great white shark
Number of fatalities from shark attacks in 2011 increased to 12 – double the figure for 2010 (Reuters)

The number of people killed by sharks rose to an 18-year high in 2011.

According to data gathered by the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), there were 75 unprovoked shark attacks around the world in 2011, 12 of which resulted in death.

The death toll for 2011 doubled the figure recorded for 2010 and was the highest yearly total since 1993.

The average annual number of deaths from shark attacks from 2001 to 2010 was 4.3.

Surfers were targeted in 60 percent of attacks. In 2011, there were three shark attack fatalities in Australia, while South Africa, Reunion and the Seychelles each had two, and Costa Rica, Kenya and New Caledonia had one a piece.

The spike has been declared a statistical anomaly.

"This year's higher rate no doubt is a statistical anomaly based, in part, on where the serious attacks occurred geographically. The unusually low proportion of attacks occurring in the United States, particularly in Florida, and a jump in attacks in non-US locales not blessed with as highly-developed safety and medical personnel and facilities lead to an unusually high number of deaths," the report stated.

Fatality rates from shark attacks have actually dropped over the past 100 years, as beach safety practices, medical treatment and general awareness continue to improve.

George Burgess, director of the ISAF file, which is housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainsville, said: "We had a number of fatalities in essentially out-of the way places, where there's not the same quantity and quality of medical attention readily available.

"They also don't have histories of shark attacks in these regions, so there are not contingency plans in effect like there are in places such as Florida."