2010 Sharm el-Sheikh shark attacks
Naama Bay, Sharm el-Sheikh.
|Date||1 – 5 December 2010|
|Location||Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt|
The 2010 Sharm el-Sheikh shark attacks were a series of attacks by sharks on swimmers off the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. On 1 December 2010, three Russians and one Ukrainian were seriously injured within minutes of each other, and on 5 December 2010 a German woman was killed, when they were attacked while wading or snorkeling near the shoreline. The attacks were described as "unprecedented" by shark experts.
In response to the attacks, beaches in the popular tourist resort were closed for over a week, dozens of sharks were captured and killed, and the local government issued new rules banning shark feeding and restricting swimming. A variety of theories were put forward to explain the attacks. By late December 2010, the most plausible theory to emerge was that the dumping of sheep carcasses in the Red Sea by a livestock transport during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha had attracted the sharks to the shore. Other theories focused on overfishing in the Red Sea or on the illegal or inadvertent feeding of sharks or smaller fish close to the shore, which produced scents that attracted more sharks.
The first attacks occurred on 1 December, when four people were attacked within minutes of each other in the Ra's Nasrani area. 48-year-old Olga Martynenko suffered a severe spinal injury and wounds to her hands and legs, while 70-year-old Lyudmila Stolyarova lost her right hand and left leg. Both had to have their injured limbs partly amputated. An unnamed 54-year-old Russian man suffered serious leg wounds, requiring a partial amputation, while 49-year-old Ukrainian Oleksandr Dykusarov also suffered leg injuries but was well enough to leave hospital the following day.
Lyudmilla Stolyarova's husband Vladimir said: "I ran up to her and could hear her gasping 'Shark! Shark! Shark!' She somehow managed to push the shark away from her. The shark bit off her arm, but she managed to swim closer to the shore. Before she got out of the water, the shark attacked again and bit off her foot." Other witnesses described the attack on Olga Martynenko. "The woman managed to swim to the pier, but when people on the pier started pulling her out of the water, the shark bit off the woman's left buttock," one said. "She lost a lot of blood. There were tourists on the pier, and they helped to pull the woman out. Some of them were slapping the shark off with rubber fins. There were no rescuers on the pier during the moment when it all happened. A rescuer was running up to us from afar. There were neither cords, nor stretchers at hand. We used a swimsuit to block the blood flow from the gaping wound and grabbed a sun bed to carry the woman to the shore."
The attacks on the two men were witnessed from the shore. A barman witnessed one of the victims "running from the sea with blood streaming from gashes in his leg." The other male victim had to be rescued by members of a local diving centre. According to the barman, "the sea went red ... [his foot] was gone".
In response, officials closed the beaches and suspended all diving and watersports activities. Specialists from the Egyptian environment ministry were called in to investigate the incidents and caught a 2.25 metres (7.4 ft)-long oceanic whitetip shark weighing 150 kilograms (330 lb) that was claimed to be the one responsible for the attacks. The shark was "identified" by a local diver who claimed to have recognized the fish by its damaged fin. A mako shark that was 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) long and weighed 250 kilograms (550 lb) was also caught. However, divers and conservationists said the captured sharks were not the same as the one that had been seen and photographed in the area shortly before the attacks.
The attacks had a drastic effect on the local tourist industry. Mohamed Rashad, a bartender at the al-Bahr beach restaurant who was working at the time of the attack, said: "All the people ran away back to the hotel, no one wanted to stay on the beach. Now it's very quiet. People are scared to come to the beach. They are just coming to the bar to have a drink. They don't even want to stay on the sunbeds."
The Egyptian authorities reopened the beaches on 4 December following the capture of the sharks. The following day, 5 December, a 71-year-old German woman, who had visited the resort for 11 years, was killed by a shark while swimming in Naama Bay near the Hyatt hotel. Jochen Van Lysebettens, of the Red Sea Diving College, saw the attack, and told Sky News: "Suddenly there was a scream of help and a lot of violence in the water. The lifeguard got her on the reef and he noticed she was severely wounded." According to local officials, her arm was severed in the attack and she died within minutes.
Following the attacks, watersports activities were again suspended, though it was expected that scuba diving—which is considered to be at far less risk from shark attacks—would soon be allowed to resume. The Egyptian authorities engaged international shark experts to assess the situation and propose a solution. The Egyptian ministry of tourism also announced the injured tourists would each be offered $50,000 in compensation, paid for by the local tourist industry. The attacks were widely described as "unprecedented" both in media reports and by Samuel H. Gruber, a marine biologist who studies sharks at the Bimini Biological Field Station in Miami, Florida.
Sharks are commonly seen near Sharm el-Sheikh but attacks on humans are very rare, particularly by the two species implicated in the 2010 attacks. Only nine attacks by oceanic whitetips had been reported worldwide in the last 430 years and only one had been previously fatal. However, Famed oceanographic researcher Jacques Cousteau described the oceanic whitetip as "the most dangerous of all sharks". Despite the greater notoriety of the great white shark and other sharks habitually found nearer the shore, the oceanic whitetip is responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than all other species combined, as a result of predation on survivors of shipwrecks or downed aircraft. Such incidents are not included in common shark-attack indices for the 20th and 21st centuries, and as a result of this, the oceanic whitetip does not have the highest number of recorded incidents; only 5 recorded attacks as of 2009. The chairman of the Shark Trust, a British charity dedicated to shark conservation, commented: “It is probable that the tragic attacks were triggered by a specific activity or event... Attacks on humans by sharks are extremely rare and this species would normally not be found close to shore on bathing beaches.” Mohammed Salam of the South Sinai Conservation organisation, a government body responsible for environmental protection in the area, said that "usually these kinds of sharks don't attack human beings but sometimes they have trouble with their nervous system and they accidentally go after people."
The chairperson of the Sharm el-Sheikh Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (CDWS) suggested that attacks might have been due to overfishing, which is an ongoing problem in the area. In a statement, Hesham Gabr said: "It is clear from our initial discussions with shark behavioural experts that this highly unusual spate of attacks by an oceanic whitetip shark was triggered by an activity, most probably illegal fishing or feeding in the area."
Other hypotheses for the shark attacks include that cattle ships transporting sheep for slaughter during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha on 16 November dumped sheep carcasses into the Red Sea, bringing sharks unusually close to the shoreline. Unscrupulous diving companies were also blamed for feeding sharks to attract them for their clients.
On 9 December 2010, an international team of experts announced that it had found that two species—makos and oceanic whitetips—had been involved in the attacks. It listed possible contributory factors as including "one or more incidents of illegal dumping of animal carcasses in nearby waters; depletion of natural prey in the area caused by overfishing; localised feeding of reef fish and/or sharks by swimmers, snorkellers and some divers; and unusually high water temperatures in Sharm el Sheikh."
Conspiracy theory about Israeli involvement
The attacks also sparked conspiracy theories about possible Israeli involvement. Egyptian television broadcast claims that Israeli divers captured a shark with a GPS unit planted on its back. Describing the theory as "sad", Professor Mahmoud Hanafy of the Suez Canal University pointed out that GPS devices are used by marine biologists to track sharks, not to remote-control them. Governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha himself ultimately said he thought the dumping of sheep carcasses during the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha on 16 November was the most likely explanation.
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