Matthew Zaccaria caught the perfect wave and rode his surfboard all the way to the shore at New Smyrna Beach. The last thing he expected when he hopped off of his surfboard was a shark bite.
“It felt like I stepped in a trap,” Zaccaria said, of the bite to his foot.
Zaccaria, 19, is one of 98 people who were bitten by an unprovoked shark in 2015, the highest number in a single year in history. According to the International Shark Attack File, Florida, coming in at 30, had the most attacks within the United States.
The 98 people who were bitten tops the previous record of 88, which was set in 2000, according to the International Shark Attack File housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The University of Florida-based museum collects the worldwide data each year.
The rising number of shark attacks does not surprise George Burgess, the director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the museum.
“Every year in theory, there should be more attacks simply because there are more humans on the face of the earth which means there are more people entering the sea and for more hours,” Burgess said.
Burgess also said weather plays a large role in the increasing number of attacks.
“With global climate change, sharks, as well as many of the things they eat, are increasing their ranges into northern latitudes at a sooner time of the year and in greater abundances,” Burgess said.
Despite the increase in shark attacks, Burgess said the probability of getting bitten by a shark is still very low.
“Six people die a year in the mouths of sharks, and 100 sharks die a year during raids by humans,” he said. “I think we need to start thinking about human attack versus shark attacks.”
As for the departments that respond to the shark attacks, there is not much that can be done to prevent further incidents.
Commander Chuck Mulligan from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said all they can do is keep a good eye out for the sharks.
“If someone sees something in the water, they should get out until the water is deemed safe again,” Mulligan said.
But even the shark bite couldn’t keep Zaccaria from eventually getting back in the water.
“I didn’t go surfing for two weeks because I was waiting for it to heal, but I didn’t really feel comfortable surfing until about one month after because I was shaken,” Zaccaria said. “But now I surf every day.”
And he’s not the only one not afraid to stay out of shark territory.
Sabina Osman, a member of the University of Florida’s Surf and Wake Club, said she was fine surfing in the shark habitats.
“I’m more scared to drive on the highway than I am to surf,” Osman said.