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Shark attacks spike on new moons, Sundays: Study

Last Updated: Friday, May 28, 2010 - 12:21

Miami: Sharks are most likely to attack surfers and other unsuspecting swimmers in shallow water, on Sundays, during new moons and especially in August, according to a study released Thursday just in time for summer.

Young surfers in black and white bathing suits are most vulnerable to shark attacks or bites, the University of Florida study found.

It based its conclusions on observations and statistics gathered over a 50-year period in Florida`s Volusia County, known as the "shark attack capital of the world."

"Human, shark and environmental factors combine to create a perfect storm of favorable conditions in Volusia County for attacks, particularly near Ponce Inlet between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach," said George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida.

Between 1996 and 2008, one in five shark attacks worldwide occurred in that part of central Florida.

Researchers observed conditions over a year in this region full of white beaches where powerful surf attracts surfers and sharks alike. Predators flood to the turbulent waters to hunt for food.

They analyzed the "why, where and when" of shark attacks "in an area that traditionally has had more shark-human interactions than any other stretch of coastline in the world," the report said.

Burgess noted that the greatest number of attacks took place during new moons, followed by full moons. During both periods, the moon has its biggest pull on tides.

"Probably, the moon`s phases influence the movements and reproductive patterns of fish, the shark`s food source, just as they affect human behavior," he said.

August is the peak month for shark attacks because of the large number of people in the water in the northern hemisphere, particularly on Sundays.

"Sharks are not weekend warriors. Rather it is human leisure that leads to the fewest number of human encounters on Wednesdays and the highest on Sundays," Burgess said.

Movements like splashing hands and kicking feet attract sharks, which lunge at the moving body parts through surf thinking they are prey, the experts said.
Last February, a 38-year-old man was attacked by a group of sharks in central Florida while kite-surfing, sowing panic among bathers.

But experts say that contrary to popular belief, most shark attacks on the Florida coast are not deadly; 90 percent result in minor injuries, according to the report.

"They`re not the same kind of bites made by 10- to 20-foot long (three- to six-meter) white sharks that you have off the coast of California," Burgess said.
"Here, we see a different style of attack, primarily perpetrated by smaller fish-eating sharks such as spinners and blacktips that are less than six to seven feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) long, which because of their size normally seek smaller prey."

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, May 28, 2010 - 12:21

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