Shark attack kills German tourist at resort in Egypt

The BBC's Jon Leyne says two sharks hunted down and killed may not have behind the earlier attacks‎

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A German woman has been killed in a shark attack while snorkelling off the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, officials say.

The death comes after four people were injured in similar attacks at the resort earlier in the week.

The authorities had reopened the waters after saying they had captured the sharks involved in the earlier attacks.

Officials say they are baffled by the repeated attacks and are consulting marine biologists.

There are fears about the impact of the shark attacks on the tourism trade in the world's most popular diving spot.

'Wrong' shark

Egyptian officials said the elderly German woman had died immediately after the attack, in which she was reportedly bitten on the thigh and arm.

After last week's attacks - in which three Russians and a Ukrainian were injured - the environment ministry caught and killed two white tip sharks and displayed a photo of them.

Nearby beaches were reopened after authorities deemed there was no further threat.

Start Quote

This is unnatural. It has never happened before. We have no explanation”

End Quote Zuhair Garana Tourism minister

But divers and conservationists who compared the picture with one of the attack shark, taken shortly before one of the previous attacks, said it was not the same animal.

Now all the resort's beaches have been closed again for watersports, with the exception of Ras Mohammed, a nature preserve south of the city, Egypt's Tourism Minister Zuhair Garana told AFP news agency.

"We are getting marine biologists from abroad to assess the situation and why there was this change in biological nature," he said, referring to the repeated nature of the attacks, which some experts say is unusual.

"This is unnatural. It has never happened before," he said. "We have no explanation."

Oceanic White Tip shark

Oceanic White Tip shark
  • Can grow up to 4m (13ft) long, though usually does not exceed 3m
  • One of the most widespread of shark species, ranging across entire oceans in tropical and subtropical waters
  • A "pelagic", or open-ocean, shark - so attacks in coastal waters are exceedingly rare
  • But thought to be responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than all other species combined, due to predation on survivors of shipwrecks and plane crashes
  • The shark's large fins are highly prized in international trade, hitting numbers; the shark's population has also been affected by falling fish stocks
  • Once abundant, there has been a steep decline in numbers over recent decades and the oceanic white tip is now classed as "vulnerable" by conservationists

Sources: International Union for Conservation of Nature and news agencies

Shark experts and local observers have offered a number of possible explanations for the attacks. Some say overfishing in the Red Sea may have driven sharks closer to shore.

Meanwhile, some said predatory sharks could have been drawn to the area after a ship carrying Australian sheep and cattle for sacrifice during last month's Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha dumped the carcasses of animals which had died dying during the voyage.

'Rare'

Diving instructor Peers Cawley, who has lived in Sharm al-Sheikh for seven years, told the BBC that sharks were not normally seen at this time of year.

"We may see them in the summer months. This is a rare occurrence - there have been more sightings last week than in recent years," he said.

"A couple of weeks ago an Australian cargo ship dumped dead sheep that washed up around the shores. The authorities are trying to clamp down on this. Whether there's a link or not we don't know.

"The other issue that is a concern is illegal fishing. Sharm el-Sheikh has a national park, but some Bedouin may illegally fish tuna etc, to sell. So there may not be enough prey for the sharks to catch.

"The worry is that if there is not enough fish, then the sharks would look for alternative food."

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