Sharks have garnered a reputation as mean, cold-blooded aquatic killers, striking fear into the hearts of many would-be ocean goers -- but it turns out that in an increasing number of shark attack cases, it may actually be humans that are to blame. Last year, 12 swimmers were killed in shark attacks and 34 more were injured, making it the most deadly period on record since 1993. Researchers say they know what's behind the uptick, and it's kind of our fault.
According to a study conducted by the University of Florida, while 2011 shark attack figures decreased in some of the most popular beach destinations in the world, they seem to be occurring more often where they were once rare -- and tourist trends may be why. Increasingly popular seaside locales such as Kenya, Costa Rica, and New Caledonia each recorded one swimmer death; the Seychelles and French-administered Indian Ocean island of Réunion each experienced two.
For shark expert George Burgess, the location of these shark attacks signals an shift in tourism. From the National Geographic:
"I think many of these communities aren't prepared structurally to worry about a shark attack until after it has happened," Burgess said.
"Once the number of bodies going into the water reaches a sort of critical mass and they have a first attack, then they have to react.
"There's no shame in having a shark attack," he added. "It's sort of a signal that you've arrived" as a tourist destination.
But the apparent correlation between tourist trends and shark attacks goes both ways, says Burgess. For the first time in recent years, the United States saw no shark-attack deaths in 2011.
"It seems to me that the declines we've seen in the U.S., and particularly in Florida—which is the engine that fires up U.S. shark-attack statistics—have coincided with the economic downturn," says Burgess. "We may be seeing that some folks are less able to go to the sea for their vacations."