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Feb. 11, 2013 at 7:00 PM
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U.S. led world in shark attacks in 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Shark attacks in the United States in 2012 were the highest since 2000, while worldwide fatalities stayed near average levels, researchers in Florida said.

There were 53 U.S. shark attacks last year, the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File report released Monday said.

Eighty unprovoked attacks occurred worldwide, slightly more than 2011, the report said.

The most shark bites, 42, occurred in North American waters. (The 53 U.S. incidents include Hawaii and Puerto Rico, not considered as occurring in North American waters as defined by the International Shark Attack File database.)

Florida led the country with 26, followed by Hawaii (10), California (5), South Carolina (5), North Carolina (2), and one each in Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Puerto Rico, the report said.

Four attacks were recorded in South Africa, three of which resulted in death, while Australia had an average year with 14 attacks and two fatalities, the researchers said.

"The numbers from an international standpoint were on target for the last couple of years because, in theory, each year we should have more attacks than the previous year owing to the rise of human population from year to year," said George Burgess, director of the shark file housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus.

"Thus the shark attack rate is not increasing even though the number of shark attacks is rising. Shark attack as a phenomenon is extremely uncommon, considering the millions of hours humans spend in the water each year."

Public to vote on names for Pluto moons

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S.-led team that discovered two new moons of the dwarf planet Pluto says they're asking the public to vote on potential names for the distant worlds.

The fourth and fifth moons of Pluto, named for the Greek god of the underworld, are currently known simply as P4 and P5.

Tradition hold the names of Pluto's moons are taken from Greek and Roman mythology and relate to Hades and the underworld; the first three of Pluto's moons discovered are named Charon, discovered in 1978, and Nix and Hydra, both discovered in 2005.

Among the potential names for P4 and P5 are Cerburus, Hercules and Orpheus, NewScientist.com reported Monday.

Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., head of the team that discovered the new moon, said write-in votes also would be considered, as long as they follow the naming tradition.

Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who first spotted Pluto in 1930, chose the name following the suggestion of an 11-year-old girl named Venetia Burney.

"I like to think that we are doing honor to Tombaugh's legacy by now opening up the naming of Pluto's two tiniest known moons to everyone," Showalter said.

People can vote by visiting http://plutorocks.seti.org.

The final decision on the moons' names will be up to the International Astronomical Union.

Dogs may understand human point of view

PORTSMOUTH, England, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Domestic dogs are more likely to steal food if they think nobody's watching, suggesting they understand a human's point of view, a British researcher says.

Psychologist Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth has demonstrated when a human forbids a dog from taking food, the dog is four times more likely to disobey in a dark room than a lighted one, suggesting they're taking into account what the human can or cannot see.

"That's incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can't see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective," Kaminski said in a university release Monday.

"Humans constantly attribute certain qualities and emotions to other living things. We know that our own dog is clever or sensitive, but that's us thinking, not them," she said.

"These results suggest humans might be right, where dogs are concerned, but we still can't be completely sure if the results mean dogs have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others' minds," said Kaminski, who reported her study in the journal Animal Cognition. "It has always been assumed only humans had this ability."

Dogs' understanding may be limited to the here and now, rather than on any higher understanding, she said, suggesting more research is needed to identify what mechanisms control dogs' behavior.

Fossil in Serbia suggests human migration

HAMILTON, Ontario, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- A fossil find in a cave in Serbia suggests Eastern Europe was an important pathway in human evolution as mankind spread out of Africa, scientists say.

Canadian researchers, with partners from France, England and Serbia, have dated a partial lower human jaw as being almost 400,000 years old, and said it could be even a half-million years old.

That makes the jawbone the easternmost European fossil of its age so far discovered, sharing far more in common with African and Asian fossils than with contemporary examples from Western Europe, the researchers said.

"During this time, humans in western Europe started to develop Neanderthal traits, which are lacking in this specimen," paleoanthropologist Mirjana Roksandic from the University of Winnipeg said. "Humans in southeastern Europe were never geographically isolated from Asia and Africa by glaciers and accordingly, this resulted in different evolutionary forces acting on early human populations in this region."

The fossil lends weight to the possibility the Balkan Peninsula could have been a gateway in the movement of populations from Asia to Europe, the researchers said.

"This is opening up the window to study Eastern Europe as an important place in human evolution. It's important to all the modern European evolution that comes after that," Jack Rink of McMaster University in Ontario said. "This fossil being so old and coming from that place links it to fossils that came out of Africa not long before that, in the context of human development."

The researched has been published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

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