Experts: Shark attacks along Texas coast nothing out of ordinary
By: PAM EASTON - Associated Press
HOUSTON -- Three shark attacks off the Texas coast in the past two months are unusual but don't mean there are more sharks than normal along the beach or that they are getting bolder, marine biologists and other experts say.
"The public needs to understand it is just normal behavior and they are the ones that need to be more cautious," said Jan Culbertson, a marine biologist with the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife. "Right now, there is a lot of the bait in the water. The fishing has picked up tremendously. So the sharks are in there looking for the fish, just like we are."
The Texas coast rarely has as many as three attacks, but it isn't unprecedented. The International Shark Attack File, which has gathered such data worldwide for decades, lists 1990 as the last year Texas had three attacks. Most years there are one, two or none. Texas wildlife officials say there have been no fatalities since the 1960s.
Florida leads the nation in shark attacks, according to the ISAF, often logging two to three dozen a year. Other Gulf coast states have fewer than Texas.
But on July 26 a shark bit an 11-year-old boy, and the next day another shark bit a 19-year-old woman in Galveston, about 45 miles north of the first attack. The first attack of the summer was also in Galveston and occurred June 1, leaving a boy injured.
The three attacks in shallow water in or near the resort city of Galveston caused some people to wonder whether something out of the ordinary was happening.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Tom Harvey agreed the incidents' timing was unusual, "but what we're seeing is probably more of a media frenzy than a shark-feeding frenzy."
"Sharks are not more numerous or more aggressive than usual," Harvey said. "They are not 'coming in' to shore more than usual."
Nor are there any unusual ecological or biological conditions in the Gulf this summer. Considering the hefty shark population in the Gulf's nearshore waters, Harvey said, it's a miracle people aren't attacked.
"The Gulf of Mexico is a sharky sea," agreed Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla. "It is not as sharky as it used to be, but there are still many sharks that live there."
All three of the attacks this summer have occurred when youngsters were wading or swimming near a school of fish.
"Three bites over there on that coast isn't all that alarming," Hueter said. "We get up to 40 or 50 documented attacks in the U.S. every year. ... Just because you get three or four in one state doesn't mean something unusual is going on."
Hueter is all too familiar with how people can jump to conclusions. In 2001, Hueter said people became unnecessarily alarmed after a number of unrelated, well-publicized attacks.
Thirty-six attacks were reported that year in Florida, according to the ISAF. And in separate incidents, two people were killed by sharks in Virginia and North Carolina over the Labor Day weekend. But Hueter noted that by the end of the summer, it turned out the number of attacks nationwide was fewer than the summer before.