CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian authorities said on Thursday they have caught two sharks that mauled swimmers off a popular resort in separate attacks that a leading shark expert described as unprecedented.
Three Russians and a Ukrainian were bitten in separate incidents on Tuesday and Wednesday as they swam off Sharm el-Sheikh, which attracts between three and four million tourists every year.
Oceanic experts on Thursday caught two sharks believed to be behind the attacks in which one woman lost a foot and another an arm. The tourists are now in hospital in Cairo.
Marine biologist Mohammed Salem, director of the South Sinai Conservation, said the two sharks, at least two metres (more than six feet) long each, were caught after a wide search operation.
The shark believed to be behind the first attack on Tuesday, in which two Russian swimmers were mauled, was an oceanic whitetip, an extremely opportunistic feeder. The other shark was a short-finned mako.
A stretch of Sharm’s beach was still closed to swimmers on Thursday as a precautionary measure, Governor Mohammed Abdel Fadil Shosha said after the first shark was caught early in the day.
Salem said witnesses identified the captured sharks. The oceanic whitetip was filmed by divers minutes before it surfaced to attack the swimmers, he said.
The mako, a slender blue shark with a pointed snout, was identified by witnesses, he added.
Mako sharks have previously attacked people in the Red Sea, said shark biologist Samuel Gruber, head of Miami’s Bimini Biological Field Station.
“Mako sharks have been implicated in shark attacks in the Red Sea. Several years ago a German tourist had her breasts bit off. Very, very bizarre,” he told AFP.
But this week’s attacks “were unprecedented,” said Gruber, himself the survivor of a shark attack.
“The shark in one day bit more than one person. In all my years reading about shark attacks and writing about them you never hear about sharks biting more than one person,” he said, excluding cases of mass feeding frenzies on shipwreck survivors.
“Then for it to happen the next day is almost like a ‘Jaws’ scenario,” he said of the 1975 horror film about a serial killer great white shark.
Gruber said the captured sharks’ stomach contents would have to be analysed before it could be determined whether they were the culprits.
“It’s really pretty much a crapshoot. Finding the actual shark is like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Gruber said.
Shosha said the freak attacks could have been caused after a ship transporting livestock dumped dead sheep into the water.
Environment expert Magdi al-Alwani said after the first shark was captured that it could have been forced closer to shore by overfishing in its environment, or it may have been hit by a boat and become disorientated.
Gruber said shark attacks are so rare that understanding the reasons behind them is scientifically impossible.
Statistics compiled by the International Shark Attack File reported 61 worldwide attacks in 2009, five of them fatal.
As of Thursday afternoon, the fate of one of the sharks was still hanging in the balance as Shosha and Environment Minister Magid George disagreed on whether to release it back into the wild or put it on display.