Deadly sea encounters decline
Shark attacks: Numbers drop worldwide but rise slightly in Hawaii
Shark attacks were down worldwide last year, continuing a five-year trend, but attacks in Hawaii were a bit over its average last year, a Florida-based monitoring program reported yesterday.
By the numbers
Incidents reported in 2004 and 2005
Worldwide: 58 (four fatal)
In Hawaii: Five (none fatal)
Worldwide: 65 (seven fatal)
In Hawaii: Three (one fatal)
"It appears that humans are doing a better job of avoiding being bitten, and on the rare occasion where they actually meet up with a shark, and are doing the right thing to save their lives." -- George Burgess, International Shark Attack File
There were 58 total attacks worldwide in 2005, compared with 65 in 2004, while the number of fatal attacks dropped to four from seven, said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File based at the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History.
The number of attacks worldwide will likely increase by one because the report of a Maui kayaker being bumped by a shark late in 2005 has yet to be counted* on the list, according to Hawaii shark expert Randy Honebrink, state Shark Task Force spokesman.
Five attacks, including the kayak bumping, occurred in Hawaii waters in 2005, according to the Hawaii task force's data listed on hawaiisharks.com. None of the attacks last year were fatal, and only one victim suffered injuries. In 2004 there were three attacks, but one of those, on surfer Will McInnis off West Maui, was fatal.
Hawaii has averaged between three and four attacks since 1990, according to the ISAF's Web site. The most attacks in a year was nine, in 1992, and two of those were fatal.
Worldwide, both avoidance of sharks and aggressive reactions to attacks, such as hitting them in the nose, gills and eyes, have led to fewer bites and fewer fatalities, Burgess said, despite people using the ocean more frequently.
"It appears that humans are doing a better job of avoiding being bitten, and on the rare occasion where they actually meet up with a shark, and are doing the right thing to save their lives," Burgess said.
While Honebrink said he agrees that ocean users should follow safety guidelines, the small number of attacks each year in Hawaii often do not follow worldwide trends.
"The numbers are up and down all over the place," Honebrink said. The ISAF's data "is interesting stuff to look at, but not a lot of practical determinations" for the state can be gleaned from it.
For example, Burgess said overfishing has led to smaller numbers of sharks and, thus, fewer attacks. But in Hawaii there is no nearshore shark fishing.
Other determining factors in the given number of attacks per year include ocean and weather conditions and abundance of prey, Burgess said.
However, reflecting the worldwide trend, Hawaii body boarders and surfers remain the most frequent attack victims.
Surfers were attacked by sharks 29 times around the globe last year, including three of the five victims in Hawaii.
The waves that surfers ride, especially in Hawaii, break on the outer edge of the reef, which also happens to be the place where the larger predators feed, Honebrink said.
"What is kind of surprising is that (attacks) don't happen more often" with surfers and sharks in close proximity, Honebrink added.
Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Tom Finnegan contributed to this report.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
» An incident where a kayak was attacked by a shark off Maui on May 14, 2005, was the one not counted in the 2005 International Shark Attack File by the University of Florida's Museum of Natural History. A Page A3 story yesterday incorrectly cited a different shark incident this month off Maui as that uncounted one.