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Shark attacks down last year but fatalities up

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Shark attacks fell to a five-year low in 2013 but the number of fatalities rose to 10, up from an average of six deaths in recent years, according to a report released on Monday.

There were 72 confirmed shark attacks in 2013, with Florida leading the globe with 23 and Hawaii with 13, according to the University of Florida's annual International Shark Attack File. (Shark study: http://r.reuters.com/zac96v)

Those attacks resulted in two deaths in Australia and two deaths on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar. Brazil, Hawaii, Jamaica, New Zealand and South Africa each had one death as well as Diego Garcia, a coral atoll in the British Indian Ocean where the U.S. operates a naval facility.

The fatality in Maui was the first in Hawaii since 2004.

There were 81 shark attacks in 2012 and seven fatalities.

The study excludes attacks in which the shark may have been provoked such as during research experiments and fishing accidents.

George Burgess, curator of the file, said annual fluctuations in shark attacks typically can be traced to such diverse factors as an improved economy and warm temperatures bringing more people to the beach.

"A number of these attacks and deaths occurred in areas of the world where you're now visiting because we are a more mobile society and there is a great interest by people to go to out of the way places," Burgess said.

While Florida led the globe in shark attacks, the 23 attacks were about average for the U.S. state, which has averaged 21 attacks a year for the past decade.

Volusia County, where shark attack capital Daytona Beach is located, had eight attacks last year.

Sharks off Florida's heavily populated east coast tend to be small, and they occasionally clamp down on surfers or swimmers they mistake for prey.

The last death in Florida was in February 2010.

Burgess said Australia overall experienced 10 attacks in 2013, the lowest annual total since 2008. The two deaths were in line with the country's 10-year average of 1.4 deaths per year, he said.

Western Australia, with two deaths in 2013 and a total of six over the past four years, remained what Burgess called a shark attack "hot spot."

The death scorecard remains in favor of humans. Compared with the 10 people killed by sharks in 2013, Burgess said, 30 million to 70 million sharks are killed by humans annually, primarily by commercial fishing.

(Editing by David Adams and Lisa Shumaker)

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