Jan. 25 (UPI) -- After a record-setting 98 shark attacks worldwide in 2015, it was expected 2016 would regress to the mean. And it did.
According to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File, there were 81 unprovoked shark attacks last year -- one less than the average over the last five years.
Despite the drop in 2016, scientists expect shark attacks to continue to creep slowly upward as the planet's human population grows and more people take to the water.
"A shark attack is a human phenomenon," George Burgess, curator of the shark attack file, managed by the Florida Museum of Natural History, said in a news release. "Sharks are a natural part of the ecosystem. The ocean is a foreign environment to humans, and when we enter the sea, we're entering a wilderness."
More than 40 percent of global shark attacks in 2016 occurred in Florida. Nearly 60 percent involved board sports -- surfing, boogie boarding and paddle boarding. Kicking and splashing can mimic the movements of injured prey.
"Sharks are attracted to irregular activity, especially with the inevitable wipeout and the big splash that follows," Burgess said. "If you have a shark trailing, that's often when it will strike."
Despite larger numbers of humans venturing into the ocean and the gradual rise in shark attacks, fewer and fewer attacks are proving fatal. Researchers say improved beach safety, and medical response times and treatment, are to thank.
Burgess thinks a more informed public is the best way to ensure an irrational fear of sharks -- the risk of a shark attack is extremely small -- doesn't hinder conservation efforts. Healthy shark populations, Burgess says, are key to healthy marine ecosystems.