Environment & Science

California shark attack rates plunge 90 percent since 1950s

GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 19:  A Great White Shark is attracted by a lure on the 'Shark Lady Adventure Tour' on October 19, 2009 in Gansbaai, South Africa. The lure, usually a tuna head, is attached to a buoy and thrown into the water in front of the cage with the divers. The waters off Gansbaai are the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks, due to the abundance of prey such as seals and penguins which live and breed on Dyer Island, which lies 8km from the mainland.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA - OCTOBER 19: A Great White Shark is attracted by a lure on the 'Shark Lady Adventure Tour' on October 19, 2009 in Gansbaai, South Africa. The lure, usually a tuna head, is attached to a buoy and thrown into the water in front of the cage with the divers. The waters off Gansbaai are the best place in the world to see Great White Sharks, due to the abundance of prey such as seals and penguins which live and breed on Dyer Island, which lies 8km from the mainland. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

New research finds swimmers and surfers today are about 90 percent less likely to be attacked by sharks off California than they were in the 1950s — even though there are hundreds of thousands more people in the water.

The findings mark a stark contrast to recent headlines in North Carolina, where shark attacks this year have reached a record high.

Stanford researcher Francesco Ferretti says more study is needed to account for the apparent disparity.

Ferretti says although the reported number of attacks off California has risen slightly, the risk of attack there has plummeted over the past six decades. The decline likely is the result of surging populations of sharks' prey, such as sea lions and elephant seals.

Researchers say there might also be fewer sharks in the water, though their populations are hard to track.