Shark Attacks And Economic Growth: A Correlation Theory

In studying the connection between economics and yearly trends in what he calls "shark-human interactions," shark attack expert George Burgess spotted a pattern. NPR's Rachel Martin asks Burgess about going to the beach.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Palca spent the year meeting interesting scientists and now we introduce you to one more. His name is George Burgess and he heads a shark research program at the Florida Museum of Natural History. And Florida, it turns out, is the shark-attack capital of the world. Burgess has an unusual theory. He argues that the number of shark attacks may correlate with economic growth. In studying the connection between economics and yearly trends in what he calls shark-human interactions, Burgess spotted a pattern.

GEORGE BURGESS: You can't get shark attacks to occur if you don't have people in the water. So, your chamber of commerce is doing a good job bringing people here and getting these attacks is simply a reflection that you've put enough people in the water now so that they can occur.

MARTIN: Burgess says encountering a shark is all about odds - like the lottery. More people swimming means a higher probability of an attack. And for beachgoers who would rather the sharks hang out further away from shore, Burgess points out that going into the sea is a wilderness experience, like going on safari in the Serengeti.

BURGESS: The only difference is, is we can't see the rhinos and the elephants and lions. They're there. They can see us but we don't see them. And as such, the sea doesn't owe us the right to be 100 percent safe. You have to accept a certain amount of risk in doing so.

MARTIN: So, if you've got a little more disposable income these days, sure, book that beach vacation. You just might want to think twice before going for a swim.

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MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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