A fac­tor in shark at­tack in­crease: more peo­ple in wa­ter

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY PA­TRICK WHIT­TLE

Fed­eral wildlife pro­tec­tions are help­ing sharks re­bound, but they aren’t the sole rea­son for the uptick in en­coun­ters be­tween sharks and hu­mans. Ex­pand­ing hu­man pop­u­la­tions and grow­ing use of beaches are ma­jor fac­tors too, sci­en­tists say.

Re­cent shark at­tacks in North Carolina and Florida have made head­lines as the sum­mer beach­go­ing sea­son gets into gear. Such at­tacks have be­come more com­mon in re­cent years — the Florida Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral History’s In­ter­na­tional Shark At­tack File says the num­ber of un­pro­voked shark at­tacks has grown in ev­ery decade since the 1970s.

Shark re­searcher Ge­orge Burgess, who pub­lishes the file, said this decade is al­most cer­tain to set a record for shark at­tacks.

“The fact of the mat­ter is, while shark pop­u­la­tions re­bound and hope­fully come to where they once were, the hu­man pop­u­la­tion is ris­ing ev­ery year,” Burgess said. “We’re not re­bound­ing, we’re just bound­ing.”

Amer­i­cans made 2.2 bil­lion vis­its to beaches in 2010, up from 2 bil­lion in 2001, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers es­ti­mate. A spokesman for the Amer­i­can Shore and Beach Preser­va­tion As­so­ci­a­tion said the fig­ure is likely still ris­ing be­cause of the im­prov­ing econ­omy.

Pop­u­la­tions of some shark species have grown due in part to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, such as a 1997 U.S. law that pre­vented the hunt­ing of great white sharks. Dr. Bob Hueter, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Shark Re­search at Mote Marine Lab­o­ra­tory & Aquar­ium in Sarasota, Florida, said preser­va­tion and man­age- ment have also helped re­pair pop­u­la­tions of species like the sand­bar shark and black­tip shark.

The Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act of 1972 also has helped in­crease the pop­u­la­tion of seals, which are a fa­vorite prey of white sharks. In Mas­sachusetts, the grow­ing num­ber of seals has raised con­cerns in re­cent years about the an­i­mals at­tract­ing sharks to beaches fa­vored by hu­mans.

Hueter said the re­bound­ing white shark pop­u­la­tion jus­ti­fies vig­i­lance, but he added that it’s pre­sump­tive to as­sume there are more shark at­tacks be­cause there are more sharks in the ocean.

“Sharks are fairly so­phis­ti­cated. If they are hunt­ing for seals, they are go­ing to con­cen­trate their ef­forts near a seal colony,” he said. “Are you go­ing to go swimming in a seal colony? Of course not.”

There were 72 shark at­tacks world­wide in 2014, three of them fa­tal, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Shark At­tack File. The dead­li­est re­cent year was 2011, when 13 of 79 at­tacks were fa­tal.

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