Researchers: 2015 breaks shark attack record, but don't panic

- A record number of unprovoked shark attacks in 2015 prompted University of Florida researchers to find out why. 

The school released its report on what might be behind the 98 attacks - a number which breaks the 2000 record of 88 attacks.

However, researchers said the increase should not be cause of alarm. Although there were more attacks in 2015, fatality rate was half that of 2000. Also, the increase in attacks was likely due to a growing human population, not a growing hunger amongst sharks for human flesh.

The report says the increase in unwanted human interactions with sharks is directly related to the amount of time humans spend in the ocean. As the population goes up, the number of beach-goers rises. Therefore, it is a realistic expectation for shark attacks - and all aquatic injuries - to increase.

The report continues to explain if shark populations stay the same or go up, expect to see further increases in attacks in the coming years. However, shark populations are actually declining overall as a result of over-fishing and habitat loss, researchers point out. 

They also said looking at year-to-year trends will not help determine the risk of attacks on a given year, because many factors including weather, ocean temperatures, geographical location and more can affect the likelihood of shark attacks - all factors which can fluctuate.

For perspective, the report offered information about the 2015 attacks, only six of which resulted in a fatality, or. Those deadly attacks happened off the shores of Australia, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Egypt and two in the waters surrounding Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. 

The six attacks, which made up 6.1-percent of all attacks in 2015, matched the annual average of the previous ten years.

Researchers wrote in the report, "this total is remarkably low given the billions of human-hours spent in the water each year." 

The report also noted almost half - 49-percent - of 2015's cases involved people participating in board sports like surfing. Recreational swimmers and waders made up 42-percent and snorkelers 9-percent. Surfers were said to be more likely to be attacked because they spend more time in the water and make "provocative" movements like kicking, splashing and wiping out.

For anyone unlucky enough to find themselves face-to-face with an attacking shark, experts said to try and hit the shark on the nose, preferably with an inanimate object. This should confuse the shark long enough for one to get out of the water - which you should do as quickly as possible. 

For more information on the report and shark attacks, visit http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/isaf/worldwide-summary/

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