Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Shark attacks may become more frequent!

Although some officials downplay the frequency of encounters between humans and sharks, one University of North Carolina professor said he expects the number to grow in the future.
From Texas to North Carolina, three shark attacks occurred in the last week alone.

Chris Humphrey said he was swimming to a friend's raft off Holden Beach, N.C., last Friday evening when a sand shark that measured about 5 feet long bit into his forearm.

The bite was so deep that the shark left one of its teeth in Humphrey's arm, and it had to be removed by surgery.


But Dave Baker, of Wrightsville Ocean Rescue, said beachgoers are more likely to be killed by a mosquito than a shark.

"You had a greater chance of dying when you drove down here or crossing the street," Baker said. "Over 375 people died from West Nile virus (last year). How many people have died from shark attacks worldwide? The average is only 15 (annually)."

UNC marine sciences professor Charles "Pete" Peterson has studied sharks for 30 years and said as more people crowd the beaches, more are bound to come into contact with sharks feeding in shallow water.

"I think that's going to be an inevitable consequence of more and more people recreating, moving to the coast," Peterson said. "Relative to man, this is an animal to be concerned about."

He had his own face-to-face brush with a great white shark years ago after he cut his foot on some glass just before going surfing.

"After a couple of waves, I was on my way out, and I saw clearly in front of me, a few feet ahead, the silhouette of a great white. I knew what it was from its size and its appearance in that water,” he said. “I didn't go out for another wave. I turned around and called my day."

Just as the number of people playing and living at the beach is going up, so too is the number of sharks in the water. Fishing conservation efforts have reversed a decline in shark populations.
"There is much conservation work now to try to overcome the overfishing of sharks that's occurred for decades and to restore these animals. Think what it would be if we didn't have this T-rex of the ocean for people to enjoy," Peterson said.

"We'd love to have the big, fierce animals of the sea to support the various services they provide to us and to the ocean,” he said. “But we also want to protect our own health and safety. So, learning to live with (sharks) is a vital problem for us as individuals and as a society."


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