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Lowering Odds Of A Shark Attack

Two shark attacks in three days off the Florida Panhandle, one of them fatal, have prompted concern among beachgoers all over.

But George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville, says the two incidents were "only related in that they're in the same region and both involve circumstances that have some commonality."


to The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that sharks attack people for a variety of reasons: "Most are simply cases of mistaken identification, in which the shark interprets the activities of the human being, namely splashing, as being (that of) normal prey items. But there are some attacks, such as the (recent) two, that appear to be truly feeding episodes."

Burgess adds that, though it may seem that shark attacks are becoming more common, it's really just that there are more people in the water, coming closer to sharks' habitat, so people are coming into contact with sharks more often.

"We're simply flooding sharks out of their own environment," Burgess observes. "As the human population continues to rise every year and aquatic recreation has taken off, almost everywhere in the world we're putting more and more people in the water. The panhandle of Florida here, which traditionally has had low utilization, is catching up with the rest of Florida in terms of the number of tourists entering the water. And, as a result, we've seen these incidents, and we're gonna see more in the future."

Burgess offered suggestions for steering clear of sharks:

  • Stay in a group
  • Avoid the water at dawn and dusk
  • Avoid areas where sharks are known to be present
  • Stay close to shore

He elaborated: "Sharks, of course, are predatory animals. They follow predator strategies. They like isolated prey items. If you stay in a group, you will avoid that isolation factor. They primarily feed during the dusk-to-dawn time period. So staying out of the water avoids you coming into contact with them at their peak feeding time. And certainly, staying out of areas where sharks are known to be present" is wise.

And should you encounter a shark:

  • Get out of the water if you can
  • Hit the shark
  • Avoid thrashing
  • Make your way toward other people

Burgess says, "Other people will save your life if you're injured. If you're close, they'll get to you shore and some safety. The thrashing thing (means) if you can get out of the water as gracefully as possible, do so. Sharks are attracted to thrashing. So if you kick like mad and are panicked, they're going to pick up on that."