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Friday, 9 February, 2001, 07:26 GMT
Shark attacks at record high
Female white pointer shark
Shark kills in Australian waters are at a high
Tourists wanting to avoid shark attacks should consider steering clear of surfing in Australia or swimming in Florida, according to researchers.

The International Shark Attack File, compiled at the University of Florida, suggests tourists increasing taste for exotic locations and swimming in the warm waters of places like Florida have contributed to a record year for shark attacks.

Sharks have killed more people in Australian waters than anywhere else in the world as attacks worldwide last year peaked at 79, the highest in four decades of the researchers' records.

There is a much better chance of getting struck by lightning than being attacked by a shark

Gary Violetta
SeaWorld Orlando
There were 10 fatal attacks worldwide in 2000, including three in Australian waters after great white shark attacks.

The deaths of three other people in Australia are also strongly believed to have resulted from shark attacks, but their remains were either never found or had been in the water too long to tell if they were eaten before or after they died.

Overall, the US had the most attacks with 51 over the past 12 months, 34 of which occurred in Florida, according to the report released on Thursday.

Australia had seven attacks, South Africa five, and the Bahamas four.

Florida death

Florida also had the lone death in the United States. Of the other fatal attacks, three occurred in Australia, two in Tanzania and one each in Fiji, Japan, New Guinea, and New Caledonia, the French island territory in the South Pacific.

Remains of surfboard
Sharks have killed Australian surfers
Researchers said 58 attacks were reported worldwide in 1999, during a decade which averaged 54 attacks a year.

An Australian expert, Sydney Aquarium supervisor Chris McDonald, blamed overfishing for the apparent increase in the number of attacks here recently, because sharks were now hunting closer to shore.

Odds game

International Shark Attack File director George Burgess said in a statement: "Attacks are basically an odds game based on how many hours you are in the water.

"Some of these attacks are beginning to pop up in far-flung corners of the Earth as tourists can afford to vacation in areas they wouldn't normally have gone in the past.

"Florida has a huge number of people in the water and the number of person-hours in the water is probably higher than anywhere in the world."

People who come under attack should kick, punch or try to jab the shark in the eyes or gills, Mr Burgess said.

But Gary Violetta, curator of fishes at SeaWorld Orlando, said: "There is a much better chance of getting struck by lightning than being attacked by a shark."

The release of the report follows within days of the most recent confirmed attack on Australia's eastern seaboard, during which 40-year-old school teacher Mark Butler was mauled while surfing.

Last year, two surfers were killed on consecutive days by great whites off south Australia.

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