California had three, down from four in 2010, the statistics show.


In an incident near Monterey last October, a surfer suffered neck and arm wounds after being attacked by a shark shortly after wading into the water. The shark also snapped off a 19-inch chunk of the man’s red surfboard. The last fatal shark attack in the state, in October 2010, killed 19-year-old Lucas Ransom as he body boarded at a beach on Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Several of 2011’s fatal shark attacks took place in far-off islands in the Indian Ocean, with two deaths in Reunion and two in the Seychelles. Three people were killed by sharks in Australia and two in South Africa.

Surfers were the most common victims, accounting for about 60% of unprovoked attacks.

Though the jump in shark-related deaths surprised ichthyologists, “the odds of you as an individual being attacked or dying are pretty close to infinitesimal,” said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File.


Burgess also noted that humans, by harvesting the creatures for food, continue to pose a greater threat to sharks than they do to us.

“We’re killing 30 to 70 million sharks a year in fisheries around the world,” Burgess said. “It’s pretty obvious who’s the real winner and who’s the loser in these interactions.”