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Most Lethal: Shark Or Falling Coconut?

You have a better chance of being killed by a falling coconut than by a shark. That's just one of the statistics used by shark experts to illustrate how rare such occurrences are.

Robert Hueter, who heads the Center for Shark Research at Florida's Mote Marine Laboratory, said a lot of last summer's interest in sharks attacks was sparked by the July 4th attack on a young boy whose severed arm was re-attached.

Hueter suggests a lack of other news also played a role.

Despite all the attention, however, shark attacks in 2001 were actually down from the previous year, said George H. Burgess of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

There were 76 unprovoked shark attacks around the world last year, compared to 85 in 2000, according to statistics collected by Burgess' International Shark Attack File.

Shark attacks in waters off the United States increased by one to 55. Florida, which leads the nation, had 37, one fewer than in 2000.

Nonetheless, sharks remain a presence.

Burgess said most people who have swum in the ocean have been within 15 feet of a shark without knowing it.

In general, sharks prefer to feed on smaller fish and sea creatures and avoid people, the panel of shark researchers said.

But, Burgess added, "Every time we enter the sea we have to understand it is a wilderness experience."

Burgess offered tips to reduce the risk:

  • Avoid waters with effluents or other discharge.
  • Don't enter the water if bleeding.
  • Stay in groups.
  • Avoid the water in darkness or twilight.
  • Don't wear shiny jewelry.
  • Avoid water being fished or with bait fishes.
  • Avoid murky water.
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