Florida Is the U.S. Shark Attack Capital

Swimmers in 2005 were safer from sharks than in previous years, unless they were swimming in Florida.

Florida is the U.S. shark attack capital. There were 50 percent more victims in 2005, up to 18 from 12 in 2004, but well below the record of 37.

This goes against the worldwide trend, which continued a five-year decline, according to a University of Florida study. Attacks decreased 12 percent in one year, down to 58 from 65 in 2004.

"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, are doing the right thing to save their lives," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File.

A surfer survived a Dec. 24 attack off the Oregon coast by punching the shark's nose. Punching the gills and poking the eyes also work.

There are also fewer sharks to attack people due to shark over-fishing, Burgess said. Sharks are usually slow to reproduce their population.

There were four fatalities worldwide, two in Australia, one on the island of Vanuatu and one in Florida.

The Florida death was on June 25 when 14-year-old Jamie Daigle was attacked by a bull shark while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico in south Walton County just east of Sandestin. It was Florida's first fatal shark attack in four years.

Two days later, a shark attacked Craig Hutto, 16, and bit off his right leg while he was fishing in Cape San Blas, in Gulf County also in the Florida Panhandle.

Five of Florida's 2005 attacks occurred on the Gulf Coast and 13 on the Atlantic coast.

Florida's attacks were higher in 2005 than 2004 because 2004 was an unusually active hurricane season that reduced the number of people going into the water that year, Burgess said, but U.S. attacks also increased in 2005, from 30 in 2004 to 38.

Besides the attacks in Florida, there were five incidents in South Carolina, four each in Texas and Hawaii, three in California, two in North Carolina and one in New Jersey and Oregon.

The number of shark attacks depends on a variety of factors including ocean and weather conditions, abundance of prey and the amount of time people are in the water.

Surfers were the most frequent victims last year, accounting for 29 attacks, followed by 20 on swimmers and waders and four on divers.

"A person who is under attack should act aggressively toward the shark," Burgess said.

To read the International Shark Attack File Online, go to www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/ Sharks/ISAF/ISAF.htm