Beach visitors should be aware, but not fearful, of shark attack - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Beach visitors should be aware, but not fearful, of shark attacks

Bees, wasps and snakes are responsible for far more fatalities in the U.S. than sharks. (Photo source: WLOX) Bees, wasps and snakes are responsible for far more fatalities in the U.S. than sharks. (Photo source: WLOX)
MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) -

The summer beach season is just getting started, but already, shark attacks are making headlines. So, should beach visitors be fearful of getting in the water?

The statistics show, and the experts agree, that you should not be overly concerned about getting bitten by a shark. But, keep in mind, as one scientist told WLOX News, when you get in that water, you're entering the shark's natural habitat.

Plenty of beach goers will cool off in the waters of the Mississippi Sound this summer. While shark encounters are exceedingly rare in Mississippi, the sharks are out there.

“There are about nine different species that we encounter regularly. Most of them tend to be juvenile in nature. This is a great nursery region for a lot of different shark species,” said Jill Hendon, a research assistant at USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab.

Hendon says most shark attacks are actually cases of mistaken identity. Humans are definitely not on the shark's menu, but legs or arms in the water could be mistaken for bait fish.

“The term "attack" is often kind of a misnomer. It's really kind of that shark feeling out what that item was, realizing it's not prey and then moving on,” Hendon explained.

If you need a little assurance before heading to the beach this summer, your odds of getting bitten by a shark are 1 in 3.7 million. You're much more likely to be struck by lightning, especially here in Mississippi, which has recorded just one shark attack since 1959.

Still, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of having a shark encounter.

“In areas where there's lots of bait where you're swimming around, avoid areas with a lot of mullet, with a lot of bait. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry, things that make flash or simulate bait species, and avoid swimming at dawn or dusk,” said Dr. Paul Mickle, with the Fisheries Division of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

Sheer numbers may also play a role in shark attacks, at least in waters where sharks are present.

“The more people in the water, obviously, you have a higher chance of encounter. Still rare across the board no matter where you are, but your likelihood would increase with the more folks in the water,” said Hendon.

According to the International Shark Attack file, which keeps the statistics, there were 72 shark attacks worldwide last year. Twenty eight of those happened in Florida.

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