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How many bites are there in Florida each year?

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As locals and tourists storm Florida's beaches this summer, there's one thing they might be thinking about while enjoying their beach day: sharks. And for good reason.

Two teenagers and a woman were injured in two shark attacks less than two hours apart in the Florida Panhandle last week.

According to officials, the woman lost her left forearm and suffered “significant injuries” to other parts of her body. One of the teens had significant injuries to his thigh and hand, and the other had minor injuries to his foot.

“We encourage all of our beachgoers to be aware in the water today, swim near a lifeguard, stay hydrated and look out for each other,” the South Walton Fire District said in an update on its Facebook page on Sunday. “Please do not underestimate the open water and the marine life that may be present there.”

Since the state includes 825 miles of beaches, it's natural that sharks patrol Florida's waters in their natural habitat. But why is the state so special when it comes to shark attacks?

But first: Where did the recent shark attacks in Florida occur?

The shark bites occurred in Walton County on the Florida Panhandle, with both incidents occurring between Miramar Beach and Panama City Beach.

On Friday at around 1:20 p.m., a 45-year-old woman and her husband were swimming past the first sandbar near Founders Lane in Watersound Beach, west of Seacrest Beach, when she was bitten.

“She suffered significant injuries to her midsection and pelvis,” said Ryan Crawford, fire chief of the South Walton Fire District, at a press conference on Friday, “and her left forearm had to be amputated.”

About an hour and a half later, just before 3 p.m., two girls, ages 15 and 17, were swimming with friends in waist-deep water near the Sandy Shores Court area of ​​Seacrest Beach, about four miles east of the first bite. The girls swam just inside the first sandbar, Crawford said, in similar proximity to shore as during the previous attack.

“Victim one sustained significant injuries to an upper and lower extremity,” Crawford said. “Victim number two sustained lacerations to the right lower extremity.”

The victims were flown to hospitals in Pensacola and Destin. One of the teenage girls and the 45-year-old woman were reportedly in critical condition, while the other teenage girl was in stable condition.

The beaches have been open again since Monday, but authorities are advising beachgoers to remain cautious. There is no news about the three victims.

Why are sharks so common in Florida?

Florida has one of the largest shark populations of the year. Scientific data from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission shows that many species of sharks migrate in and out of Florida waters each year.

These migrations often depend on temperature and the presence of prey such as mullet, sardines, menhaden and other baitfish species.

How many people typically get bitten in Florida each year?

According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 16 cases in Florida last year, representing 44 percent of the U.S. total and 23 percent of unprovoked bites worldwide. This is less than Florida's most recent five-year average of 19 incidents per year.

Which beach in Florida is most dangerous for shark bites?

New Smyrna Beach in Volusia County is known as the “Shark Bite Capital of the World.”

Last year, there were five unprovoked shark bites on the beach. According to ISAF, 351 unprovoked shark bites have been reported in Volusia County alone since 1882.

How many shark bites were fatal?

According to ISAF, there were 14 confirmed shark deaths last year, ten of which were classified as unprovoked. This figure is higher than the global average of six unprovoked deaths per year over the past five years.

Of the 16 unprovoked bites in Florida last year, none were fatal. The last fatal shark attack in Florida occurred in 2010, when 38-year-old kiteboarder Stephen Howard Schafer died of massive blood loss after being attacked by at least one shark in the ocean off Stuart Beach.

Researchers stress that fatal shark bites are extremely rare. A USA TODAY article revealed that the odds of dying from a shark attack in the United States are 1 in 3,748,067.

How close do sharks swim to the shore?

Sharks typically stay between 60 and 100 feet from shore, but research from the Florida Museum of Natural History has shown that most shark attacks occur between 6 and 10 feet from shore.

In which month are sharks most active?

According to the International Shark Attack File, September is the most common month for unprovoked shark attacks on Florida beaches. Since 1926, about 17% of unprovoked shark attacks in Florida have occurred in September.

Which species of shark bites humans most often?

ISAF reported earlier this year that 36% of unprovoked shark bites in Florida were caused by requiem sharks, which include 50 species of small to large sharks. In addition, 16% of bites were from bull sharks and 15% were from blacktip reef sharks.

However, the University of Florida points out that all sharks, regardless of their size, are predators and can potentially inflict wounds if provoked.

How can you avoid a shark bite?

Although the risk of being bitten by a shark is very low, the FWC offers some tips on how to prevent attacks at sea:

  • Always stay in a group as sharks are more likely to bite individual animals.
  • Do not move too far from the shore. This will isolate the person and put them far from any help.
  • Avoid being in the water during darkness or twilight, as this is when sharks are most active.
  • Do not enter the water if you are bleeding from an open wound or are menstruating, as sharks have a strong ability to smell blood.
  • Wearing shiny jewelry is not recommended. When light reflects off shiny jewelry, it resembles the shine of fish scales.
  • Avoid waters with known runoff or sewage, and waters used for any type of fishing, especially if there are signs of baitfish or feeding activity. Diving seabirds, which often feed on baitfish, are good indicators of such activity.
  • While there are myths and anecdotes about dolphins saving humans from shark bites, the presence of dolphins does not mean that sharks do not exist—they often feed on the same food.
  • Be especially careful if the water is cloudy.
  • Remember that sharks are particularly sensitive to contrast. Uneven tans and brightly colored clothing can attract a shark's attention.
  • Avoid excessive splashing as this may attract the attention of a shark.
  • Do not allow pets into the water. Their erratic movements could attract the attention of a shark.
  • Be careful when staying in the areas between sandbars or near steep drop-offs – these areas are popular with sharks.
  • Only swim in areas patrolled by lifeguards.
  • Do not enter the water if you know sharks are there and leave the water if you see sharks.
  • Never harass a shark.

Contributing reporting: CA Bridges, USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida

Anna Harden

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