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Florida is known as the shark bite capitol of the world. A shark expert at SeaWorld Orlando gives advice on how to avoid shark attacks.

Volusia County is still at the top of the food chain when it comes to hosting the most unprovoked shark bites in the world.

Florida had 21 confirmed shark bites beating out the next state, Hawaii with nine cases, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File’s 2019 data, which released Tuesday.

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Nine of Florida’s cases were documented in Volusia waters, where in August two surfers reportedly suffered shark bites at New Smyrna Beach within minutes of each other. Two more suspected attacks were reported in August as well. Coming up second in the state was Duval County with five and Brevard County with two while Broward, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach, and St. Johns all had one report each.

Florida’s high shark numbers says little about their appetite and more to do with the increased tourism entering the water, said Tyler Bowling, manager of the Shark Attack File.

As more people vacation in Florida and head into Volusia’s warm coast, a greater chance lies with humans and sharks making contact with each other.

Volusia’s beach tourism hasn’t suffered as a result of its king shark status, having hosted 10.2 million guests in 2018, which was up by 200,000 from the previous year, according to Volusia County records.

If Volusia County is the shark bite capital of the world, then how is its tourism industry also rising by huge numbers?

Volusia’s New Smyrna Beach is the tooth-marked gem of Florida coveted by local surfers seeking tubular swells, but it’s also a hot spot for sharks seeking a bite to eat.

Unfortunately for surfers, the sport was the most shark-targeted activity of 2019, according to the ISAF.

About 53 percent of all shark bite cases involved board-related sports.

“This group spends a large amount of time in the surf zone, an area commonly frequented by sharks, and may unintentionally attract sharks by splashing, paddling, and ‘wiping out,’" according to the report.

The observations fall inline with shark experts beliefs that the apex predator may confuse surfers with its favorite kinds of prey such as turtles and seals.

“People seem to understand the risk of entering the water. Surfers especially see it as an acceptable level of risk,” said Andrew Ethridge, deputy chief of Volusia County Beach Patrol. “They know what’s in there but the draw of the ocean is too strong.”

America led the world in documented shark attacks with 41 cases, and represents the majority of all global attacks thanks mostly to Florida. Australia trailed behind with the second most documented cases recorded at 11.

America’s total is an increase from the previous year by nine attacks, but ISAF officials were pleased to see global numbers are trending down.

Overall, the total number of international shark bites, 64, was only slightly higher than 2018′s total, 62, but it was far lower than the five year average of 82 annual incidents.

Experts believe public awareness of shark-related issues has increased with the help of media coverage and improved global communications between ISAF, scientific observers, and beach safety organizations, which in turn has led to an improved reporting of human-shark interactions.

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There were five fatal attacks in 2019, two of which were confirmed to be unprovoked, and neither took place in America. They were observed in the Bahamas and Reunion island.

The fatality total lines up with the annual global average of four fatalities per year.

Although, the first fatality of 2020 was documented shortly into the new year on Jan. 5 when a man was attacked by a great white shark off Cull Island in Southwestern Australia.

The first fatal shark attack of the year was reported Sunday afternoon when a man was diving off the coast of West Australia, according to the West Australian Police Force.

ISAF noted the total number of fatalities has been decreasing for decades and the number of unprovoked shark attacks worldwide is extremely low, given the number of people in the water for recreation every year.

ISAF says the low number of attacks in contrast with the high attendance is reflective in advances in beach safety, medical treatment, and public awareness.

In Volusia, beach patrol officers are certified EMTs and prepared to act as first responders in the event a swimmer experiences a laceration because of a shark encounter, Ethridge said.

But incidents are few and far between, with many local swimmer knowing not to go in the water when Beach Patrol is flying its purple flag denoting dangerous marine life.

Further inland, Volusia has spent money trying to educate its public on sharks via its Marine Discovery Center located off the North Causeway.

Inside the center has information detailing how the number of human fatalities by shark attack pales in comparison to the amount of sharks and rays killed annually, which totals 100 million. ISAF’s 2019 reflects the same number.

There’s a number of ways to avoid becoming a part of ISAF’s annual shark attack report and still enjoy your time in Florida waters.

Here’s how:

- Avoid wearing jewelry. The shimmering metals could look like fish scales.

- Avoid splashing. Splashing imitates the behavior and sound of a distressed fish.

- Avoid murky water. This is the chosen hunting ground for blacktips.

- Do not swim during low light hours. This is the most common time sharks go hunting.

- Swim in groups. The more people sticking together, the less likely a shark will approach.

- Do not enter the water with an open wound. Not only could this invite infection from necrotizing fasciitis, but blood also attracts sharks.

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