Washington The United States has more shark attacks than any other place in the world, and new encounters are sure to occur as millions of Americans return to the shores beginning this weekend.
Sharks burst onto the nation's front pages last summer when 9-year-old Jesse Arbogast of Ocean Springs, Miss., had an arm bitten off; his uncle then grabbed the attacking shark and wrestled it to shore.
Shark attacks have been increasing in recent years as more vacationers take to the ocean, a panel of shark experts said Tuesday.
Of 2,110 unprovoked shark attacks reported worldwide over the years, 854 have taken place in the United States, according to the International Shark Attack File maintained by George H. Burgess of the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.
Americans have more leisure time and money to take vacations to the beach and thus are more exposed to the possibility of attack, Burgess said at a news conference Tuesday. Australia has had 323 shark attacks; Africa has had 293.
Despite all the headlines in 2001, shark attacks were actually down from the previous year. There were 76 unprovoked attacks around the world, compared with 85 in 2000.
Shark attacks in waters off the United States increased by one to 55. Florida, which leads the nation, had 37, one fewer than in 2000.
"Like summer thunderstorms, there will be more shark incidents this summer," predicted Robert E. Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.
Most people who have swum in the ocean have been within 15 feet of a shark without knowing it, Burgess said.
In general, sharks prefer to feed on smaller fish and sea creatures and avoid people, the researchers said.
Indeed, fishing has reduced the stock of sharks in recent years, resulting in a need for conservation, said Rebecca Lent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service.
But, Burgess added, "Every time we enter the sea we have to understand it is a wilderness experience," entering the territory of the shark.
Florida has recorded more than half of the shark attacks in this country, 474 out of 854, Burgess reported. California is second with 111, followed by Hawaii with 100.
Burgess attributed this to the large number of people swimming and surfing in these states, noting that attacks were more common in areas with better surfing conditions, such as the east coast of Florida.
Other states where shark attacks have been recorded include South Carolina, 42; Texas, 28; North Carolina, 20; New Jersey and Oregon, 16 each; Georgia and Delaware, 8 each; Virginia, 6; New York and Massachusetts, 5 each; Alabama, 4; Louisiana, 3; and Washington, Connecticut, Mississippi and Rhode Island, 1 each. There have been four bites where the state was not recorded.