MIAMI (Reuters) - Shark attacks on humans increased worldwide last year but declined in Florida, which still had more shark attacks than any other U.S. state, University of Florida researchers said.
Florida's year-round swimming weather and long coastline make it the nation's leader in shark attacks and that didn't change last year, when 13 attacks were reported, according to the university's annual Shark Attack File report released on Monday.
But 2010 marked the state's fourth straight year of decline and the total was significantly lower than the yearly average of 23 over the past decade, said ichthyologist George Burgess.
"Florida had its lowest total since 2004, which was 12," Burgess said.
"Maybe it's a reflection of the downturn in the economy and the number of tourists coming to Florida, or the amount of money native Floridians can spend taking holidays and going to the beach."
Worldwide, 79 attacks occurred in 2010, the highest number since 2000 when 80 were recorded. But the global total of six fatalities for 2010 was only slightly above average, Burgess said.
Attacks worldwide numbered 63 in 2009, close to the yearly average over the past decade of 63.5.
"Based on odds, you should have more attacks than the previous year," Burgess said. "But the rate of attacks is not necessarily going up -- population is rising and the interest in aquatic recreation grows. That will continue as population rises."
The United States had 36 attacks, including five in North Carolina and four each in California, Hawaii and South Carolina. One each was recorded in Georgia, Maine, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
The United States led the world in shark attacks -- an average year by U.S. standards -- followed by Australia with 14, South Africa with eight, and Vietnam and Egypt with six each.
The most unusual event occurred off the coast of Egypt in early December with five attacks, including one fatality. The attacks occurred within five days and four of the five were attributed to two individual sharks.
"That was hugely unusual by shark attack standards," said Burgess, who has researched sharks for more than 35 years.
He suggested the Red Sea attacks may be attributed to a combination of factors that put people and sharks into proximity -- an unusually hot summer, international livestock traders who dumped sheep carcasses into the water and divers feeding reef fishes and sharks.
He said the number of shark attacks could be cut in half if people used more common sense, such as avoiding fishing areas and inlets where sharks gather and leaving the water when a shark is sighted.
Sharks may be top predators but overall they are no match for humans, he said. Humans kill 30 million to 70 million sharks per year in fisheries, while sharks claim an average of five human lives each year. (Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Jerry Norton)