Friday, July 18, 2014

Don't let a Shark take away your sleep

Published in the newspaper Por Esto! in Yucatan and Quintana Roo. June 27, 2014.

By Juan José Morales

To all those who every time they enter the sea looking in all directions fearing to see the fin of a shark quickly approaching, certainly will be interested in the 2013 statistics released by the Record Identification Attribute Table - or RIAT - that keeps the Florida Museum of Natural History.

In total, 125 cases last year, which can be called shark attacks on humans, were documented. But of those, only 72 were considered unprovoked, that means that they occurred in the natural environment without the animal being somehow provoked by the person. Of the remaining 53 cases, 28 were classified as provoked, they ocurred after the shark was harpooned, taken out of a fishing net or disengage the hook when someone tried to hold it; while being fed by tourists, and in similar situations . The rest falls into several categories: attacks in confined waters like aquariums or different types of ponds, drowned corpses, etc.
Most of the attacks - 34 in total, which means almost half - occurred in inland waters of the United States, another 13 in Hawaii, which is also part of the United States, 10 in Australia, five in South Africa, three in the Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, two in Jamaica and the other in different places, with only one case at a time.
That figure of 72 non provoked attacks is down below the 81 that occurred in 2012, and the ones recorded in the two years preceding the latter. However, overall global number has been increasing so steadily, though slowly, for over a century, from 1900 to date. But this should not cause alarm. First, because the increase is minimal, and secondly because it is natural considering that the global population has more than quadrupled during that period, from 1 650 million in 1900 to 7200 million today.
And there is not only more human beings -and therefore more potential victims of a shark attack - but also more and more people are pushed into the sea, for recreation or work. A hundred years ago, only a small segment of the population could afford traveling to the beach and bathe in the sea, now is accessible to almost everyone. And not to mention the amount of people now doing dive practices and waterspouts that remain unknown a century ago, such as sailing table or scuba diving.
But above all, what has occurred in recent times, it´s more and better statistical record. Thanks to international cooperation between research institutes and authorities in different countries, as well as faster and more efficient communications, nowadays you can tell of incidents with sharks occurring anywhere in the world, even in isolated and remote locations such as small islands of the Indian Ocean or the Pacific.
So therefore there is no need to fear sharks. They are not killer beasts that prowl in the vicinity of the beaches in search of unsuspecting bathers, and likely to end in the jaws of some of them are insignificant. It is much more likely to die struck by lightning or victim of an allergic reaction from insect bites.

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