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Shark Attack Risk Smaller Than Many Realize, Experts Say (PHOTOS)

Posted: 04/ 3/2012 4:20 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 2:43 pm

Do sharks deserve their reputation as vicious man-eaters? Probably not. Last year in the U.S. 29 people were attacked by sharks--none fatally, according to the International Shark Attack file. During the same time period, dogs killed 31 people in the U.S.

Yes, people spend a lot more time around dogs than around sharks. But experts say the average shark is nothing like the monstrous Great White that gobbled beach-goers in the 1975 thriller "Jaws." The animals are intelligent, with a strong sense of curiosity and typically little interest in human flesh--in fact, some have been taught to perform tricks, according to Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, a University of Miami shark researcher.

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GALLERY: SHARKS, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

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  • Blue Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Oceanic White Tip Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Blue Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Blue Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Lemon Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Whale Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Oceanic Whitetip

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Oceanic Whitetip

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Oceanic Whitetip

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Great White Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Great White Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Great White Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Oceanic Whitetip

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Sand Tiger Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Lemon Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Great Hammerhead

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Great White Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Great White Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Dusky Shark

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

  • Big Silvertip

    Image: Neil Hammerschlag

There are about 400 species of shark, from the eight-inch-long dwarf lanternshark to the enormous, polka-dotted whale shark. And while you might not call them charismatic, sharks are not mindless killing machines.

"Sharks definitely have personalities," he told The Huffington Post. "Some are more bold, some are shy, and some are curious. Every individual behaves a little differently.”

One thing's for sure: sharks are amazing-looking creatures, especially when you get really close. Just take a look at the photos from Hammerschlag above.

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Filed by Melissa Cronin  |