Melbourne, Florida (Florida Today) -- Shark Week is over, but the next few weeks are still prime time for shark attacks in east Central Florida.
August and September bring massive schools of mullet, anchovies, herrings, and sardines migrating along Brevard County and other east Central Florida beaches. Blacktip, blacknose, spinners and sandbar sharks follow by the hundreds to pick off their meals.
The warm weather also means there's more of us in the water for sharks to mistake as prey.
While the overall risk of being bitten by a shark is extremely low, the highest rate of shark bites in Florida is in Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties.
"It's 9-fold the shark attack rate of the rest of Florida," said Raid Amin, a professor of at University of West Florida's math and statistics department, who wrote a 2012 research paper about the risk. "You're smack in the middle."
Despite all the shark hoopla, as with the infamous Summer of the Shark in 2001, this year's shark bites aren't statistically anything beyond the norm.
"The Florida total will probably be similar to what we had last year," said George Burgess, who runs the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Florida had 23 shark attacks last year and 27 in 2012, he said.
About a third of Florida's shark attacks happen in August and September.
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The five shark attacks so far this year in Brevard County and 17 attacks statewide is on pace for about a usual year.
Since 1882, Brevard has had 119 confirmed shark attacks, with one fatality in 1934, a young boy in the Melbourne Beach area. Only Volusia has had more shark attacks in that 132-year period — 262 attacks, none fatal.
Globally, shark attacks are going up each decade, according to the International Shark Attack File, mostly because of increasing numbers of people in the water. But there is no indication of any change in the per capita rate of attack, according to the shark attack file.
In 2012, Amin calculated that between 1994 and 2009, on average, the risk of being bitten by a shark was more than 9 times greater in Brevard, Volusia and Indian River counties than elsewhere along Florida's east coast.
"The chance that what we found is coincidental is 1 in 10,000," he said.
Amin analyzed the shark bites with software typically used to identify geographic cancer clusters and other disease hotspots.
"Some people didn't like it," Amin said of the reception his paper received in shark research circles. "This is really advanced statistics ... Sometimes it's not enough to just swim with the sharks."
Maybe murkier waters and the Indian River Lagoon providing more fish to the area contributes to the higher risk, Amin speculates.
Some surfers blame fishermen for chumming waters near shore for increasing the risk.
Mike Dvorak, of Cocoa Beach, suffered a shark bite on his foot in 2008 while sitting on his surfboard, south of Cocoa Beach. But he believes the surf's safe, as long as the fishermen aren't chumming.
"It was probably the most terrifying thing of my life," Dvorak said. "I'm much more aware of the human activities taking place."
Shark researchers say they've long known the east Central Florida region was a shark-bite hotspot.
Still, that risk is very low, they say.
Burgess' analysis of beach attendance data from the year 2000 found less than 1 chance in 11.5 million of a shark attack that year, and 1 in 264 million chance of dying in a shark attack. By comparison, there was a 1 in 3.5 million chance of drowning that year.
"They are a random event, really," Amin said of shark attacks. "Unfortunately, their curiousness may result in you losing a foot."
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17 shark bites in Florida so far in 2014
There have been 17 confirmed shark bites in Florida so far this year, with a few more under investigation. Here's where they happened:
• 5 in Brevard.
• 5 in Volusia
• 2 in Palm Beach
• 1 in Broward
• 1 in Martin
• 1 in St. Johns.
• 1 in Duval
• 1 in Okaloosa
— Source: International Shark Attack File
For information about shark attacks and how to avoid them, click here
How to reduce risk of a shark bite
• Stay in groups. Sharks are more likely to attack a solitary individual, and you don't want to be too far from assistance.
• Don't go in the water during darkness or twilight hours when sharks are most active.
• Don't go in the water if bleeding from an open wound, and enter with caution if menstruating — sharks have an acute sense of smell.
• Don't wear shiny jewelry. The reflected light resembles the sheen of fish scales.
• Avoid waters with known effluents or sewage and those being used by sport or commercial fisherman, especially if there are signs of bait fishes or feeding activity. Diving seabirds are good indicators of such action.
• Sightings of porpoises do not indicate the absence of sharks — both often eat the same food items.
• Use extra caution when waters are murky and avoid uneven tanning and bright colored clothing — sharks see contrast particularly well.
• Refrain from excess splashing and do not allow pets in the water because of their erratic movements.
• Use caution when between sandbars or near steep dropoffs — favorite hangouts for sharks.
— Source: International Shark Attack File
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