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Shark Attacks in Egypt's Red Sea
Red Sea shark attacks
Just the mention of shark attacks tend to fill humans with fear. Tourists and residents must think they’re in the middle of a Jaws film in light of several recent Red Sea shark attacks in Egypt’s Red Sea. In this case, however, it wasn't great white sharks - the shark species most often associated with the horror movie - that were responsible for the shark attacks. On December 5, a 70-year-old German woman was attacked by a shark at Sharm el-Sheikh, a popular beach resort on the Sinai Peninsula. The woman yelled for help after having her arm severed and was rescued by a lifeguard. Unfortunately, the woman died from the savage mauling.
In the previous week, four other bathers suffered shark attacks, all at Sharm el-Sheikh. These included tourists from Ukraine and Russia. In one attack, the shark ripped off the victim’s leg, and in another, a hand was torn off. All four victims survived but were seriously injured.
During that same week, snorkelers in the Red Sea near Sharm el-Sheikh reported being confronted by an aggressive shark that circled them repeatedly. One witnessed identified the fish as a ten-foot-long oceanic whitetip. The group was able to reach the safety of a nearby reef before the shark could act.
In the days following these first shark attacks, two large sharks were caught near Sharm el-Sheikh and were believed to have been involved in the attacks. One was a mako shark, and the other was an oceanic whitetip. Autopsies were performed on both fish, but the results haven’t been made public.
The Red Sea
The Red Sea is a long, narrow tropical sea, an inlet of the Indian Ocean. It’s almost 1400 miles long, and at its widest point, it spans 221 miles. In all, the Red Sea covers 169,100 square miles. At its deepest point, it’s 7,254 feet deep, but it also contains coral reefs and shallow areas.
The Red Sea is bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Djibouti. Because of its clear warm water and its abundance of marine life, the Red Sea is a popular destination for divers and snorkelers.
There are two species of mako sharks – the short-fin mako and the long-fin mako. The short-fin mako is found in warm and temperate bodies of saltwater all over the globe, including the Red Sea.
The short-fin mako can reach lengths of over thirteen feet and weigh as much as 1700 pounds. These are very active sharks that can swim more than 1,000 miles in search of a mate. They’re incredibly fast, too. Scientists believe that the mako can make short bursts of speed at 60 m.p.h. As a result of this high metabolism, makos eat more than most other shark species. For example, a less active species might consume less than a percent of its body weight per day, while the average mako needs to eat 3%. They also digest food faster than other shark species.
Mako sharks feed on turtles, squid, octopuses, birds, porpoises, and a variety of fish, including other sharks. The short-fin mako has been responsible for shark attacks on both humans and on boats.
Oceanic whitetip shark
The oceanic whitetip is found around the world in warm seas and oceans, including the Red Sea. It prefers deep water far from shore and is rarely found in shallow water.
These sharks can attain lengths of thirteen feet. Whitetips are slim and streamlined, and the heaviest fish ever recorded weighed 370 pounds. Females usually grow a little larger than males.
Whitetip sharks aren’t particularly active, nor are they fast swimmers. They are, however, very aggressive and perfectly capable of shark attacks on humans. They feed on fish, squid, octopuses, crustaceans, stingrays, birds, turtles, and small whales. Whitetips are opportunistic feeders and often follow ships to consume any garbage dumped overboard.
Over the years, whitetips have flocked to sites where shipwrecks and plane crashes occurred, reaching excited feeding frenzies. As a result, this single species has been responsible for more human deaths than all other shark species combined. As a matter of fact, Jacques Cousteau stated that the oceanic whitetip is “the most dangerous of all sharks.” These are the sharks that reportedly killed many sailors from the U.S.S. Indianapolis.
What drew the sharks close to shore?
Both the short-fin mako and the oceanic whitetip are pelagic species that are rarely found near shore. If Egyptian officials are correct, however, one of these sharks was responsible for the recent attacks at Sharma el-Sheikh. Most believe it was an oceanic whitetip. What brought the monster close to shore?
There are several theories. One is that the natural food sources of the sharks are so depleted that the sharks are being forced to seek prey elsewhere. Another theory is that the shark or sharks were attracted to the shoreline by livestock that was thrown into the water. Ships carrying cargoes of cattle and sheep often throw dead animals overboard just before reaching port.
Others blame shady dive-boat operators and careless tourists. Sharma el-Sheikh is famous for its diving and snorkeling, and those wanting to see sharks up close may have been attracting the fish by offering them food. That's definitely not a good practice to follow. When predators lose their fear of humans, shark attacks could easily result.