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Sarasota scientist wants to change the way we view 'shark attacks'

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Dr. Hueter of Mote Marine Lab Dr. Hueter of Mote Marine Lab
SARASOTA, FL (WFLA) -

It's well known that Florida leads the world in shark attacks. But a Sarasota scientist says 'attack' may be too strong a word.

Sharks are magnificent creatures that you probably don't want to find at a beach, but many people have. According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 23 recorded shark attacks along Florida beaches last year. None of them were fatal, but Dr. Robert Hueter from Mote Marine Lab wants to change the way we view these human and shark encounters.

"Using the word ‘attack’ indicates that we know what the motivation of the animal was, most of the cases, we don't,” Dr. Hueter states.

Hueter did extensive research going back hundreds of years. To him, the term 'shark attack' is used too loosely in the public and the media. It's used to describe anything from a small shark bite to a fatality, like what happened to 69-year-old Thadeus Kubinski in Pinellas County back in 2000.

At the time, Kubinski’s son Richard told News Channel 8: "My father jumped [into the water], and within a few minutes of jumping in and swimming no further than maybe 5-10 feet from the dock was immediately attacked."

So Hueter and his colleague created a new classification system with four different levels. The first is shark sighting.

"Perhaps somebody is in a kayak and the shark has a close pass. That actually has been called an attack at times,” Dr. Hueter described.

Then the levels increase, after shark sighting there's shark encounter.

“A shark will make physical contact with a person in the water, but will not actually bite them, but they might get an abrasion from the skin,” Dr. Hueter said

Then there’s shark bite and finally, fatal shark bite.

"We talk about Florida being the shark attack capital of the world, but in fact, most of those interactions are just single bites, fatalities are still extremely rare here,” stated Dr. Hueter.

He calls the overuse of the term 'shark attack' misleading and wrong. He believes a new classification system would lead to better statistics...and it could dispel any myths.

It's important to note that even though shark fatalities overall are rare, that still means you have to be careful when swimming along Florida’s beaches because you never know.

The eastern coast of Florida has a lot more shark encounters than the western side. The last fatality in the state happened in 2010.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.


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