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The recent frightening spate of shark attacks off North Carolina doesn't necessarily mean America's waters are becoming more dangerous. In California, at least, you’re much less likely to be attacked by a shark than you would have been decades ago, a new study indicates.
The study, led by Stanford researchers, says that although the reported number of great white shark attacks off the California coast has risen, the individual attack risk has decreased by a staggering 91 percent since 1950.
The researchers analyzed data extracted from the Global Shark Attack File of attacks recorded in California between 1950 and 2013 that involved the greats whites and resulted in injuries. There were a total of 86 such attacks during that time — 13 of which were fatal. The average number of attacks rose from 0.9 per year in the 1950s to about 1.5 per year from 2004 to 2013.
However, the human population in coastal California tripled during the same period, from 7 million in the 1950s to 21 million in 2013, the study said. Likewise, more humans ventured into the water — the number of surfers, scuba divers and beachgoers all went up dramatically. Taking into account these and other variables, the risk of being attacked by a shark off the California coast has plummeted, the study says.
Research has shown that culling sharks has no effect on the risks of an encounter, so authorities should instead focus on promoting safe ocean-going behavior by providing information on how risk varies among locations and times, according to the study.
"Our results indicate that the seemingly conflicting goals of protecting large predators and people can be reconciled," co-author Fiorenza Micheli, the David and Lucile Packard Professor of Marine Science at Stanford's Hopkins Marine Station and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said in a statement. "An awareness of risk — in places and times of the year — can greatly increase the safety of ocean users."
The peer-reviewed study is to be published later this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.