ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - Shark attacks killed three people worldwide in 2014, a dramatic drop from 10 fatalities seen a year earlier, researchers found in an annual global tally released this week.
Two of the deaths occurred in New South Wales in eastern Australia, and the other in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, according to the data, submitted by scientists around the world and cataloged at the University of Florida.
The United States recorded two-thirds of the 72 total attacks last year that were unprovoked by people, the data showed. It said about half took place off Florida’s eastern coast, where smaller sharks mistake swimmers for prey in hit-and-run attacks, then quickly leave.
The number of overall attacks held relatively steady, dropping slightly from 75 incidents in 2013. What surprised researchers was the plunge in fatalities.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said researcher George Burgess, who oversees the database called the International Shark Attack File, based at the university. “But one reason is just pure luck.”
The annual report, released on Wednesday, counts unprovoked attacks by sharks, which researchers define as attacks occurring in shark habitat that were not instigated by human aggression.
North American waters have long seen the most bites. In addition to Florida, shark attacks were recorded last year in Hawaii (7), South Carolina (5), North Carolina (4) and California (4).
Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas each saw one incident.
The 2014 figures followed trends seen in recent decades, with fatal shark attacks generally on the decline, Burgess said.
Overall, lower death rates reflect better access to medical care for traumatic injuries, as well as greater numbers of lifeguards on beaches and swimmers who know more about shark safety, Burgess said. Yet last year’s decline may also reflect fewer chance encounters, he added.
Despite the flat numbers of attacks this year, the average rise in such incidents over the past decades paint a more accurate picture, Burgess said.
The generally increasing number of unprovoked attacks has kept pace with global population growth, he said. More people are hitting the beaches for fun, and spending more hours in the surf, creating more opportunities for shark encounters.
Editing by Letitia Stein