Friday, February 16, 2007

Can excessive shark fishing and 9/11 be responsible for drop of shark attacks?

OVER-fishing, the weather, media coverage and even the September 11 terrorist strikes have been named as reasons for the continuing fall in the number of shark attacks around the world.
While four fatalities have been recorded - including Queensland woman Sarah Wiley, 21, killed on North Stradbroke island on January 7, 2006 - 96 people have been unlucky enough to experience “shark-human interaction”, 62 of which have been recorded in the annual International Shark Attack File as “confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attack.”

But it's a dull year, according to the ISAF's authors at the University of Florida. Since 79 attacks recorded in 2000, humans have experienced a decline in so called interactions with sharks each year, although 2006 saw one more than in 2005. “We love dull years because it means there are fewer serious attacks and fewer victims,” George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the university, said.

Overfishing of sharks is the main reason for the decline in attacks, but apparently so is a decrease in tourism in high shark-human contact areas. Since the attacks of September 11, airtravel in some areas has fallen, resulting in slower tourism industries and hence fewer people taking to the water. The figures are also affected by cyclones and tropical storms that have seen fewer people enter the water in areas like Florida, usually high-contact areas for sharks. And we are smarter at avoiding them, thanks to media driven information on what to do when confronted with one.

So perhaps that tabloid television programme might be worth watching afterall. As usual, the US had more shark attacks than any other nation, with 38 last year. That was down from 40 the previous year and well below the 53 recorded in 2000. Florida, with its long coastline and year-round swimming weather, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the US tally, but there were no shark bite fatalities in America last year.

Australia was second with seven attacks. But while the fear of an attack by a Great White may keep some people safely on the sand, figures released by the Medical Journal of Australia show that dog attacks, lightning strikes and bee or wasp stings are more likely to be fatal.

Bee and wasp sting top the list with an average of more than 100 people being killed in Australia each decade. And the most deadly creature in the world is one of the smallest. The World Health Organisation reports that encephalitis, the West Nile virus, malaria and Dengue fever, delivered by mosquitoes, cause more than two million deaths each year worldwide.


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