Experts race to solve Egypt shark attack mystery

8th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Marine experts on Wednesday quizzed witnesses to shark attacks as beaches at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh remained closed after a woman was torn apart by a shark.

South Sinai governor Mohammed Shosha told AFP authorities would announce later in the day whether they would reopen beaches which are visited each year by between three and four million tourists.

The beaches were closed on Sunday after a 70-year-old German tourist was killed when a shark ripped her apart as she was swimming in the popular Naama Bay.

Foreign and Egyptian experts were meeting with witnesses to the attacks in a Sharm el-Sheikh hotel and compiling data to understand what brought sharks so close to a so-called safe area near the shore, a conservation official said.

He told reporters that Egyptian authorities want to gather all the information possible about the killer shark before they resume their hunt for the animal.

Experts have suggested that sharks have been lured to the shore by illegal feeding, while others blame their behaviour on changes in the ecosystem.

The German tourist was fatally mauled just metres from the shore, a day after beaches were reopened following shark attacks that injured two Russian snorkellers on November 30 and another one on December 1.

Authorities believe that at least two sharks were involved in the attacks, including one mako shark that was captured on Friday.

Marine biologists are puzzled by the attacks, which they describe as very rare.

George Burgess, a prominent shark expert and member of a team that flew in to Sharm el-Sheikh to help out with the probe, said they were working on the assumption something had altered the ecological balance in the coral rich coast.

"It is safe to say that the situation where you have a clump distribution in attacks, occurring after another in a limited geographical distribution, is very rare indeed," Burgess told AFP on Tuesday.

These rare cases are "associated with an attractive event that brings sharks into the area," he said, adding the event could be man-made or environmental. "There is something that altered the balance."

Red flags still fluttered on the beaches on Wednesday to signal to swimmers to stay clear out of the sea, although expert scuba divers were allowed back into some locations along the shore.

The government is keen to protect the tourism industry, a main source of foreign currency for Egypt which generated revenues of 10.76 billion dollars in 2009, according to official figures.

© 2010 AFP

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