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July 1998 Vol. 13, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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In the Water With Sharks

from the July, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We divers love to get overconfident about sharks, but let us remind you of the still present and real danger. Between 1996 and 1997, the number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide soared from 36 to 56, still considerably less than the all-time high of 72 set in 1995, says George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File housed at the University of Florida.

Nearly half (45 percent) of all 1997 attacks involved surfers, wind surfers, and rafters, and the second-largest group of victims was swimmers and waders (27 percent). Snorkelers, free divers, and scuba users represented 26 percent of the attacks. Burgess said that more than half of all attacks (34) took place in North American waters (Florida is the global leader in human-shark skirmishes; in 1997 there were 25 attacks). Australia was a distant second with five attacks, followed by Brazil (4), the Bahamas (3), South Africa (3), Japan (2), and New Guinea (2). Single attacks were reported from Mexico, Fiji, Djibouti in northeast Africa, Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, and Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

“We need to remember that we are invaders of a natural system that has large animals living in it that occasionally can cause us harm,” Burgess said. “Sharks share the waters with humans, or more rightfully put, humans share the water with sharks. It’s a wilderness experience every time we enter the sea.”

Which leads us to point out a letter we got from readers Franklin and Kathy Viola: “Excellent observation and editorial by Dr. George Burgess [in your May issue commenting about the risk of orchestrated shark feeds]. It is quite difficult to report the ‘truth’ about this ‘circus’ when the shark feeding operators are filling their pockets and so-called ‘environmental’ dive magazines fill their pages with divers feeding sharks to appease advertisers. Thanks for allowing Dr. Burgess to express his concern, as well as that of many others.”

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