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Shark attack math: More people, more sharks equal more attacks

Shark attacks are predicted to rise this summer and there have been attacks reported at a few beaches in the United States already -- from Texas to Delaware. Swarms of sharks have also been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Alabama. And summer isn't even a month old yet. So what's going on and what can be done to avoid being the next tragic headline?

Discovery News reported June 23 that experts are predicting a rise in number of shark attacks this year. They make their prognostications using simple math. More sharks in the water plus more people at the beaches equal more shark attacks.

"Each year, more people are going into the water," George Burgess, who is director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, told Discovery News, explaining that the greater the number of people at the beaches is a good indicator that there will be greater chances for shark encounters. "We're also seeing a rise in numbers of sharks on both coasts."

The shark research director builds his case on two recent studies that indicate that there are quite a few more Great White sharks in the upper northwest Atlantic and upper northeast Pacific Oceans than had been previously thought.

Burgess says there is a third reason that shark attacks will rise in 2014. He notes that "global climate change has resulted in warmer waters to the north, prompting humans to enter waters earlier in the season, staying in them later."

Attacks this year are proving him correct.

A 38-year-old woman had a chunk of her calf bitten off just prior to Memorial Day weekend in Florida. A doctor estimated that the size of the shark was approximately seven feet long, judging by the bite marks. The victim believed the attacker was a Bull shark.

A couple of weeks later, a 14-year-old girl was bitten on her right shoulder in Texas while wading in waist-deep water. She described the attack like "just like in the movies, when a shark opens its mouth."

A couple days later, a 16-year-old boy was bitten on the arm in Delaware.

The International Shark Attack File recorded 47 shark attacks in 2013. Thirteen of them were off the beaches of Hawaii, one of which was fatal.

So what should beachgoers do to avoid becoming the next shark attack victim?

Burgess makes several suggestions for preventing a shark attack:

  • Stay in groups, because sharks are drawn to solitary prey.
  • Stay out of the water between dusk and dawn, because sharks are more active during that time.
  • Avoid entering waters around sandbars, steep drop-offs, estuary inlets, river mouths and lagoons, because fish sharks hunt for food tend to concentrate in these areas.
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry at the beach, because reflective surfaces that resemble fish can draw a shark's attention.

There are a few more things people can do to prevent a shark attack, according to Galveston Island Beach Patrol (per the Houston Chronicle):

  • Shuffle around and stir up sand to alert and scare sharks away.
  • Stay clear of murky water, because a shark that has difficulty seeing can become confused and more likely to attack.
  • Avoid schooling fish. They're potential shark food.
  • Stay out of the water if suffering from open wounds. Sharks' keen senses of smell help them detect one drop of blood even if diluted in 10,000 drops of water.
  • For those fishing with bloody fish for bait or using stringers, distance is suggested.
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