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Egypt’s Red Sea Shark Attack – Sharm el-Sheikh

It is wiser to understanding more about the actual dangers Sharks present, rather than listening to the Egyptian Government propaganda used to defend its vital tourist industry.

It is understandable that Egypt is trying to protect itself from the hysteria generated, primarily in the media, following the latest spate of shark attacks in the region; it is just a pity these instances are used to persecute sharks rather than understand their behaviour.

The Egyptian government’s knee jerk reaction to go out and hunt down the ‘rogue’ shark, really is a very outdated ineffective approach to the problem; something out of the Jaws movie rather than an effective scientific approach. The problems with this approach are many;

  • Identification of an individual shark is close to impossible without long-term scientific study;
  • If the assumption that the species identified as the culprit for the attacks (Oceanic White Tip) is correct, then these are ocean going sharks which travel over large distances and are not particularly territorial;
  • If you can’t find the world’s most wanted terrorist in a featureless landscape, what chance of finding the exact individual shark responsible for an attack, when visibility in the sea is at best 30m, they can travel over a very large geographical area and at any depth between a metre and several hundred meters;
  • The assumption that once a shark has attacked a human it is more likely to attack again, is far from proven. Most sharks are instinctive opportunistic hunters and many attacks happen as a result of freak encounters and feeding frenzies (when they will bite at anything as they fight for food).
  • Shark attacks are often the result of either misinterpretation of a potential food source, curiosity or as a defence mechanism; fatal attacks primarily occur as a result of massive injury and blood loss in water rather than people being eaten as the jaws movie would have you believe.

My point is this, whatever the reason for this latest spate of attacks, be it the dumping of those sheep which died en-route on a cargo ship in the area, a fundamental change in the ecosystem through over-fishing, a freak climatic change in water temperature, a Mossad plot to damage the Egyptian tourist industry or just humans being in the wrong place at the wrong time; attacks are very rare.

We should also remember that the sharks have not, as has been suggested, come into contact with humans, but rather humans have come into contact with sharks; when we swim in the sea we put ourselves in their environment and it is one we need to respect.

Sharks get a poor press, when in reality many species are on the brink of extinction thanks to the demand for shark fin for soup in the Far East, which leads to the inhumane practice of shark finning killing 80 – 100 million sharks every year.

Dangers in waters around the world are not limited to shark attack, actually we should be honest and say that by far the greatest dangers in / on water are from the individuals themselves; from currents, tides, activities such as ‘tomb stoning’ and alcohol consumption.

Undoubtedly it is a good idea to stay out of the water for a while if an attack has happened in the area or if one of the aggressive species of sharks have been seen (including Great Whites, Tiger Shark, Bull Shark etc.); give the shark the time to move out of the area and feed on its usual prey.

It is also generally accepted that swimmers / snorkelers are more at risk than divers (although this is far from a proven point) and I certainly would dive before I snorkelled in an areas where an attack had taken place. Diving gives you more control over your movements as you are in a three dimensional environment rather than the snorkeler’s two dimensional one; you may also have a greater field of vision and possibly be less attractive as potential prey.

 

Some tips to reduce the risk of shark attack:

  • Avoid areas where commercial or sport fishing occurs; the by-products these activities generate attract sharks and stimulate their hunting instincts.
  • Avoid areas dive operators / snorkelling cruises who still insist on shark-feeding or fish-feeding to ‘amuse’ their customers; these activities damage the delicate balance of local ecosystems as well.
  • Avoid murky water, especially in estuaries where Bull Sharks are endemic; Bull Sharks are aggressive, inhabit shallow as well as deep water and can survive in the brackish water of river estuaries.
  • Avoid dawn, dusk and night time when sharks are most actively feeding.
  • Avoid areas where there are abundant food sources and large predatory sharks are known to hunt; seal / sea bird colonies.
  • Never buy or consume shark fin soup; this will not help you reduce the risk from shark attack, but it will help save the shark.
  • Avoid falling for the hype and if you ever get the opportunity to see sharks in their natural environment in a controlled encounter, take it; they are amazing, beautiful and fascinating creatures.

If you have concerns about sharks at your destination speak to locals, especially fishermen and local dive masters (not people who run dive shops who have a vested interested in your wallet), who will usually give you an honest opinion of their experience of the area.

More genuine information on sharks is available through the Shark Trust and WWF.

 

At Safe Gap Year our Independent Travel Safety and Cultural Awareness Workshop considers issues of Travel Safety, alongside sessions on Cultural Awareness, Travel Health, Ethical and Responsible Travel, Travel Equipment, Destination Advice, Transport Options, Documentation, Travel Money and Insurance and more.

For more information on any of our services, please call us on 0845 602 55 95 or Contact Us.

 

To view the related article – Tourist tells of shark panic as ‘sea turned red’

Source – Independent 

Date – 7th December 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew