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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 16:33 GMT
Four fatal shark attacks in 2006
Great white shark (A.Rosenfeld/SPL)
Shark attacks are much rarer than popular myth would have us believe
Just four people worldwide died in unprovoked shark attacks in 2006, according to an annual census by University of Florida scientists.

The International Shark Attack File recorded that a further 58 people were injured in such attacks last year.

ISAF Director George Burgess said that the comparatively low figures amounted to a mercifully "dull year".

But he said it illustrated that sharks got an unfairly bad press, with attacks of such rarity as to be a minor threat.

"It's really quite remarkable when you have only four people a year die in the mouth of a shark," Mr Burgess said. "The reality is, as a biologist, this is a non-problem. It's a minor, minor thing."

"We love dull years because it means there are fewer serious attacks and fewer victims," Mr Burgess added.

Attack rate flattening out

The scientists only included attacks which they said were unprovoked not counting those involving captive sharks, or which happened when the fish were caught by fishermen or fed by divers.

US - 38
Australia - 7 (one fatal)
South Africa - 4
Brazil - 3 (one fatal)
Bahamas - 2
Fiji - 1
Guam - 1
Mexico - 1
New Zealand - 1
Puerto Rico - 1
Reunion - 1 (one fatal)
Spain - 1
Tonga - 1 (one fatal)
In 2005 there were 57 confirmed attacks which left people injured, though like this year the number of fatal attacks was also four.

Throughout the 20th Century there was a steady rise in the numbers of shark attacks on humans, attributed to increasing numbers of people spending time in the ocean.

However, in recent years rates have plateaued due, Mr Burgess says, to a combination of over-fishing of sharks near shorelines and a growing canniness on the part of people entering potentially dangerous waters.

"This is the wild world we're entering, not a swimming pool," he said.

The four people killed in 2006 were:

  • A woman in Australia swimming with her dog. Researchers say the attack may have been triggered by fishermen tossing fish guts into the water as they cleaned their catch close by
  • A man killed while surfing off the north-east coast of Brazil
  • A 24-year-old female volunteer from the US Peace Corps out swimming
  • A 34-year-old man surfing in an area closed to swimmers in Reunion Island.

Other countries where unprovoked attacks were recorded were South Africa, the Bahamas, Fiji, Guam, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and Spain.

As in past years the US suffered more attacks that any other country, with 38 recorded in 2006, though none of them fatal.

The southern state of Florida accounted for nearly two thirds of US attacks.

"Within Florida, Volusia County and particularly New Smyrna Beach is the hot spot," Mr Burgess said in a statement. "This area on a square mile basis has more attacks than any place else in the world."

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