Deadly shark attacks rare but they do happen

Associated Press
This July 11, 2011 photo shows a shark warning sign along the Surf Beach near Lompoc, Calif. in Santa Barbara County. A shark attack at the Vandenberg Air Force base beach has claimed the life of an experienced 39-year-old surfer, following months of frequent shark sightings along the central California coast. The surfer was killed at the same central California beach where a beachgoer was killed in 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Fernandez)
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This July 11, 2011 photo shows a shark warning sign along the Surf Beach near Lompoc, Calif. in Santa Barbara County. A shark attack at the Vandenberg Air Force base beach has claimed the life of an experienced 39-year-old surfer, following months of frequent shark sightings along the central California coast. The surfer was killed at the same central California beach where a beachgoer was killed in 2010. (AP Photo/Michael Fernandez)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Almost 40 years after the movie "Jaws" had people staying away from the ocean in droves, word of shark attacks still send shivers down the spines of people who believe the victim could just as easily have been them if they had been at the beach that day. The fact is, however, that shark attacks like the one Tuesday that killed a veteran surfer off the coast of California rarely ever occur. There have only been 11 confirmed fatal attacks in the United States since 2000, an average of one a year.

SHARK ATTACKS OVER THE YEARS:

The most recorded shark attacks in one year throughout the world this century were 89 in 2000, 11 of which were fatal. There were 75 confirmed attacks last year, 12 of which were fatal. Most years, however, the number of fatalities ranges between four and six.

U.S. SHARK ATTACKS:

There were 29 confirmed shark attacks in the United States last year, none of which were fatal. There were 32 attacks the year before, two of which were fatal, one in Florida and one in California.

ARE SHARK ATTACKS INCREASING?:

Experts say yes, but only because more people are entering the ocean every year. They say the number of attacks per capita has remained consistent.

WHY SHARKS ATTACK PEOPLE:

Experts believe many attacks result when a shark mistakes a person for its natural prey. In these instances the shark will bite but then release the victim after it realizes its mistake. The injuries caused by these attacks are usually not life-threatening. However, sneak attacks and bump-and-bite attacks, in which the shark attacks repeatedly, are often fatal and are believed to be the result of sharks either feeding or simply acting aggressively.

WHERE SHARK ATTACKS ARE MOST FREQUENT AND WHY:

Most attacks occur close to shore, between sandbars or in areas with steep drop-offs are located because that is where sharks tend to congregate and feed.

HOW TO AVOID A SHARK ATTACK:

— Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active.

— Swim or surf near others, as sharks tend to attack individuals.

— Do not enter the water if bleeding and do not wear shiny jewelry in the water, which tends to look like fish scales to sharks.

— Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid areas between sandbars or with steep drop-offs.

— Do not enter the water if sharks are known to be there and get out of the water as soon as one is seen.

Source: The Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File.

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