SHARK attacks were unusually low for the second year running new figures show, with scientists pointing to the influence of climate change on the migration patterns of the oceanic predators as one likely reason.

Attacks are declining?

In 2018 and 2019, there were back-to-back falls in the number of attacks, which is clearly progress on that front. However, the key reason behind the fall has a deeper meaning, experts say.

Two of the bites, one in Reunion in the Indian Ocean and one in the Bahamas, were fatal, a drop from the average of four deaths from unprovoked attacks a year.

What do the figures show?

Last year, there were 64 "unprovoked" bites - which are initiated by a shark in its natural habitat with no human provocation. In 2018, there were 62 bites and both years are around 22% lower than the most recent five year average of 82 unprovoked annual bites.

Where are the “hotspots”?

Consistent with long-term trends, America led the world in shark attacks, with 41 bites, up from 32 in 2018, but significantly lower than the nation’s five-year average of 61 bites annually.

Notably?

Florida was again the worst location for shark attacks. It has taken the top spot in this category for decades. In 2019, there were 21 unprovoked bites - up 16 on the previous year and accounting for 33% of the global total, according to figures from the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File (ISAF).

Australia?

It had the second-most shark attacks in the global table, with 11 in 2019, a fall from the country’s most recent five-year average of 16 bites annually. The Bahamas was in third place, with two attacks.

Single bites occurred in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean Islands, French Polynesia, Cuba, Guam, Israel, Mexico, New Caledonia and South Africa.

The cookiecutter?

The previously elusive foot-long cookiecutter shark was responsible for three attacks, all on long-distance swimmers training in the Kaiwi Channel in Hawaii.

The ISAF only have two other accounts of unprovoked cookiecutter bites - one in 2009 in Hawaii and one in Australia in 2017.

In Britain?

In the UK, at least 21 species live in British waters all year round, but the Shark Trust warn that more than 50% of British sharks are considered to be either threatened, or near threatened. The UK has never seen an unprovoked shark bite since records began in 1847.

Climate change?

Shark numbers worldwide are in sharp decline, with overfishing and illegal fishing of sharks for their fins depleting populations.

Research is ongoing, but climate change also means sharks are swimming in oceans that are hotter and more acidic, forcing them to seek cooler waters in different habitats that are not their natural hunting grounds. The availability of their prey is also impacted.

Other reasons for the decline?

Florida Museum of Natural History say fatality rates have declined for decades, "reflecting advances in beach safety, medical treatment and public awareness”.

MAUREEN SUGDEN