UF researchers notice shark bites declining

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)/(WCJB) — University of Florida researchers say far fewer shark bites were reported worldwide last year.

According to the university’s International Shark Attack File, 66 bites were documented in 2018, compared with 88 the previous year. That’s 26 percent lower than the five-year average of 84 bites annually. Thirty-two bites happened in U.S. waters.

Four of last year’s bites were fatal, roughly keeping with the average of six deaths worldwide each year.

In a statement Monday, Dr. Gavin Naylor of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s shark research program said it’s unknown whether the drop can be attributed to more people heeding beach safety warnings or to declining shark populations.

Naylor saw a dramatic difference of shark bites from Blacktip sharks which usually reside off the Southeastern coasts of the United States.

"We think it might be associated with changing temperatures along the coast and those changing temperatures have also resulted in some fairly severe hurricanes as well," Naylor said.

Naylor said beachgoers need to learn about shark behavior in areas such as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where great white sharks have followed a rebounding seal population.

"We're not sure if it's a part of a global change phenomenon," Naylor said. "We just have one data point and you can't really jump to conclusions from a single data point but it is consistent with warming."

Experts suggest that when the temperature is right, baitfish are around for the sharks to eat. When the temperatures are high, the baitfish decrease, which gives sharks less incentive to be there.

The shark program will continue investigating the decline.