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Expert says shark attacks are 'mistakes'

Conservationist says attacks caused by sharks mistaking victims for bait

Shark conservationist Jim Abernethy said the shark attacks off of Florida beaches and across the country should really be identified as "shark mistakes."

[WEB EXTRA:  Shark expert extended interview]

This year Florida has 11 confirmed "unprovoked" shark attacks including four each in Brevard and Volusia counties.

Abernethy argues that sharks usually mistake victims for nearby bait.

"They bite and release, " he said. "They would have taken us out of the ocean a long time ago and they never have and that is because very simply they don't eat people."

Yet the recent surge of attacks in North Carolina, seven in just a few weeks, fuels fear and questions as to why so many attacks continue to occur. Two attack victims lost limbs.

Abernethy said the news video from the scene of the first event in North Carolina offers an important clue.

In the background, he said, you could see a fishing pier.

"To me, a fishing pier is a 24-hour shark dive," he said.

With bait fish in the area, experts agree sharks won't be far behind.

"If the water is murky or there's a lot of bait fish in the water don't go into the water, there's predators there chasing that bait," Abernethy said.

Local 6 photojournalist Greg Wilson joined Abernethy last week with divers off the coast of Jupiter, Florida.

The face-to-face encounter seemed to support the theory that the world's most feared ocean creatures want to eat bait, not people.

Local 6 News viewer Gary Comstock agrees. Comstock has more than 25 years of shark encounter experience.

Comstock gave us underwater video taken a few weeks ago about 10 miles off the coast of Jupiter.

The video shows the water to be clear and Comstock and his fellow divers were able to get inches away from sharks without incident.

Comstock said he provided the video because, "I felt the other side of the shark story needs to be told."

Comstock believes the video evidence offers a positive take -away.

"Sharks, he says, are not the monsters you think they are. Go to the ocean, have a great time, go swimming, just be cautious," Comstock said.

Experts offer additional beach safety tips to avoid shark encounters:

  • Avoid areas where animal, human or fish waste enter the water. (Sewage attracts baitfish which almost always attract sharks.)
  • Stay out of the water at dawn, dusk and at night
  • Avoid murky waters
  • Do not wear high contrast clothing or shiny jewelry in the water

Click here for more information on this year's shark attacks.