by Laura Carsten
Hysteria surrounding three fatal shark attacks last year—in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina—had beachgoers scared to enter the water, but for all the wrong reasons. The risk of being killed by a shark is far less than the danger from more mundane beach hazards, says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the University of Florida. Among the 264 million people who visited the beach in the United States in 2000, 74 died by drowning and one died from a shark attack. A person is 30 times more likely to be killed by lightning than by a shark. In fact, encounters with humanity generally leave sharks as the losers. Almost all shark populations are declining, in part due to pressure from fisheries. "The real story is not 'shark bites man,' it's 'man bites shark,'" says Burgess.