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Expect more shark attacks this year, experts say

Posted at 7:14 PM, Jun 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-02 19:14:21-04

Expect more shark attacks this summer. Nothing personal, experts say, but blame the humans.

With the human population increasing every year, there’s a proportional increase in the time people spend in water, said George Burgess, the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.

Another shark expert, Ralph Collier, said he remembers going down to the beach in San Diego in the 1960s and seeing three or four divers on the weekend. Now, on any give Saturday or Sunday, he sees upward of 300 divers, 200 swimmers and a couple of kayakers.

“The idea that shark attacks could go up this year then, that’s a given!” Collier said.

As these “ocean user groups” increase, the probability of an attack increases, even though the shark population has gone down, he said.

Climate change has caused warmer water for longer periods, meaning the coasts are ready for beachgoers earlier in spring and summer, Burgess added.

“So if the water is warmer, then more people are attracted to water. On top of all that, we’re still feeling the effects of El Niño,” he said.

Dr. Kim Holland, a research professor at the University of Hawaii, doesn’t quite agree.

He said it’s difficult to predict a trend in shark attacks because it’s “so poorly understood” why one happens.

“Because there is enough wobble in the natural state of affairs of the world, it is difficult to predict what is going to happen in the whole situation,” he said.

If he had to make an observation about the shark forecast, though, it also would be that shark attacks are driven by people, he said. There are more people swimming in Florida or surfing in Hawaii than 20 years ago. The three shark aficionados agreed on that.

In 2015, there were a record 98 attacks and six deaths worldwide. The previous record, according to the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, was 88 attacks in 2000.

This year, Burgess and his team said, the number of attacks could hit triple digits. They estimated about 100 attacks.

The ocean waters are like any other wilderness. Whether it’s camping, trekking up a mountain or getting into the water at the beach, “We’re still entering a wilderness at our own risk,” Burgess said.

Considering the number of people around the world who go to the beach and the billions of hours of humans in the water, though, those numbers are infinitesimally small, Collier said.

As he pointed out, about 100 people a year are killed by falling coconuts. “So stay away from coconut trees, too,” Collier suggested.

Head out to the beach. Chances are, you won’t be involved in anything that looks like a “Jaws” remake.