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Expert: More people, more shark attacks

(CNN) -- The mauling of an 8-year-old boy off the Florida coast and other recent shark attacks don't indicate an abnormal increase in shark activity, an expert says.

"We're not seeing more. Right now we're about on target for what our norm was last year," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, Florida.

So far this year, Burgess reports, sharks have attacked 16 people in Florida. Burgess' study found 79 confirmed, unprovoked attacks worldwide in 2000. Of those, 34 occurred in Florida.

"Each year we would expect more attacks than the previous year based on the fact that the human populations grow, and there's more people entering the water," Burgess said.

Encounters aren't uncommon in the summertime, when sharks and people share the water, Burgess said in a CNN interview on Tuesday.

"Under these circumstances, periodically we have an interaction," he said. "Happily most are minor, unfortunately one quite serious."

Jessie Arbogast remains in critical condition after his right arm was severed by a 7-foot bull shark July 6 at the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The arm was reattached, and he's in a light coma.

Also, a 48-year-old man was bitten on the left foot by a shark while surfing on Sunday, about eight miles east of where Jessie was attacked. He underwent surgery to repair damage to blood vessels and it's possible he may recover fully.

Avoiding shark encounters


Burgess suggested measures swimmers can take to reduce what he called the "minuscule" chance of encountering a shark.

The first and obvious thing to do if you see a shark is to get out of the water, Burgess said.

"Unfortunately, some people see sharks and still stay in the water, so get out, do it gracefully, try not to panic, swim gently and smoothly, or walk carefully," he said.

If the encounter's a close one, you can try to fend off the shark.

"If a shark actually is approaching you, it's wise to pop it on the nose, but keep in mind that that nose is very close to the mouth, so you need to be very careful when doing so," he said.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Avoid swimming during at night, when sharks tend to be more active and feed
  • Stay together in groups when possible
  • Watch for situations where sharks are likely to be present, such as schooling fish or diving seabirds
  • Avoid places where sharks tend to congregate, such as areas between sand bars and the surf zones, or along edges of channels
  • Minimize your jewelry, which may look to a shark like sun reflecting off scales of a fish

• International Shark Attack File

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