Summer of the shark: Are more great whites a good thing? - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken News, Weather, Sports

Summer of the shark: Are more great whites a good thing?

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File photo: Great white shark File photo: Great white shark
TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Is this the summer of the shark — or is it just another case of great white hype?

Shark Attacks

In 2013, the International Shark Attack File, maintained at the University of Florida, recorded 125 incidents around the globe, including 72 "unprovoked attacks" by sharks on humans. That was down from a record 81 unprovoked attacks the year before.

Related: Florida led world with 23 shark attacks in 2013

So far this year there have been six shark attacks in the U.S., none fatal — but beach season is just beginning.

How much should you worry? Not much, say shark experts. In fact, you may want to celebrate. Two new studies point to a rise in great white numbers on both U.S. coasts, after the species' population had been plummeting for decades. And the benefits of a healthy shark population far outweigh the risks.

Related: Great white shark numbers are surging, study says

"Sharks are the lions of the ocean. If we lose them, then the ocean falls out of balance. You end up with a dead ocean like the Sea of Cortez," said Chris Fischer, founder, chairman and expedition leader of Ocearch.

Shark Tagging

Since fall 2008, Ocearch, a nonprofit organization, has been on a mission to tag and study as many great whites as possible, and it runs a popular shark-tracker website, where you can follow scores of tagged sharks. Just this week, a great white shark named Katharine has pinged in the Gulf waters outside of Sarasota.

Related: 'Katharine' the great white shark in Sarasota waters

"On the East Coast, there's been greater than a 40 percent increase since the 1980s," said George Burgess, who was involved in both of the studies as director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at University of Florida.

Shark Population

Burgess credited the surge in shark numbers to better fishery management and heightened awareness, as well as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was enacted in 1972 and has slowly been raising seal and sea lion population measures.

Other measures taken to help the shark population thrive decades ago are also just starting to bear fruit.

Related: Great white shark tracked by Sarasota's Mote Marine travels 20,000 miles

"They are long-lived animals that grow slowly and reach sexual maturity at a larger size and age. They also have very few young, and as a result when populations are down they usually are really down. It takes decades rather than years to recover," Burgess told NBC News.

He blamed the drop in the great white shark's population in the first place on commercial fishing (especially for Asian markets), sport fishing and the movies.

Much of the commercial fishing of sharks sends meat to markets where shark-fin soup is a expensive delicacy. Fischer says 250,000 sharks are being killed a day for soup in Asia.

NBC News contributed to this report. Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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