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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 2, 2010

U.S. shark attacks fell sharply in '09

Advertiser Staff and News Services

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Oct. 19: A tiger shark is suspected of biting a surfer's leg about 300 yards off Kalama Park in Kīhei, Maui.

Aug. 6: A tiger shark gnaws on the nose of a surfer's board 50 yards off Kāwā, Big Island.

March 16: A cookiecutter shark removes chunks of flesh from an open-ocean swimmer's chest and leg, 10 miles northwest of 'Upolu Point, Big Island.

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Good news for ocean users: The number of shark attacks in the United States has declined, according to a University of Florida report released yesterday.

The number of attacks reported in the U.S. dropped from 41 in 2008 to 28 in 2009, said George Burgess, curator of the university's International Shark Attack File. Worldwide, the number of attacks stayed about the same, with 61 events in 2009 compared with 60 the previous year.

The data include three shark incidents, none fatal, that occurred in Hawai'i last year, compared with two in 2008 and seven in 2007.

The report also counted 19 shark attacks in Florida in 2009, four in California and one each in Texas and Georgia.

On average, Hawai'i experiences three to five shark-bite cases annually. The last fatal attack occurred in 2004 off Kahana, Maui.

"There's really not any sort of connection between what happens in Hawai'i and what happens in the rest of the world," said Randy Honebrink, education coordinator for the state Aquatic Resources Division, part of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

"When you look at the numbers, they go up and down for no reason that we can discern."

Researchers have tried to draw a correlation between the number of people in the water and the number of attacks, but that doesn't seem to hold up, he said.

"They're such unusual events that it's really hard to find patterns," Honebrink said.

The number of attacks in the U.S. has declined in each of the past three years, though Burgess said it's too soon to tell if that reflects a long-term trend.

More than half the 2009 attacks involved surfers, though the majority of shark-versus-human interactions are relatively minor, Burgess said.

"Most attacks are not of the 'Jaws' ilk, but more the equivalent of a dog bite," he said.

The International Shark Attack File report, which is part of a shark research program, said five people died from shark bites in 2009, compared with four the previous year.