Tag Archive: Shark

Shark Week is over… so what do we know about shark attack?

Shark Week is over… so what do we know about shark attack?

Yep, each year cable TV broadcast their classic summer series SHARK WEEK. Actually there are several shark series running now.  It all began with Jaws in the early ‘70’s and ever since Americans have been enthralled with programs on these animals.

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Gulf of Mexico. Credit: SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC.

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Gulf of Mexico. Credit: SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC.

We have learned a lot about sharks over the years, and have a better understanding of their behaviors. As fascinating as that information is, it is still the cause of attack that interest most people.  There is a great fear of these animals, despite the statistics that say the risk of attack is very low.  Millions will watch Shark Week with wonder and awe… and will be a little reluctant to enter the water afterwards.  Of course the attacks that occurred on the Carolina’s last summer has some on edge.

 

So what is the actual risk? In the June edition of Smithsonian magazine there is an article that discusses the possibility of actually eliminating mosquitoes from our environment – that’s another story – but in the article they quote some statistics from the National Institute of Health.  They mention the number of humans who die from mosquito bites each year.  According to this data 725,000 humans die each year, worldwide, from diseases transmitted from mosquito bites.  Between 20,000 and 200,000 from parasites transmitted by snails.  Between 55,000 and 60,000 rabies transmitted from dogs.  And for shark attacks… 6.  Annually 6 people die each year from shark attacks.  Think about that… the number of humans who swim in the world’s oceans each year… approximately 50 will be attacked and 6 will die.  It is fair to say that the risk is very low.

 

Dr. George Burgess, Florida Museum of Natural History, is the “keeper” of the International Shark Attack File. This database houses all the unprovoked shark attacks that occur worldwide.  By definition an unprovoked attack must (1) occur in its natural environment – no bites in aquariums will count, (2) the individual did not grab or poke at the shark.  Biting the boat is not considered an attack under their definition either.  Based on this, 2015 was a record year.  164 attacks were reported worldwide, 98 of these were logged as unprovoked.  This broke the 2000 record of 88 however only 6.1% of the 2015 attacks were fatal – compared to 11% in 2000.  Dr. Burgess stresses this point.  What we are seeing is an increase number of swimmers in the oceans each year.  It is only natural that the number of attacks would go up.  Even though the number of attacks are increasing the number of people entering the water is increasing at a greater rate – the actual rate of attacks/human in the water is decreasing, and has been for over a decade now.  Another factor in the increase number of attacks is the University’s improved method of collecting data.  Originally it was by word of mouth and phone calls.  Today with go-pros, cell phones, and the internet, they are logging attacks that were missed in previous years.

 

Why are fatalities so low?

Dr. Burgess points to better safety procedures and first aid, particularly in the U.S. 59 of the 98 shark attacks logged last year were in the United States.  Six of these were fatal (1.7%) which is much lower than the rest of the world (12.8%).  Dr. Burgess states that our safety and first aid programs are responsible for this.  Florida ranks number one among states with 30 attacks.  This probably does not make the visitor to our area feel good, but most of these were in Volusia and Brevard counties.  There were no attacks in the Florida panhandle in 2015.  Of those attacked, 49% were surfing, 42% were swimming, 9% snorkeling, and no attacks occurred for SCUBA divers.

The Scalloped Hammerhead is one of five species of hammerheads in the Gulf.  It is commonly found in the bays.  Photo: Florida Sea Grant

The Scalloped Hammerhead is one of five species of hammerheads in the Gulf. It is commonly found in the bays. Photo: Florida Sea Grant

Many of these statistics still make folks nervous but when compared to parasites and motorcycle accidents, the risk is very low. Sharks are actually fascinating creatures which provide ecological services to our system – such as culling sick and diseased snapper, creating a stronger healthy snapper population.  The majority of the programs shown during Shark Week will not discuss these characteristics of the creature but focus on attack stories.  Well… enjoy the shows but remember that, though shark attacks do occur, and they can be horrific, they are very rare and should not keep you from enjoying our Gulf.

Enjoy your holiday.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/07/01/shark-week-is-over-so-what-do-we-know-about-shark-attack/

Record Year for NOAA Shark Survey in North Carolina

Record Year for NOAA Shark Survey in North Carolina

Most of us remember the string of shark attacks that occurred this past summer in North Carolina; as a matter of fact, according to the International Shark Attack File, it was a record year for that region. Since 2001 there have been 34 shark attacks in North Carolina ranging from 1-5 per year (average 2.4 attacks / year); this year there were 8 attacks. Why the increase?

Reviewing the trend data we can see that the human population has increased, attendance at local beaches has increased, the number of tourists to our beaches has increased, and the shark attacks have also increased. But could the actual number of sharks be increasing as well? A recent report suggest… maybe.

Pregnant Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) cruses sandy seafloor. Credit Florida Sea Grant Stock Photo

Pregnant Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) cruses sandy seafloor. Credit Florida Sea Grant Stock Photo

Since 1986 NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center has been capturing and logging sharks along the southeast coast of the United States. This year’s survey logged 2,835 sharks between North Carolina and Florida; most were Sandbar’s, Atlantic Sharpnose, Dusky, and Tiger sharks. This is an increase from 1,831 in 2012 and higher than any year since the surveys began.

 

Are they getting better at catching shark? Maybe… but scientific surveys require that the team use the same protocol each year when conducting such surveys, suggesting that there are in fact more sharks out there. If this is so, why are there more sharks?

 

Well you first have to confirm that this is in fact the case – sharks are in fact increasing. But scientists can begin looking at data that could explain it. Typically you would begin with their food supply and predation. Though we now know that increase in food supply does not always equate to an increase in predators, it is data that should be reviewed. And what about predators of sharks? Which is typically us.

 

A review of the NOAA shark landing data indicates that 5 of the 9 shark categories have been closed as of June 22, 2015 because they have landed a significant percentage of their allowed quota for the year. This equates to good fishing… which could mean more sharks. Discussing with local divers in the Pensacola area, they believe they are seeing more sharks – and the increase seems to be closer inshore. It is an El Nino year, and environmental conditions change during these seasons.  It is known that environmental changes will certainly trigger changes in fishery numbers and distribution.

 

As the scientific process works itself out, we will learn more about what is occurring with sharks in U.S. waters. In our state the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission protects 25 species of sharks. Anglers are allowed one non-protected species and no more than 2 per vessel. (Learn More). More should be known once the 2015 season comes to an end. Why shark numbers in North Carolina have increased is not understood at this time but monitoring will continue.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/09/19/record-year-for-noaa-shark-survey-in-north-carolina/

Shark Safety Tips

Shark Safety Tips

Pregnant Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) cruses sandy seafloor. Credit Florida Sea Grant Stock Photo

Pregnant Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas) cruses the sandy seafloor. Credit Florida Sea Grant Stock Photo

Shark Safety Tips

UF/IFAS Extension – Florida Sea Grant

By L. Scott Jackson (Bay County) and Rick O’Connor (Escambia County)

Recently, two teens were victims of unusual shark attacks in North Carolina. The two attacks occurred within minutes and miles of each other. A similar incident happened in the Florida Panhandle in 2005. One teen lost her life and one lost his leg. The attacks were within days of each other and the distance between the two attacks was less than 100 miles. Experts identified Bull Sharks as being responsible for both Panhandle shark encounters.

Bull Sharks migrate north as ocean waters of the Gulf and Atlantic warm. As the nearshore environment cools in the late fall and winter, Bull Sharks follow the receding warm water and eventually move out of the local area. Bull Sharks are an aggressive shark responsible for a reported 100 attacks on humans resulting in 21 fatalities. (Reported from 1580 to 2014 Source: International Shark Attack Files).

Experts suggest Bull Sharks may be responsible for many shark attacks where the species is unknown or not identified.

Overall, the number of shark encounters is slowly trending higher as more people swim and participate in other water related activities. However, negative encounters with sharks remain a rare occurrence. In 2014, Florida reported 28 shark bites with no fatalities. On average, only one shark attack fatality is reported every other year in the United States. The risk of shark attack is very low compared to other potential recreational hazards. For example, in 2014, 26 people died as a result of lightning strikes in the United States, with six of those being in Florida.

 

George Burgess with the International Shark Attack File has compiled a list of action strategies you can use to reduce the chances of a negative encounter with a shark:

Keep these tips in mind the next time you hit the beach!

  1. Avoid being in the water from sunset to sunrise. This is when sharks are most active and have a competitive sensory advantage.
  1. Stay in a group, and do not wander too far from shore. Isolated individuals are more likely to be attacked than large groups; in addition, the farther you are from shore, the farther you are from help.
  1. Consider your clothing: avoid wearing shiny jewelry, because the reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
  1. Avoid brightly colored or patterned clothing, because sharks see contrast particularly well.
  1. Do not enter waters being used by sport or commercial fisherman – sharks can sense the smells emitted from bait at incredible distances.
  1. Avoid entering waters with sewage output and/or entering the water if you are bleeding. Such additions to the water can act as strong olfactory attractants to sharks.
  1. Know your facts! Porpoise sightings do not indicate the absence of sharks. In fact, the opposite is often true. Also be on the lookout for signs of baitfish or feeding activity – diving seabirds are good indicators of such action. Animals that eat the same food items are often found in close proximity. Remember, a predator is never too far from its prey.
  1. Refrain from excess splashing while in the water, and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
  1. Exercise caution when occupying the area between sandbars or near steep drop-offs, as these are favorite hangouts for sharks.
  1. Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be present, and evacuate the water if sharks are seen while there. And, of course, do not harass a shark if you see one!
  1. Stay calm if you do see a shark, and maintain your position in as quiet a manner as possible. Most sharks merely are curious and will leave on their own.
  1. Relax! You are more likely to be injured by lightning than attacked by a shark. To learn more about your relative risks, see: The Relative Risk of Shark Attacks to Humans

Our beautiful Emerald Coast is an alluring wild habitat. Simply put – Swimming at the beach is not the same as swimming in a backyard pool. Have fun at the beach but be mindful and respectful of potential hazards. Knowing what to do to be safe will actually help you enjoy time at the beach while keeping worry and concern at a minimum.

Follow these beach safety tips for helping your family enjoy the beach while protecting coastal wildlife.

Follow these beach safety tips for helping your family enjoy the beach while protecting coastal wildlife.

 

PG

Author: Scott Jackson – lsj@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Bay County Extension Florida Sea Grant Regional Specialized Agent (Artificial Reefs and Fisheries)
http://bay.ifas.ufl.edu

Scott Jackson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2015/06/20/shark-safety-tips/