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Shark attacks: Where in the world are you most vulnerable?

By By Heather Janssen, Staff Writer
July 27, 2016, 12:56:29 AM EDT

While millions flock to beaches around the world to spend time in ocean waters every year, the number of shark attacks continues to rise. But, where in the world are people most vulnerable?

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

Shark attacks can be classified as either provoked, when a human initiates physical contact with a shark, or unprovoked, incidents where the shark makes the first contact in the attack.

One of the most likely areas to encounter sharks is on the east coast of Florida, south of Daytona Beach.

"New Smyrna Beach, located in Volusia County, is the most active shark area in Florida," Burgess said.

"Volusia County, Florida, has a high number of shark-human interactions as a result of extremely high aquatic recreational utilization of its waters by residents and tourists, especially surfers," according to the International Shark Attack File.


While this area is known for shark activity, Burgess said that most of these interactions result in minor bites or injuries.

However, there is a location in the southwestern Indian Ocean that has gained more attention for its shark activity.

"Réunion Island, over the last couple of decades, has grown in importance with many Western Europeans going there for vacation," Burgess said.

Not only has tourism increased, but surfing has also become very popular.

"Most of the [shark] attacks, which aren't as numerous as we see in Florida, are serious ones and a good portion of them end up being fatal," Burgess said.


Other areas that are historically known for shark attacks include the southern part of Australia (New South Wales), the southern tip of Africa (South Africa) and Hawaii.

"In all of these areas, there are large predatory sharks that when they bite, they could do some serious damage," Burgess said.

These predatory sharks include the white shark, which can be found in Australia and southern Africa due to cooler waters, and the tiger shark in Hawaii.

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"Most of the shark attacks that occur in Hawaii are done by tiger sharks," Burgess said.

As larger sharks, white and tiger sharks are known for two serious kinds of attacks that result in greater injuries and the occasional death, the "bump and bite" and the "sneak attack."

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"Bump and bite attacks are characterized by the shark initially circling and often bumping the victim prior to the actual attack. Sneak attacks differ in having the strike occur without warning," the International Shark Attack File said.

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

"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."

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