Experts: Shark attacks really not attacks

Most shark encounters are cases of mistaken identity

A typical Florida beach will probably have all four of the following elements: sand, surf, swimmers, and sharks.

Sounds like the perfect summer day, right?

The truth is we share the water with all kinds of sharks, and while they may watch us from a distance, it's unlikely they'll cause trouble. Even here in the "shark bite capital of the world," shark encounters are rare.

There were 11 shark bites in Florida last year, six of them in Volusia County. But, consider this: tens of millions of people flock to our beaches all year every year; the numbers alone increase the odds that a shark bite will happen to someone.

Eric Hovland, a shark expert at the Florida Aquarium, says sharks are not attracted to the beach because of the swimmers and surfers. He says sharks do not hunt people, calling the phrase "shark attack" a misnomer. He says "shark bite" is a more accurate description because most so-called attacks are more likely the result of mistaken identity.

"Sometimes we think the sharks see us and mistake us," adds Florida Aquarium dive master Katie Shoultz. "Sometimes they just don't know what we are and the only way to find out is to put you in their mouth."

As awful as that sounds, that's probably the end of it. "The shark has probably made a bite, realizes that wasn't a sea lion or a seal. It tastes wrong. And it thinks, ‘I'm done here.'"

We can only hope.

Hovland stresses that it's rare for a shark to continue to bite after it realizes its mistake. "What you don't hear about is people being eaten by sharks or part of them being eaten," he says. "It's rare. It's unusual. If it does happen it's usually after another cause of death."

In fact, few shark bites, statistically speaking, are fatal. They can cause serious injuries, requiring hospitalization; blood loss is the most dangerous factor.Most shark fatalities are the result of major blood loss and a delay in rescue or treatment.

For more on shark behavior and shark safety tune in to LIFEGUARD: A LOCAL SIX SUMMER SAFETY SPECIAL. The program airs on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Oh, did I mention that I'll be swimming with sharks? Find out what happens when I take a shark dive. That story will appear during Wednesday night's special.

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