Shark attacks increasing across the U.S., researchers say

White Sharks
FILE - Under the waves a diver with great white sharks. Photo credit Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (KNX) — The number of “unprovoked” shark attacks in the United States jumped 42% from 2020 to 2021, according to the Florida Museum, which tallied a total of 73 unprovoked attacks worldwide — with more than half reported in the U.S.

Out of the 73 unprovoked attacks, or bites in which the animals were not provoked by humans, 47 were in the U.S. The number is up 14 from the previous year and scientists say most happened off the Atlantic coast.

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Dr. Chris Lowe a marine biologist at California State University Long Beach told KNX he believes the rise in shark bites can be attributed to reopening beaches post-Covid, among other factors.

“Part of the explanation for that is that sharks are coming back in some of the places where [the attacks] occur, so their numbers are increasing,” Lowe said.

“And the part that we always have to remember is that more people are using the ocean than ever before.”

Given that data, indicating a greater number of people and sharks in the waters, shouldn’t attacks be eerily higher also? Not really, Lowe said.

Of the 47 unprovoked attacks in the U.S., just one was fatal.

Sacramento resident Tomas Butterfiled was killed on Dec. 24, 2021 while boogie boarding in Morro Bay, Calif. Officials with California State Parks have not determined what led to the shark attacking the 42-year-old.

Despite tragedies like that in Morro Bay, Lowe said he really does not believe Americans should have shark attacks at the top of their mind when at the beach.

“We are simply not on their menu,” he said. “But, every once and a while a whilte shark will make a mistake and it’s very unfortunate when this happens.”

Lowe said there should be little fear about going into ocean waters, as chances are slim to none that a shark will bother with you.

“Like…you have a better chance of winning Powerball than you do of being bitten by a white shark in California,” he said. For better reference, those odds are about 300 million to one.

Shark attack data across U.S.:
-Florida: Most unprovoked bites in the U.S., with 28 total — 16 of which happened in Volusia County.

-Hawaii: Second-most unprovoked bites in the U.S, with 6 total attacks.

-South Carolina: Third-most unprovoked bites in the U.S., with 4 total.

Based on research gathered at each incident, those participating in "board sports" were most likely to have an incident with a shark, researchers said.

“Following recent trends, surfers and those participating in board sports accounted for most incidents (51% of the total cases),” researchers with Florida Museum said in their International Shark Attack File.

“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.” Swimmers and waders accounted for 39% of incidents, with the remaining incidents divided among snorkelers/free divers (4%) and body-surfers (6%).”

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