'Summer of Shark' scary but not record

Associated Press
Posted February 19, 2002

GAINESVILLE -- A spate of widely reported shark attacks last summer fueled speculation that sharks were attacking humans more than ever, but a study released Monday shows attacks for 2001 were actually down from the previous year.

Researchers at the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File recorded 76 unprovoked attacks worldwide in 2001, compared to 85 in 2000. The number of people killed in shark attacks also dropped to five from 12 the previous year.

Shark attacks in waters off the United States increased by one, 55, over 54 in 2000, and Florida, which leads the nation, had 37, one less than in the previous year, said George Burgess, who heads the research center.
Six attacks were recorded in the waters off South Carolina last year, four off Hawaii, two each off California, North Carolina and Texas, and one each off Alabama and Virginia.

"Last year was anything but an average year, but that's because it was more like the summer of the media feeding frenzy," Burgess said.

Media coverage of shark attacks last year intensified in July after then 8-year-old Jesse Arbogast was attacked by a bull shark a few feet from shore in the waters off Pensacola.

The shark bit off Jesse's right arm and a large part of one of his legs, but the boy's uncle wrestled the shark out of the water, retrieved the arm and surgeons were able to reattach it. Severe blood loss, however, left the Mississippi boy brain damaged.

Weeks later, a 10-year-old boy was fatally mauled in the Virginia Beach, Va., surf. Two days after that, a shark killed a man and gravely injured his girlfriend off a North Carolina beach.

"On top of that, Mother Nature cooperated kind of nicely with the press, with a series of incidents that occurred about every two weeks," Burgess said.

Most of the year's injuries were minor, but shark attacks figured prominently in media coverage for weeks.

Time magazine published a cover story titled "Summer of the Shark," and questions were raised over whether shark-feeding diving trips were making sharks more apt to target humans.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press