Michael Fernandez / AP
This July 11, 2011 photo shows a shark warning sign along the Surf Beach near Lompoc, Calif. in Santa Barbara County. A shark attack at the Vandenberg Air Force base beach has claimed the life of an experienced 39-year-old surfer, following months of frequent shark sightings along the central California coast.
Shark attacks on humans in the United States have reached their highest levels in more than a decade — and an improving economy may be the reason why, experts say.
There were 53 shark attacks in the United States in 2012, matching the previous high set in 2000, according to the International Shark Attack File, an annual report released Monday by researchers at the University of Florida.
"I think the economy has played a major role in the sense with the downturn in the economy, fewer people had the ability to take holidays and visit the beach,” George Burgess, who heads the effort to compile shark attack data, told Reuters.
A rebounding economy meant more people went to the beach, which created more opportunities for sharks to attack.
“The numerical growth in shark interactions does not necessarily mean that there is an increase in the rate of shark attacks; rather, it most likely reflects the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the opportunities for interaction between the two affected parties,” the report reads.
The number of shark attacks has steadily grown each decade since 1900, which the study attributes to a constantly increasing amount of time people spend in water.
The United States typically leads the world in shark attacks. Last year, Florida was the state with the highest number of attacks with 26.
Surfers and those participating in board sports were most often involved in incidents, making up 60 percent of the attacks, the report said.