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How Frequent Are Local Shark Attacks?

Florida leads the nation in attacks.

By Pam Daniel July 26, 2017 Published in the August 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Is Discovery Channel’s recent Shark Week keeping you out of the water? We dove deep into the Shark Research Institute’s database on shark attacks around the globe to see just how frequent unprovoked attacks are here.

Turns out, not very, even though Florida leads the nation in attacks, with 32 last year alone—and even though we have lots of shark species cruising local Gulf and bay waters. The database records 12 attacks from 1900 to 2016, none fatal. They occurred from Englewood Beach to Manatee, and most involved small sharks biting people’s legs and feet in shallow Gulf waters.

Some incidents were more dramatic. On Aug. 11, 1996, a seven-foot hammerhead shark grabbed a stringer of fish a 21-year-old man had tied around his waist and towed him some distance in the water. He wasn’t injured, but an 8-year-old swimming in shallow water off Longboat Key ducking underwater looking for shells off Longboat Key on July 27, 1958 was attacked by a tiger shark and had to have his leg and foot amputated. And in 2007, a 20-year-old New College student was severely bitten in the torso by a bull shark as she floated in Sarasota Bay next to a boat in the dark, looking at bioluminescent organisms.

You’re in greater danger from lightning—four people in Florida, the most of any state, died of lightning strikes last year, one of those in Manatee—or even just driving to the beach. The Florida Museum of Natural History, which collects data on shark attacks, assesses your risk of an attack as 1 in 11.5 million, and of dying from an attack as too tiny to be measured.

To lower your risk even more, don’t swim at dusk, dawn or night or where people are fishing, and don’t wear shiny jewelry. And if you should get attacked, smack the shark on the nose, hard. Sharks are efficient but lazy predators; if it’s too much hassle, most will back away from an encounter.

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