Scientists are examining a slight increase in the number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide last year, as new data released on Monday showed a small increase in fatalities in 2023 compared to the year before.
"There's a primal, deep-seated fear about the unknown," said Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research.
According to a report released Monday by the University of Florida's International Shark Attack Files, in 2023 the United States had 36 unprovoked attacks, accounting for 52% of incidents worldwide. Two of those attacks were fatal, one in California and another in Hawaii.
Florida had more shark bites than any other state.
Worldwide, there was an increase in the number of unprovoked shark attacks. Scientists say 69 of those happened during 2023. up from 63 in 2022. While 10 were fatal, Naylor said it's important to put that number into perspective.
"I like to tell people a surfer has a much higher probability of dying in a car wreck on the way to the beach than they have of being bitten by shark when surfing all day," he added.
Although scary for humans, unprovoked bites are the most useful when it comes to studying how sharks behave, because it helps biologists better understand the animals' natural behavior.
Great white shark sightings on the East Coast have risen in recent years. In 2023, Scripps News joined researchers off the coast of Cape Cod, deploying buoys to track great white population numbers. Their goal was to better alert swimmers when sharks may be nearby.
Scientists say warmer water fueled by climate change is part of the reason more great whites are being spotted along the East Coast. But a resurgence in the seal population is also drawing more sharks in.
"It's just a question of time before someone gets an unpleasant encounter with a white shark again," Naylor said.
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