SHARK ATTACK NEWS CONFERENCE
TUESDAY MAY 21, 2002
BEN SHERMAN: Good morning and welcome to the National Press Club. My name is Ben Sherman and I’m the National Media Relations Director for the National Sea Grant College Program. On behalf of Sea Grant and NOAA Fisheries, I would like to welcome everyone here this morning in the room and those of you watching on the web as well as those of you picking up by satellite.
Before I begin, I would like to briefly state that Sea Grant sponsors this gathering as an impartial arbitrator to promote better public safety and understanding of sharks. Please note that each presenter this morning is speaking from his or her perspective, and that does not necessarily represent Sea Grant as a program on either the national or state level.
The public perception of risk of shark bites and attacks was heightened by intensive news coverage following last summer’s shark attack fatalities. Our objective this morning will aim to put the risk of shark attacks in perspective, to provide both the news media and the general public with resources where they can go to learn more about sharks and how to reduce their risk of shark attack encounters, and to provide you with additional scientific and fishery management background material.
Our format this morning will begin with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Tim Keeney, talking about the purpose of today’s gathering, followed by fifteen minute presentations from each of our three experts. At the end of that period, we’ll open up the floor to questions.
At this point, I’d like to introduce, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Commerce, Tim Keeney. He joined the Department just six weeks ago, and his responsibilities include working with fisheries, coastal protected areas, and management, coastal management issues. Tim.
TIM KEENEY: Thank you very much, Ben. It’s a pleasure to be here this morning and it’s nice to see you all out there. I’m pleased to welcome you to this news conference and science briefing. It’s been brought to you again, as you’ve heard by NOAA Fisheries and the Sea Grant Program, both of which are appropriate since NOAA Fisheries deals with the management of marine fisheries, and Sea Grant deals with, among other things, marine education, both of which are important to today’s topics.
We have three speakers today, who are going to be speaking about shark biology, the risk of attack by sharks, and the need for conservation and management. And it’s appropriate that we be doing this at this time of the year since the summer is soon upon us and many more people will be heading to the beach, and it’s important that they be better informed about sharks and humans and potential encounters. Last summer, there was much media attention given to a series of human/shark encounters along the East Coast. Some were serious; some were tragic; others were minor, and what’s important to remember is that last summer there were actually one-half of the human mortalities internationally than normal.
Regardless of all the stories you’ve heard about the encounters. Dr. George Burgess, Director of Florida’s Program of Shark Research is going to talk to us today about the direct correlation between the number of swimmers in the water and the number of shark attacks. Because of this, there’s a great need for increased public education and awareness about sharks. With 50% of the United States population now living within 50 miles of the coast, people have much greater access to the coasts. It’s important that they look at the coasts not as their backyard, but as more of a wilderness where humans are merely visitors and the inhabitants have their own rules of conduct.
Dr. Bob Hueter, Director of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida will speak to us this morning about the benefits of sharks and how they outweigh the threats that they pose. Sharks have an important role in the marine ecosystem, which supports over a $50 billion fishery, both marine, both recreational and commercial on an annual basis. And sharks play an important part in this fishery. Sharks also are looked at as a public resource, whether their existence, where their existence is thought to have value, whether people actually see them or not. These are people like school children will ride in from places like Kansas and talk about how important it is for them to know that sharks are being properly maintained and managed. Sharks are often portrayed as predators out to hunt and eat people.
This reminds me very much like the wolf who was hunted some 100 years, in fact almost to extinction and to extinction in several states. The truth is it’s the shark that’s hunted. With a commercial harvest comes the need for proper management and concern for continued existence. The shark plays a vital role in the ocean ecosystem, that of the apex predator has allowed them a long lifespan and a slow reproductive capacity, making them vulnerable to fishing, over fishing. When you add to this fact the fact that they migrate long distances and across international boundaries, you’ll hear from Dr. Rebecca Lent, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, of the need for proper management, both domestic and international.
In closing, humans are fascinated by sharks, their amazing strength, their beauty, their power, their speed, how they’ve been with us for over 400 million years. And people might have something to learn from sharks. We love to read about them, to watch them, to watch documentaries on TV for the most part which these stories will be told are accurate. However we are also easy prey to sensationalism. The stories may not tell us the correct accounts or the important role the sharks have in the marine ecosystem and the fact that sharks can become depleted and even extinct if not managed properly.
The take away message today is that what many believe to be their backyard is really home to the shark. We need to be responsible visitors, respectful, for the most part, which these stories will be told are accurate. However we are also easy prey to sensationalism. The stories may not tell us the correct accounts or the important role the sharks have in the marine ecosystem and the fact that sharks can become depleted and even extinct if not managed properly.
The take away message today is that what many believe to be their backyard is really home to the shark. We need to be responsible visitors, respectful of their needs and activities, since we can’t not predict nor control their behavior. We are here today to replace the public’s fear of Jaws with the respect and awareness of these awesome and inspiring creatures. Thank you.
BEN SHERMAN: Thank you, Tim. Our first presenter this morning comes to us from Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Florida. He serves as the Director of the Center for Shark Research, which was chartered by Congress in 1991 as the nation’s shark research center and is the world’s largest scientific research program focusing on shark behavior. Last summer, Bob Hueter’s 25 years of shark expertise was immediately recognized by the news media as they interviewed countless times, countless times. This morning, Bob will give us an introduction to shark biology and offer his perspective on what Time magazine called “The Summer of the Shark” and how important the media can be in separating fact from fiction in the world of both sharks and people. Bob.
ROBERT HUETER: Thank you very much, Ben and good morning to all of you, and thank you for being here. As Ben said I’m with Mote Marine Laboratory, which, I want to emphasize, is a completely independent, non-profit organization. It’s not affiliated with any government agency whatsoever. I’m here this morning to try to help get out some information and get ahead of the curve of the summer’s activities because like summer thunderstorms, there will be some more shark incidents this summer.
I’ve got one of the most wonderful jobs in the world, conducting research on these fantastic animals. Last week I was just out for the entire week tagging large sharks and putting transmitters on them and it’s fabulous work I enjoy very, very much. Last summer for about two months, I couldn’t do too much of that work because of the attention that was focused on sharks and because of doing all the interviews. So I hope today that we can try to get some information out there, not just so I can do my work, but so that we can be more proactive and provide the best scientific information that we have.
Sharks have always been in the news. I don’t have to seek out media to tell the story about sharks. They’re naturally charismatic animals. I’ve done scores, thousands probably, of interviews over my 25 years of working on these animals, so it’s not that we’re trying to put our animal in the spotlight, it naturally is in the spotlight. Ten years ago, last summer for example, Life magazine had a cover story on sharks and the primary gist of this story was that sharks were under assault in world fisheries like never before. Now last summer as most of you will recall, it was a little bit different and Time magazine came out with their cover story calling it “The Summer of the Shark” and it was truly the summer of the shark in terms of the media attention. And some of the less mainstream publications also had their coverage of this event and I suspect this’ll change now with changing relations with Cuba, we’ll see.
But what worries me is for the first time in my career since the movie Jaws came out in ’75, I began to hear from the public, “why do we need sharks anyway? What good are they? After all, aren’t they all just man-eaters? Aren’t they increasing in number? And aren’t they of no benefit to people?” So to address some of these questions, this is why I’m here today.
And I thought that we would go back to school for a few minutes and go through some Shark Biology 101, I call it, some basic points about the biology of these animals that I think may be important to you to the coverage of the story.
First of all, sharks are animals. They’re vertebrate animals like us with a backbone, but unlike us, their skeletons are not composed of true bone, but instead hard cartilage, something they share with their relatives the skates and rays, this group of what’s called cartilaginous fishes.
They appeared on the scene in the fossil record over 400 million years ago, and they have existed since then relatively unchanged. It’s often said that if a fisherman 150 million years ago caught a shark from 150 million years ago, if it had survived that, he’d say “Oh, it’s just a shark” and throw it back. They have not changed all that much. They were very successful in their evolution from the beginning.
Today’s sharks comprise 350 to 400 different species and most of these animals are actually quite small, one to two feet or so, many of them deep sea animals. And they range from tiny little deep sea sharks, less than a foot long, to the whale shark, which is the largest fish in the sea at about 40 feet long, fortunately a plankton feeder, not a predator, like the whales.
The take home point here is that sharks are not all the same, that they’re not all like Bruce in Jaws, that the Great White Shark is actually very unusual, very atypical shark. There’s a lot of biodiversity in this group, a lot of important biodiversity that needs to be, needs to be conserved.
In our second semester, Shark Biology 101, we’ll learn that most sharks are, as Tim said, apex predators. This means that they are at the top of the food webs; not all sharks, but most of them are. And unlike what’s portrayed in Hollywood, they do not prefer to feed on humans, garbage, license plates, cars, what have you, but instead on relatively small things, natural prey, live stuff, small fish and other types of marine creatures. These are, these are predators and they’re not garbage eaters and they don’t normally feed on people.
They undertake these long distance migrations in their lifecycle. Of course all this depends upon the species, sometimes going across entire oceans during their life cycle even a year. And the evidence that we’re beginning to accumulate through our research and others is that they’re actually navigating back to very precise points in this lifecycle to either feed or reproduce.
They also are known to have very highly developed biology basically, developed nervous systems. They have big brains, among the biggest brains of all the vertebrate animals for their body size, much bigger than fish, much more similar in size to the brains of mammals like ourselves. They also have a very acutely tuned sensory system, at least six different senses and they’re extremely advanced. And a very advanced reproductive system that’s much more like ours than it is like the other fishes.
So our take home point here is the complexity of sharks. These are not just dumb brutes, but they’re actually very highly developed animals and they’re developed and adapted for being the predator, not being the prey.
And finally for extra credit, we’ll learn that to reproduce, male and female sharks actually mate like mammals. They do not spawn thousands or millions of eggs like the other fishes, but they mate and in the advanced sharks, the female is actually pregnant and carries her what are called pups for anywhere from six months to two years and then these advanced animals gives live birth to these pups. So much more like a mammalian system than the other fish.
On top of this the female sharks may take as long as ten to fifteen years where they can reproduce and then they will produce only perhaps about a half dozen pups every other year, depending upon the species of sharks. This ranges, this varies, depending upon the species, but this is sort of the typical picture, especially for the kinds of sharks that we’re talking about here.
And the survivability of those young pups in their nursery areas is low in the first years of their life, but as they make it through those early windows, then it goes up as they get older and larger.
The take home point here is that there are natural limits on shark numbers that they are biologically limited because they reproduce very slowly and when they’re depleted from an area they can take decades to repopulate that area because of the limited reproductive capacity that they have.
Now, benefits of sharks to people. It’s hard to keep that in perspective when we’re having shark attacks, especially when sharks attack children, but the benefits are many. Some of them are subtle; some of them are very, very clear.
The first benefit is the ecological benefit, that as top predators, these animals are involved in the ecological balance in the oceans. They are important in terms of biological control of other species and there is a role for them ecologically and if you remove sharks from food webs in certain cases there’s nothing else to fill in there and you will get a change. Whether that change is good or bad is sort of a value judgment on our part, but the fact is that whatever change occurs we have to live with for perhaps a decade or more.
Secondly, what we know at Mote every day is they’re a tremendous value in biological research. Sharks are used in many ways, not only to understand them but to help understand ourselves, and they’re a classic study animal in vertebrate anatomy. Most medical doctors look at the inside of a shark before they start looking at the inside of a person because the layout is very similar. Their advanced senses, reproduction, they make for fantastic tools for studying our evolutionary history.
And on top of that, in terms of human health and biomedical benefits, sharks have a very high resistance to many diseases including cancer and this is a major part of our work at Mote Marine Laboratory is the biomedical research on sharks. And they also are a source of therapeutic materials for human health application.
And finally I think Rebecca’s going to talk more about this, in terms of dollar value in an industry, commercial and recreational industry, fisheries, diving and eco-tourism and such things as aquariums, these animals present a very important resource value. Well, what’s really happening is that they are being removed from the world’s oceans at the rate of over a billion pounds of animals per year and that’s between 20 million and 100 million sharks ever year. Most of them are used for food and these pictures are actually from Mexico, where sharks are a very important part of the protein that is used to feed people. And sharks are also used, you can see down here, their fins are used to make shark fin soup, which is a Chinese delicacy, and has been one of the major incentives driving shark fisheries around the world because of the value of these fins.
Now back here in the United States, the numbers of sharks have been declining since fishing really began targeting them in the mid-1970’s, first recreational fishing and then commercial fishing. And these two graphs here show the decline, two different assessments that were done by the National Marine Fishery Service and I want to thank Wildlife Conservation Society for putting this particular slide together and you can see the drop off, this percentage decline is about 80% from the mid-1970’s up till just recently. So there’s no question that sharks have been declining through this period of about 25 years.
Now people have drawn conclusions about shark attack going up and so on in the relationship. This graph here shows the number of attacks in Florida, in Florida on a yearly basis and George Burgess is going to go into much greater detail on this, and it appears to be increasing. If you draw a line through this point, then ping pong back and forth, you do get a definitely increasing trend. But you can see that there’s really no relationship going back to the 1970’s between the number of shark attacks and the number of sharks, per say. What appears to be much more in line with this increasing trend is in fact the human population that goes into the water, that uses the beaches, that comes into contact with the animals that are there and the these two curves are practically identical in terms of their slope. This is the numbers of people in Florida the numbers of attacks and I’ll let George go into much greater detail on that and he’s also going to explain other factors that come into play as to why this line goes up that I think you’re going to find very interesting.
So, is it us that should be worried or the reverse? Well, I guess that depends on your perspective, but what I want to do is go back and ask the question “Was this really the summer of the shark? Did it really deserve this label?” Well I guess you’d have to look at the shark attack statistics and when you compare last summer to the summer before in fact they’re nearly identical, which blows some people away because they that last summer was a record year. But compared to the previous summer it was pretty much the same, even down in some categories of attack statistics.
So, the question why, how did we find ourselves then in this situation? What happened? If the summer really wasn’t that unusual compared to the summer before, why did last summer get such attention? And I went back at the end of the summer and thought, “What happened this summer?” and I constructed a chronology that goes like this.
It started with the fourth of July attack on Jesse Arbogast in Pensacola, Florida, where his arm was bitten off and the very dramatic story of the uncle wrestling the shark out of the water, getting the arm, sewing it back on and saving the boy’s life. No question that this was a legitimate national news story. It was very compelling and because it went to the national level, it was reported nationally and because the boy survived and everybody wanted to know how he was doing, we got nightly updates, not just from the local news, or the state news, but actually in the national news.
At this time, there was no other national news if you remember, other than the Gary Condit story. Well as people were looking at the issue of sharks, they’d look around for side reporting and they’d start to report summer shark attacks that normally might be reported in the local paper, now they’re reporting them at the national level. Also at this time there was a controversy in the state of Florida over feeding sharks in dive operations and people have different opinions about this, but I think most reasonable people see there’s no relationship between these dives and attacks, but this fed into the news story and kept it going.
July 30th, Time published its cover story and again that increased the fervor. Then in early August we had an attack in the Bahamas in which a man from New York City lost a leg and threatened to sue the resort and hired Johnny Cochran, and with that kind of attention and celebrity and so on, the story had even more legs.
Still no other news besides Gary Condit at this time. [laughing] Mid-August, at this point now, the national news organizations are saying let’s put helicopters in the air, let’s see what’s going on in Florida especially, so every news helicopter, it seemed like, in the country was looking for sharks, and sure enough they found some off our beaches, which is a natural component of our ocean fauna in the summertime. And it was very exciting and I got some great helicopter rides out of it and I did appreciate that very much. Then we had a rash of bites in a particular area of Florida that George will go into detail on, where we had surfers who decided to hold a surfing contest in an area where there’s actively feeding black-tipped sharks, which are sort of our ankle biters in Florida, and when you do that, people are going to get bitten. And this actually ended up, I think, accounting for two-thirds of the so called attacks in Florida at the end of the summer.
The other news is Gary Condit is interviewed by Connie Chung. That was it. This was back in the salad days obviously of last summer. Then the story took a new turn in an article appearing in National Review claiming that the federal and state programs to rebuild shark fisheries are responsible for “all the shark attacks,” and we have the author of that article here with us today and I’m sure he’s got a little different perspective on this chronology, but it definitely accelerated the debate.
Labor Day Weekend, two unusual fatalities off the Mid-Atlantic States. All of a sudden this is not just a Florida problem. It’s closer to Washington, closer to the media, and so again it is revived. Early September, summer is winding down as we said it would, even the Gary Condit story is running out of gas, and finally September 11th, no one cares about shark attack or Gary Condit anymore, at least for now.
So that’s what happened and a number of interesting cartoons and things appeared at the end of the summer that kind of summed this up. This one, I like this one. The sharks are saying “Apparently it’s our fifteen minutes of fame during what was otherwise a slow news summer.” So, I’ll be happy to answer any questions about the biology of these animals, but we have a long way to go to overcome the myths and stereotypes and you all can help. I know your mission is not educational, per say, but in deciding what is news, the responsibility lies with you and we’re happy to provide the technical information that you need to do your jobs. Thank you very much.
BEN SHERMAN: Thank you. We’ll do the questioning at the end. Our second presenter this morning is Dr. Rebecca Lent, NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, a position she moved into this past October. However she’s no stranger to NOAA, having worked there for over a decade. Her experience with sharks was fashioned in part through her experience as Chief of NOAA’s Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Program. Dr. Lent will provide us this morning with an overview of the value of sharks to our ecological system, the approach of fisheries management taken by NOAA, and provide introduction to some of the ongoing scientific research NOAA’s sponsoring to help us better gain an understanding of this long-lived ocean creature. Rebecca.
REBECCA LENT: Thank you. Good morning. I’m going to talk to you about shark management.
My key messages that I want you to take away today, as you’ve already heard, sharks are really neat animals. They are wild animals. The ocean and the ecosystem would not be the same without them.
The second message is the sharks are very vulnerable and need conservation. They need attention. They need the kind of management we’re giving them at NOAA Fisheries because of their biology, their very nature and the fact that they’re migratory and they’re intercepted by fishing vessels and fishing gear all over the world.
And finally I want to make the point that NOAA Fisheries is part of the solution. We are out there working with fishermen, commercial and recreational, working with the public, using our science to do the best job in managing these fisheries. We manage these shark fisheries for the people of America. That’s our job at NOAA Fisheries.
Just in time for the second slide. Thank you. So our job at NOAA is promoting sustainable fisheries, healthy commercial recreational fisheries, protecting the habitats of these fish, also the endangered species and marine mammals, sea turtles, marine mammals and working internationally as you’ll see, with sharks in particular, we can’t do this job alone.
In addition to being a valuable part of the ecosystem, sharks do have a commercial fishery and recreational fishery that are very significant, particularly for certain communities, communities such as those in Florida. $11 million worth of income to fishermen. Four hundred thousand sharks intercepted recreationally, very popular recreational fisheries. We have entire recreational tournaments built around the Blue Shark Recreational Fishery, Makos, Tigers, these are exciting fish if you’re into angling it’s really a big deal, lots of them have been released in fact. This is important again, an important part of the coastal economy. Exports, $5 million worth of exports of sharks, primarily the dogfish sharks, which are used for fish and chips in the European market.
Shark products, you’ve already heard a little bit about that, shark steaks, particularly the Mako and the Sandbar, shark fins, shark fin soup is thought by some in Asia to make you more powerful and more other things which I won’t describe here. Sharks provide interesting jewelry and leather, shark leather products, shark leather boots. Some of our most intimate products like Preparation H, actually made from shark oil. Cartilage pills, very popular.
And the sharks are important too just because of their existence value. This is the one fishery where when we have a rulemaking, we get letters from all over the United States. Letters from kids in the Midwest, people way out in the western Pacific, saying we really want to protect sharks. They’re neat. They’re cool, a real fascination with them. People like to watch them. People like to go down in cages, people who are diving. We want to remind you that to make sure you’re following the watchable wildlife rules if you’re down there looking at sharks. It is their home. It’s their environment. We have to be careful about how we interact with them, as much for our own safety as well as theirs. So, very popular, everybody loves sharks. I’m a mother; my kid loves sharks. I’m sure if you’re parents, your kids love them too.
Again they really need our conservation as Dr. Hueter said. They’re late maturing, they’re very slow to grow, they’re a long-lived species. You can see in this slide, this is actually a shark that was caught commercially, they cut open inside and you can see the pups ready to be born. Sharks don’t lay millions of eggs the way regular finned fish do. They lay young, in some cases just one or two, very few. So they’re quite prone to these boom and bust fisheries that really need management, careful management. The migratory nature of them as well, we can’t manage them alone. Even our coastal stocks are moving in and out of Mexico, or in and out of Canada, so it’s very important that we’re sharing our science and our management effort with these other countries internationally.
Two-thirds of NOAA Fisheries is science. Two-thirds of our people, two-thirds of our budget. We do a lot of research in cooperation with our partners on sharks. We’re looking into the nursery and pupping areas and in a lot of cases this is in state waters, it’s important for us to work with our partners in state government.
Migration and tagging, all these red dots on the map here are recaptures of Blue Sharks that were tagged off the coast of the United States and that’s how far they go and that’s what a challenge it is for us to manage these critters because they are moving. The bi-catch reduction, post-release survival, important for us to do the research on how can you make sure you’re doing everything you can so when a shark is thrown back, it survives.
We do cooperative research with our fishermen in tagging and recaptures and making sure we’re getting all the information from their log books and observer programs, and joint studies with states and universities such as our partners that you see right here. Bycatch, sharks are easy to catch. If you have a long line or a net out in the ocean, you’re going to run into a lot of sharks, so it’s important for us to be able to work with our fishermen to make sure that if these sharks are a bycatch that they’re carefully handled so that they can survive when they go back.
Again, management, we’re doing this under our mandate which is Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Management Act. We have to rebuild over-fished stocks. Some of these sharks are over-fished, maintain those stocks, protect the habitat, particularly for sharks those nursery areas, safety at sea, working with our public. Important to emphasize that our management process is a very open and public process. It takes a long time to put our regulations in place because we put our proposals out, we do a lot of studies about the different proposals and alternatives, and we hold public hearings. We hold public hearings to get the input from the public. We’re managing the fisheries.
International shark management, as I said, we can’t do it alone because these critters don’t respect the boundaries. They keep moving. We were a key player in making sure the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization established an international plan of action for addressing sharks. We want sustainable shark catches, minimizing bi-catch and waste and making sure that all of the nations, encouraging the nations, to collect data and to work together. Only two countries have developed their national plan of action for this international plan of action. We’re one of them. And our national plan of action is on the web site. We are also meeting individually with countries every chance we get, every international meeting we have, we sit at the table and we tell those other countries, we need your help in managing sharks. We need to get your data. We need to meet with you. We want to have workshops. We want to work together on minimizing mortality to sharks and rebuilding shark stocks that are over-fished. In fact I’m very proud to say that I accompanied Admiral Lautenbacher, who’s the head of NOAA, to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Korea last month and the Admiral sat at the table with all of those nations, APEC nations, and said we need to work together on sharks. It was a very important moment because it’s easier for me to go home and tell US fishermen we’re going to manage sharks, we’re going to cut back on your quotas, if I know that we’re making an effort internationally for the same.
Again in our national shark management, our national plan of action was released in February, data collection assessments, making sure we’ve got all the measures in place to protect sharks, and I’m also proud to say we have a national ban on shark finning. Shark finning, which is the practice of cutting off the fins and throwing the shark back for 100% post-release mortality, that was banned in the Atlantic in 1993. It’s been banned nationwide since December of 2001. We also banned the offloading of fins from foreign vessels unless they’re offloading the carcasses along with the fins.
In the Atlantic, we’ve had a lot of attention paid here, as I said, since 1993, we’ve had our national, our fishery management plan for the Atlantic. The large coastal sharks are over-fished and we are rebuilding them. We have a new assessment that’s coming out in June. Small coastal sharks are fully fished and the pelagic sharks, status is still unknown. As Bob Hueter pointed out, these critters are different from your ordinary fish and it’s quite a challenge to assess the stock, so we’re working on that and trying to gain new ground on the science. Our Atlantic measures include caps on the amount of fish you can catch, minimum sizes, prohibited species. We’ve prohibited species for which we know they’re very vulnerable species that give birth to one or two pups. We just can’t have a commercial fishery on a species like that. All the species that are rare and unknown like the White and the Whale and the Basking, we have recreational catch limits and all kinds of permitting and reporting requirements to make sure we’re monitoring the fisheries, not just to see what the fishermen are doing, but also to get as much financing as we can out of our fishery.
In the Pacific, the status of most of the species in unknown. We do know that the Blue Shark populations are healthy. We did a joint stock assessment with Japan on that and we have recovery in the Thresher and Pacific Angel Shark fishery. On the West Coast, we have a new fishery management plan that’s just coming out. Be watching for that. In the western Pacific, there is a Pelagic plan in place that includes sharks and in the north Pacific as well.
So looking to the future, internationally again we’ll continue our efforts to meet with other countries and make sure we’re sharing our science and management. We’ll continue to update our national plan of action. We have an annual report to Congress on that. In the Atlantic, we’re very much looking forward to our stock assessment that we’re conducting in June. Also we have a new identification guide, I think in your press kits you’ve got an announcement of that publication coming out. And in the Pacific, we will have the Highly Migratory Species Fishery management plan coming out.
I want to just end by urging the public to stay involved and stay informed. Follow our web site. This is an open and participatory management process and we hope that we can get all of the public involved. Thank you very much.
BEN SHERMAN: Our third and final presenter this morning is Mr. Shark Attack, George Burgess who joins us from the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History, where he serves as Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and Manager of the International Shark Attack file and web site. George has studied sharks for over 30 years and is world renowned for his expertise on shark attacks, fishery, shark fishery management and shark conservation issues. He arrives here in Washington directly from Taiwan where he was the featured presenter at the International Shark Conference 2002. Like Bob Hueter, he is a popular interview subject with the news media, having responded to over 950 media requests last summer alone. George’s presentation this morning will focus on the history and risk involved in shark attacks and most importantly, he will offer some tips for how our coastal resident or coastal visitor can lower their risk when visiting the shark’s home swimming pool, the ocean. George.
GEORGE BURGESS: Thank you, Ben. To most people, the image of a shark is like we have, like this a shark coming at us, influenced of course by the book and movie Jaws which came out in the mid-1970’s and certainly imbedded in the psyche of most of us. That image of course was promoted over the years in popular media and as years went on that image became somewhat liberally changing, entering the areas of naval warfare, international politics, and even the legal system. [laughing] Nowadays entering the world of biology where new species are being found every day.
At the International Shark Attack File, we prefer to generate our own information and through a cooperative network of scientists worldwide, we investigate shark attacks as they occur, looking at the circumstances surrounding shark attack and we put together several hundred pieces of information into an electronic database. And armed with 3,500 such investigations, we’re able to look at common patterns in shark attack and make some predictions about when and where they might occur.
Shark attack is an international phenomenon. Anywhere there are people entering the ocean, there’s likely to be an encounter with a shark. Three areas in particular stand out however; United States, by far has more attacks than any other place in the world, more than twice any other region, Australia and the southern part of South Africa also are high contact areas.
Within the United States, the major areas of interaction between sharks and humans are Florida, California, and Hawaii, and again, Florida is by far the area that has the most interactions, almost, well more than 4 times any of the other areas.
Within the state of Florida, the east coast is the area where most attacks occur. Not surprisingly, this is an area of high human density and more importantly, an area of high tourism. And the large expanse of beaches on the east coast of Florida is highly utilized by Florida residents and a large contingent of tourists year after year.
In California, the attacks tend to be centered around areas of human population as well, around the San Diego and Los Angeles region in the south, and then around the San Francisco area in the mid-northern part of California, an area particularly inhabited by White Sharks.
Within Hawaii, the islands of Oahu and Maui are the areas of greatest interaction and again, not surprising, the areas with the greatest population of native Hawaiians and tourists.
As we look at shark attack numbers historically, we see that there’s been a general rise in shark attacks, in the world and the United States, which is about half or so of the attacks on any given year. I put this illustration to make one particular point and that is shark attack statistics are man-made and they’re only as good as the people that follow through in the investigations. In the period from 1968, indicated by the dotted line on the left and the dotted line on the right, 1988, was a period when the International Shark Attack File was more or less in mothballs, and so the number of attacks being reported in that period was low and as you can see there was a drop in the number of attacks, artificial results of poor reporting. When we took over the Attack File in 1988, you can see the numbers began to increase and I’m going to talk about the third dotted line in just a minute. If we go to Florida, we see that same increase in numbers of attacks. In particular you’ll there’s a jump around 1993. Between 1988 and 1993, as we began to get the file resurrected, it took a while to re-contact people and make our connections and so while the numbers began to grow, we’d been hearing a large number of reports of attack in Volusia County, the area of Daytona Beach to New Smyrna Beach, but they were not making the press. They didn’t make any of the newspapers or the TVs and so we weren’t hearing about them.
In 1993, I had the chance to go to a lifesaving conference to make a presentation on shark attack, and in doing so got to make contact with lifeguards in the state of Florida and therefore cemented relationships with the Volusia County lifeguards. I also made contact with the medical community in Volusia County and so in 1994, voila, the number of attacks in Volusia County jumped by two or three-fold and the numbers in Florida began to increase as well.
So what we saw starting in 1994 was an artificial increase as a result of me doing a better job at what I’m doing and so that node is explainable on the basis of reporting. If we look over the last century, the number of attacks in Florida in a gradual pace, and if we look at population in the state of Florida in red, it mirrors that growth. And so shark attack in Florida, as in many other areas of the world as you will see, is largely the result of human population growth. Over the last decade or so, we can see the same trend. The number of attacks at the (graph chart) bars, the tourist population in Florida, the blue line, and then the green line above that, the tourists plus native Florida population and as you can see over the last ten years or so, it follows very much the same pattern. Similar patterns exist in California and Hawaii, where the number of attacks, the blue lines, mirror population growth, the red line.
If we take information on beach attendance, and I thank the US Lifesaving Association for providing this attendance and rescue data, in the United States and draw a regression line to straighten out the ups and downs and give some statistical significance to it, we’ll see that the attendance has grown over the last ten years in blue, and the attack rate has gone up at almost precisely the same rate. That’s US data for all beaches.
If you go to Florida, the same pattern emerges. In this case you’ll see rescues in green are going down, which means that probably the lifeguards in Florida are doing a good job in telling people to keep out of the rift currents and so forth.
California, attendance going up, shark attacks at about the same rate, I’m sorry, rescues at the same rate and attacks in fact are going down in California, the red line.
More importantly, if we look at serious shark attacks, as measured by fatality, this is done for the world, but we could show you the same thing for the US figures, they’ve been going down over the last century, from highs of 30 to 50% of attacks in the early part of the century to an average over the last two decades of about 12%.
So shark attack is mainly a function of human utilization patterns more than shark patterns. If you go to this beach in northern California, you can see wonderful surf which should be drawing lots of surfers, you can see a wonderful beach which in other areas might be packed in people and the number of shark attacks in this region is nil. On the other hand, you go to Daytona Beach and you see millions of people on the beach every year, every day of the year, and you’ll see that the number of attacks are higher than any other place in the United States, an example of how people influence shark attacks more that sharks do. We look at when shark attacks occur in Florida by month, you’ll see that they occur primarily in the warm water months of Florida between March and November with peaks between July and October. In fact, shark populations in Florida are probably at their highest in the wintertime, from November to February when sharks migrate southward from the East Coast of the United States and like many tourists, spend the winter in Florida.
So this is a function of human activity pattern, despite our claims that Florida has nice warm water all year long, the fact of the matter is it gets cooler in the wintertime and people don’t always go in the water.
If we look at shark attacks by time of day, and I know you can’t read all those number, but it starts from midnight on the left and moves across, you’ll see that most shark attacks occur between 11 o’clock in the morning and 7 o’clock at night. No surprise to any of us that go to the beach. You’ll see also that between noon and 2 o’clock, sharks suddenly aren’t as hungry as they were before that, and stop feeding. No, that’s not the case.
The fact of the matter is it’s a function of human feeding behavior, between noon and 2 o’clock people leave the beach and go into their condos to get their own lunches, so there’s less attacks between those time periods. So again, human activity patterns are more important. If we look at what kind of activities are occurring, I’m demonstrating activity in Florida, but this is similar to other areas of the United States, you’ll see that divers in blue, the number of attacks on divers has been pretty consistent over the last 50 or so years. The attacks on swimmers and waders in green has gradually gone up in relation to increases in humans entering the water, but most importantly, the number of attacks on surfers has risen dramatically since the 1960’s. And we can thank the Beach Boys for this and the cult that went around surfing in the 1960’s.
As a child of those times, I can tell you I hit the water as a teenager in direct relation to thoughts of finding blonde-haired women at my feet. Unfortunately it didn’t happen. Attacks occur on surfers largely because this is an area where sharks are common and the activities of the user group, the surfers, is provocative.
Under conditions of breaking surf, limited visibility of the water, the kicking of feet and the splashing of hands, sharks apparently make mistakes and interpret that splashing at or near the water’s surface as being the activities of normal prey items, generally fishes, and sharks occasionally make mistakes and the go after what they think is a fish and grab and discover either that that ankle doesn’t taste like a mullet or simply too big and they let go and are gone.
Most attacks result in minor injuries and in fact probably should not be called attacks but bites because they’re the generic equivalent of a dog bite. Simple tooth incision wounds like this one here, and those are millimeters not inches there, so we’re talking about this kind of a size for the whole frame, or a little more severe things resulting in slashes that result in some sutures, but no permanent injury. These are the norms of shark attack in the United States. However, there are on occasion, larger attacks that results in much more serious injuries, such as this attack on a surfer in California. Happily for us, these kind of major injuries are not statistically very common. Last year we had 4 such injuries out of 55 in the United States.
Identifying the species involved is not an easy deal. Most victims under attack don’t pull out a pair of calipers to measure the height of the dorsal fin or ask the shark to smile so they can examine the teeth, so we have difficulty identifying the species. Once in a while a tooth fragment, like this tip of a White-Tipped Shark, you know the White Shark, are left behind and we can identify it. But the species attacking depends on the area.
In California, about three-quarters of the attacks are from White Sharks. If I had done one of these for Hawaii, we would have had a similar little pie chart, only it would have been by Tiger Sharks. In Florida, we deal with a menagerie of species that are involved in shark attack and we think the major players are these two species, the Black-Tipped Shark in the foreground, the Spinner Shark behind it.
As you can tell, telling them apart is not a very easy matter even for scientists who know what they’re looking for. Other species involved in shark attack on the East Coast of the United States include the Black Nose Shark, these are all small species, potentially the Shark Nose Shark, and the species that we’re most concerned about of course, simply because of their size and their dentition are the White Shark, Tiger Shark, and Bull Shark. All three species reach large size, normally consume large prey items and have dentition that’s made, evolutionarily made for shearing, taking bites. Happily for us, attacks by these species are rare. Out of the 55 attacks in the United States last year, only 2 were attributable to the Bull Shark.
Other species that are occasionally involved include the Sand Tiger Shark, Hammerhead Sharks, and varies reef sharks, such as this Caribbean Shark, and even docile species such as this Nurse Shark, which anybody who’s dove will tell you is a very friendly-type critter, will bite if provoked and occasionally divers feel inclined to grab their tail or poke them in the face and pay the consequences.
Last year we talked about the great interest in sharks that occurred from the media and in fact there was a media feeding frenzy involved with shark attack and it was a situation where as Bob indicated, things got a little bit out of control we think and perspective was lost in certain quarters.
The caption here says “Funny, there was no mention of over-fishing” and in fact that was to us in the science world is the real story in sharks. It’s not shark attack, but over-fishing and the conservation of sharks. Fact of the matter is, is that among natural dangers to human beings, tropical storms, hurricanes, lightning, are far more important in terms of injuries and death. Among the natural animals in the, in our world, the crocodilians, the alligators and crocodiles, snakes and bees are all certainly far more dangerous to us in terms of deaths statistically.
Within the marine world, our chances of injuries are far greater from jellyfishes and stingrays, and certainly on the beach there are far more people that are taken to the hospital for severe sunburn or dehydration associated with being on the beach.
A statistic that came to my attention recently was that worldwide 150 people are killed each year by falling coconuts will on beaches, contrast that with about 10 people each year being killed by sharks. So you have a 15 times better chance of being killed by a coconut than you do by a shark.
On the beach of course, the main concern should be drowning, by far the biggest killer of humans in aquatic recreation. We look at drownings in Florida waters over the last eight or ten years, we can find that we’ve been averaging about ten to fifteen fatalities a year and those little yellow bips are the two shark fatalities during that time period. In California the trend’s even more pronounced, averaging about fifteen to twenty deaths per year by drowning and only one fatality during this time period.
To put it in contrast, let’s take a look at some data from the year 2000, again data provided by the US Lifesaving Association for some of this. During that year on 68 ocean lifeguard agency beaches in the United States, there was some estimated attendance of 2.6 million people on these beaches. And during that time period, they had 132 drownings and fatalities on their beaches. In the same beaches, in the same time period, there were no fatalities by sharks. There were 23 shark attacks. So 23 shark attacks for 264 million people in the water, which gives me a little bit more than a ten million to one ratio. So there’s your odds of encountering a shark and your odds of having a fatality in this particular area was zero.
So how do we avoid shark attack and try to diminish the already infinitesimal chance of encountering a shark attack? I suggest we use common sense. We can certainly avoid shark attack by avoiding some of the situations that put us in close contact with sharks. We can minimize splashing while in the water, avoid areas with effluents entering the sea. Don’t enter the water if bleeding. Don’t go where bait fishes are seen or fishing is occurring. We should avoid murky water situations. These are situations where a large number of shark attacks occur. Don’t go in the water from dusk to dawn. Sharks are most active feeding in the period from dusk throughout the night and into the early morning hours. Stay in groups. Don’t go too far from shore. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry. Jewelry often is attractive to not only sharks, but other predators such as barracudas and in the end let’s not harass sharks. Certainly divers are often guilty of doing that. I’ll be glad to answer questions when we’re done. Thank you for being here.
BEN SHERMAN: Thank you. At this point, we’ll open it up to questions and we’ll ask that you wait till the microphone comes to you and that you state your name and media affiliation and who you’re directing it to. Yes. We’ll start it over there and we’ll work our way around.
Q: Jeff Schoyd (?)Fayetteville Observer. I notice you said there’s a, who should I direct this to, George? I notice there’s a fatality in North Carolina last year. Are there any areas of North Carolina you’d recommend that swimmers not go?
GEORGE BURGESS: No. No, there’s attacks in most coastal states all the way up through, oh, southern New England in the summertime. The fact of the matter is as was indicated earlier, sharks are a natural part of our environment and every time we enter the sea we need to understand it is a wilderness experience. It’s not the generic equivalent of visiting our backyard pool. We wouldn’t think about going to, you know, hiking in the Rockies and not considering the fact that there’s some mountain lions and bears. We wouldn’t think about going to the Serengeti plains and not being concerned about lions. The ocean is an environment that has predators and the sharks are the apex predators of that environment. Happily for us, it’s a pretty benevolent environment and we wander into the sea without thinking about that most of the time. But anybody who’s ever flown in an airplane or a helicopter over the top of a beach will tell you that there are sharks in the water all the time in most areas.
And so in North Carolina there are sharks in the water, particularly in the summertime as the temperatures get warm and most of the time, most of us have had an encounter with a shark and we don’t know it. Sharks have swum probably within 15 feet of every one of us if we’ve ever been in the water, but most of the time sharks don’t want any part of us because humans are not a normal part of their diet. We’re not a normal part of their environment and they choose to go after things they normally eat. So to answer your question, no. I went to graduate school in North Carolina, spent a lot of time in the waters there. Actually shared a wave one time with one up off of Hatteras, looked down and down below me there was a shark surfing on the same wave as me. He had better form than I did.
BEN SHERMAN: Yes.
Q: Jorge Bdinalez (?) from the Spanish News Agency. I noticed that there is a very large number of attacks in the United States, higher than in the rest of the world. Is that because of better reporting or is there some reason why there are more attacks in the United States?
GEORGE BURGESS: You’re correct, part of it is better reporting. Of course the United States is my home turf and I work hard to make sure that I get as many of these attacks as I can, but more importantly there are two factors that are involved and they both involve getting more people in the water. United States of course is a relatively affluent country and as such we have more money to spend on recreational activities. We have more time to spend on vacations than in other areas of the world, so we go to the beach more often. In addition to that we’re a huge tourist destination for folks from all over the world, so Florida for instance which has more shark attacks than any other region of the world, owes that, those numbers to the fact that there are more people entering the water in Florida than in any other area of the world, so it’s simply a function of the number of person hours in the water in any given year.
Q: Hi. I’m Shawn Page. I’m with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. I wrote the piece that they mentioned in the National Review and in typical of the way they use statistics here…
BEN SHERMAN: Stick to the question, rather than statements.
Q: Anybody who wants to read my story, you can get it here. The point is this. Last summer, I’m not a person who’s pushing…
BEN SHERMAN: Just get to the question.
Q: The question is how good is the science on the statistics that we’re using? I noticed Dr. Hueter for instance uses this 1998 [unintelligible] assessment up on the graph, but that’s been thrown out…
BEN SHERMAN: Can you ask the question? You’re questioning…
Q: If it wasn’t the summer of the shark last year, you have three shark fatalities whereas in years previous to that you had maybe one. I even have the charts here. You had one in 2000, and in 1998 you had one. You had three. Well, the point is this, even Dr. Hueter made mention of the fact that something odd was going on in the St. Petersburg Times and I’ll ask my question. The question is, Dr. Hueter, when you talked to the St. Pete Times last year and you said that you thought something might be going on with Bull Sharks in the waters of Florida, you said that you’d been hearing reports for two years previous to that that there were a lot of shark activities, a lot of Bull Sharks, which are coming close to water and are implicated in at least two of the deaths, I think, you called them the most dangerous shark, and you said, and I have the quotes here. You said you were very worried and you thought something might happen. You were worried that something like the Jessie Arbogast…
BEN SHERMAN: Okay. Let Dr. Hueter speak.
ROBERT HUETER: I’m not sure which question I’m supposed to answer because you asked about the state of the science, but as far as the Bull Shark issue, that’s the hypothetical that I raised last summer. That was not, that was not a fact. What I was trying to get across was that when we have intensive fisheries for, for these animals, and we select certain species, as we have over the last twenty years or so, that we can cause ecological shifts in what’s out there. It was strictly a hypothetical question that because Bull Sharks have not been part of the commercial fishery, have they been favored? We’re out there collecting data on that. I was out, as I mentioned, last week, didn’t get very many Bull Sharks. The Bull Sharks that we’re getting in close to the Florida coastal area are there to feed on a type of fish called the tarpon and this is a problem for the sport fishermen in the area. But so far we’re not seeing, you know, any problem as far as the beaches, and George will tell you that although Bull Shark attacks are very serious and they are dangerous animals, that they comprise a very small fraction of the actual encounters in the US.
As far as the state of the science is concerned, the science is only as good as the data that we have. And there’s no question that our information on shark population status has lagged behind what we know about many other fisheries. Quite frankly sharks did not get much of a priority until recently and the models that I showed you can be subject to some criticism as far as the exact position of certain dots and so on but, there was a peer review of this work. It said that the conclusions, the exact conclusions, were not justified scientifically. But those conclusions, the peer review and so on, have never disputed the fact that shark populations have declined. It’s just the exact amount of decline and the recent status and whether we’re in an upturn and how it’s been reflected in terms of cutting fishing for sharks, but no one, no scientist that I know of, no credible scientist has looked at the overall database and really analyzed it has disputed that shark population as a whole have declined over the last 25 years.
GEORGE BURGESS: I just wanted to say one thing here. Bob didn’t have benefit of seeing a dataset that I have and we’ve been monitoring the commercial catch of sharks for the last 9 years through the commercial shark fishing observer program and after last year’s point was brought up about Bull Sharks, we ran back and analyzed our catches of Bull Sharks over the last 9 years based on the commercial fishery, and in fact found that the Bull Shark population was not increasing at all, in fact was declining slightly. So Bull Sharks do make it to the commercial fishery and there’s no indication whatsoever that their populations are on the rise.
BEN SHERMAN: Okay, over here.
Q: (?) Hudkins, Ethology News Service. Would you comment more on sharks as being used for cancer treatment? You know our population is aging and the number of cancer cases should be going up significantly.
ROBERT HUETER: Many years ago, it was documented that sharks had a very low incidence of cancer when you collect these animals compared with other kinds of organisms, other fishes and so on. So work was started over 20 years ago to try to tease out what’s going on here. First in a laboratory at places like our lab, Mote Marine Lab, it was demonstrated that you cannot have these animals develop cancer in the face of carcinogens. They have a natural resistance to things like carcinogens in terms of developing cancer. So then the question has been for the last 10 years, what is it they’re doing? What makes them special? And the story has gotten very complicated and has gotten off on a side road with the issue of shark cartilage. And time doesn’t permit me to go into all the ins and outs of that, but basically the shark cartilage story is, was an unfortunate side road in which people that were promoting the use of cartilage for cancer patients were basically taking advantage of them, telling them that they eat the cartilage from sharks, that it’s the cartilage in the shark that gives them their resistance to cancer. And it’s not true at all.
There is a natural product that’s in cartilage, in all cartilage, that may help with cancer therapy in terms of shutting down solid tumor growth, but that’s not the explanation as to why sharks themselves have a high resistance. We think it has something to do more with their immune system and right now we’ve got ongoing work at Mote that’s really attacking this and I hope to be able to report to you in the next year or so, some major findings from that. But the point is that these animals, like other sources of biodiversity in a natural environment, have answers for us that we haven’t even asked the questions yet. And here’s a group of animals that has conquered or gotten around diseases like cancer. We need to study them. We need to understand them and try to learn from them and not just simply deplete them.
BEN SHERMAN: Somebody else over here that had a question.
Q: Hi Tara Copp with the Corpus Christi Caller- Times. Why aren’t there more shark attacks along the Texas coastline and in general, in the Gulf of Mexico?
GEORGE BURGESS: That also is a function of human recreational patterns. Although Texas draws a lot of people to their coastline, the Florida Chamber of Commerce paid me to say this, there’s a lot more people coming to Florida beaches than Texas beaches. It’s really a function of how many people you put in the water. One of the important things is the surfers and as you may know, the Gulf of Mexico is not a particularly good surfing location because it’s a low basin that does not draw big waves, whereas the east coast of Florida and some of the other areas of course on the US East Coast face the Atlantic Ocean and get better surf. And as we saw from those attack statistics, surfers are the number one group involved, so that plays a really key, key role in the number of attacks
BEN SHERMAN: In the back there.
Q: Hi, Corey Reiss with the New York Times regional newspapers. Early Dr. Hueter said, cited an incident last year in which 21 surfers were bitten during a surfing contest. Can we, I mean, is that a common occurrence or can we remove, if we were to remove those statistics, what would it do to the overall picture if that was just sort of a random incident?
GEORGE BURGESS: I don’t believe Bob said 21 surfers were attacked during one contest. The area had that many all-year long. There were as I recall 7 incidents in about a week in that particular contest which was in New Smyrna Beach, which is just south of Daytona Beach. That area is a very interesting beach and in fact is an area that has a lot of shark attacks and the main reason is it’s the area that is the premier surfing location in the state of Florida. It’s very close to urban centers such as Orlando and all of central Florida urban centers. It also is right near an inlet and inlets are good places to find sharks because it’s, for a shark an inlet’s essentially a moving smorgasbord of animals going back and forth. It’s like a buffet line and so it’s a good place for sharks to be.
Surfers are a unique group of people. They enjoy their sport and they like to stay in the water no matter what the risk. They accept risk as part of their sport and very often times surfers will not leave the water even though the know there are sharks around. I can’t tell you how many case files we have where surfers said “Yeah, you know, I saw the fin go by, but man, that next wave, dude, it was great.” And so what happened is there was a surfing contest there. There was a time of high concentration of bait fish in the area, a lot of sharks there at the time and the organizers chose to keep the contest on for a few days and predictably there were a series of nips to the ankle and then finally after several days they shut the contest down.
In retrospect I suspect they would have stopped it sooner and that’s partly contributed to the fervor of last year because to a reader in Western Europe, that nip to the ankle looked just as bad as the attack where the youngster lost his arm. And so that was part of the problem we had last year. We didn’t differentiate between the little nips and the big bites.
BEN SHERMAN: Yes, right here.
Q: Nate Hurst with the Ocean Conservancy. Actually I have two questions for Rebecca. One, you recently released the status of the stocks report and I wondered what species of sharks you considered over-fished in that report? And my second question, your assessment that’s going to occur in June, when are you going to release those numbers?
REBECCA LENT: Thank you for the questions. I believe, and I’ll check with my folks here in the front row, but I believe that the species that were listed as over-fished would be those in the large coastal shark group and fully fished in the small coastal and unknown Pelagics. And your second question was about the June workshop. Again the stock assessment, which is an open process, even the scientific process we like to include scientists from all walks of life, we will be conducting a peer review following the stock assessments. The peer review results should be available in August, September and then we hope to as quickly as possible go into rule making and implement the scientific results and the management recommendations from that stock assessment. Thank you.
BEN SHERMAN: You and then the guy in the back will be the last one.
Q: Hi Manuel Quinonen from BELO. Do you have any statistics for the Virginia Beach area? Have attacks been going down or have they remained steady? Do we see like a Florida-type deal?
GEORGE BURGESS: Attacks as far north as Virginia Beach are very rare and although there have been attacks in that particular area, which is an area of human concentration of course it’s a very popular beach area for the metropolitan DC area, we don’t normally see them but once every ten years or so. But to answer your question, it’s such a rare occurrence in those areas that the trends are not trends. We can predict, I think with some certainty, that we’re going to be seeing more attacks in areas like Virginia Beach in the near future as long as human population continues to rise and with it concurrent beach utilization. Areas that in the past have not had enough people in the water to encounter a shark are going to be having them. So in fact we had a couple incidents in North Carolina and one in Virginia last year, it’s part of a trend that I think we’re going to see in many areas. Certainly internationally we’re seeing attacks now in minor Pacific islands where we’ve never had attacks before, simply because tourism is now occurring in these areas. We’ve become a much more global society and people are going to areas they normally wouldn’t go before, so on the northern part of the East Coast we’re going to start having a few more attacks as long as the population increase.
BEN SHERMAN: Okay last question, this gentleman in the back.
Q: Shawn Riley with the Mobile Alabama Register. I think a question for Dr. Lent. In the wake of last summer’s media furor over shark attacks, has that translated into any upsurge in public opposition to shark management or conservation plans or efforts?
REBECCA LENT: Thank you. There have been some people who maintain that there is a relationship between managing sharks and shark attacks. It’s absolutely not true. The only correlation that has been found scientifically is between the number of people in the water and the number of shark attacks. We will continue to implement our mandate to protect and serve and rebuild over-fished shark stocks and make sure that we’re monitoring these fisheries for the best possible management and sustainable use. Thank you.
BEN SHERMAN: I’d like to conclude the briefing thanking everyone for attending either here at the Press Club or via satellite or web. I’ll point out that this briefing will be archived on the web site at the Sea Grant media press center, www.Sea Grantnews.org. Thank you for coming and have a good day. These folks will be available for one on one follow up questions.