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Shark Attacks: Where in the World Are You Most Vulnerable?

By Kristen Rodman, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
July 7, 2014; 4:25 AM ET

While millions flock to the world's beaches every year, an entirely separate world thrives beneath the big blue sea everyday. With more than 400 different species of sharks living in the world's oceans, there are approximately 70 to 100 shark attacks each year.

Since the infamous shark attacks at the New Jersey shore that killed four people in July 1916 and inspired the Steven Spielberg film "Jaws," shark attacks have been on the rise.

"Each decade shark attacks have increased," said Director of the Florida Museum of Natural History's International Shark Attack File George H. Burgess. "This decade will have more attacks than the last, simply because the human population has grown."

A shark attack is classified as an interaction between humans and sharks that results in significant or life-threatening injuries and an occasional death.

While the risk of a shark attack and subsequent death is statistically unlikely, some locations around the world have higher occurrences of shark attacks than others.

The most likely place to confront sharks is on the east coast of the Sunshine State, south of Daytona Beach.

"New Smyrna Beach is the most common place to encounter sharks not only in the United States but in the world," Burgess said.

With nearly 300 total shark attacks from 2004 to 2013, Florida tops the charts for the place with the highest shark activity, according to data from the International Shark Attack File.

On the other side of the U.S., the California coastline area known as the "red triangle," from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands and down to Monterey, is notorious for sharks.

However, some of the most severe injuries have transpired in the Gulf of Mexico, despite the region's low shark attack totals.

"Some of the more dangerous sharks and the more severe injuries have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, in large part because the northeastern Gulf of Mexico is a very good area to be a bull shark in," Burgess said. "A lot of the attacks in the Florida Panhandle westward to the mouth of the Mississippi are the result of bull shark bites and those have resulted in serious injuries and deaths."

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Favoring brackish waters, bull sharks are known historically to thrive in the waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi Sound area. With their serrated, steak-knife sharp teeth, bulls sharks are noted for their aggressive feeding behaviors. A typical diet for these large fish include sting rays, sea turtles and other sharks.

As humans fall into a similar size category as their typical prey, bull sharks are likely some of the most threatening sharks to people.

"These are the most dangerous of all of the sharks in my opinion due to their persistency," Burgess said. "A bull shark is aggressive and once they start to attack they tend to repeatedly attack."

While bull sharks may be the most menacing, another shark is probably responsible for the most human shark bites, according to Burgess.

In 2013, the United States had a total of 47 shark attacks, according to the International Shark Attack File. (Flickr/Steve Garner)

Primarily a fish and shrimp eater, the blacktip shark has been identified as the shark accountable for the majority of the southeastern U.S. states' shark bite incidents. Usually cases of mistaken identity, also known as "hit and run" attacks, sharks incorrectly perceive the movements of humans as motions of the their normal prey. Upon grabbing, these attackers immediately let go, realizing their error. Minor injuries usually occur from these types of attacks.

Aside from bull and blacktip sharks, tiger sharks and white sharks are also prevalently known for attacking.

Tiger sharks are coastal species, typically found in the East, while white sharks commonly inhabit waters on the West Coast.

As larger sharks, the bull, white and tiger sharks are known for two other, serious kinds of attacks, the "bump and bite" and the "sneak attack." When a shark brushes or bumps their victim first, circles around then attacks, these are known as bump and bite attacks. A sneak attack, however, comes without warning. These attacks are the most violent and occur all of a sudden. Both these attacks often result in major injuries and the occasional death.

Despite the nature of attacks, people are more likely to die from a slew of other reasons than from a shark attack, including lightning strikes, tornadoes and boating accidents, according to the International Shark Attack File.

In 2013, worldwide there were only 72 total unprovoked attacks.

"The reality is when you enter the sea, it is a wilderness experience and most people don't think of it that way," Burgess said. "We have to accept the risk when we go out and luckily, for us, it's not as dangerous as we seem to think."


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at Kristen.Rodman@accuweather.com or follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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