Reunion Island — Deadly Shark Attack Capital of the World?

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sign in Reunion

Réunion Island: Shark Attacks by Year
2012 — 4 — 1 — 3
2013 — 5 — 2 — 3
2014 — 1 — 0 — 1
2015 — 4 — 2 — 2
2016 — 1 — 0 — 1
2017 — 3 — 2 — 1
2018 — 0 — 0 — 0
2019 — 1 — 1 — 0
2020 — 0 — 0 — 0
2021 — 0 — 0 — 0
TOTAL — 19 — 8 — 11
[Source: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

Réunion Island, a remote volcanic island and French department in the Indian Ocean, about 650 kilometers west of Madagascar, has proportionally high number of shark attacks — mostly by bull sharks and to a lesser degree tiger sharks. In Reunion there has been a total of 55 unprovoked shark attacks, with non-fatal and unprovoked attacks numbering 29 and fatal and unprovoked ones being 26. [Source: Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), compiled by the Shark Research Institute,, 2016]

Reunion has been described as “by far the most dangerous place in the world for shark attacks” The island, which is just 65 kilometers (40 miles) long, was the site of around 15 percent of all the world's fatal attacks between 2012 and 2017. According to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File, a rise in Reunion Island attacks was stemmed in 2018 after “stringent attack mitigation strategies”.

Between 2011 and 2015, there were 18 shark attacks, including seven fatalities. This led to a ban in 2013 on nearly all surfing. In 2016, the ban was eased but the shark attacks continued. Following the death of a bodyboarder in 2017, surfing great Kelly Slater demanded a daily cull from local waters. [Source: Richard Wood, 9 News, May 10, 2019, Daily Mail]

Raffaella Ciccarelli wrote in 9 News: Réunion Island has become so notorious for shark attacks, swimming and surfing is banned outside the coral lagoon. Eleven people have died in attacks since 2011. There have been more than 50 attacks recorded between 1988 to 2016. [Source: Raffaella Ciccarelli, 9 News, May 3, 2021]

Websites and Resources: Shark Foundation ; International Shark Attack Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida ; Tracking Sharks, which records all global shark attacks; Animal Diversity Web (ADW); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Fishbase ; Encyclopedia of Life ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal

Shark Attacks on Surfers at Reunion Island

Raffaella Ciccarelli wrote in 9 News: The sea was clear and glassy on the western side of Réunion Island when a two-metre bull shark set upon surfer Rodolphe Arriéguy. His friend, Erwann Lagabrielle, was nearby with two other surfers when he saw a commotion unfold. The attack happened at Saint-Leu, one of the island's best surfing spots, at 2pm on July 22, 2015. "(Rodolphe) was attacked by a shark 20 metres in front of me" Dr Lagabrielle told "It was like a horror movie." [Source: Raffaella Ciccarelli, 9 News, May 3, 2021]

shark attacks in Reunion. [Source: Researchgate, “A spatial and environmental analysis of shark attacks on Reunion Island (1980–2017)} by François Taglioni, Sebastien Guiltat, Magali Teurlai, Payet Denis, Marine Policy, March 2019, This paper analyses data related to the 57 shark attacks that were recorded on Reunion from 1980 to 2017]

Fighting against every instinct, Dr Lagabrielle, a senior lecturer in geography at the University of La Réunion, swam towards his friend not knowing what he would find. "The water was white foam and then the white turned to pink and the pink turned to red," he said. "I swam to my friend and that was the most frighting thing — I was swimming against my own instinct."

Mr Arriéguy had severe lacerations to his arm, so Dr Lagabrielle fashioned a tourniquet from his surfboard leash to stem the bleeding. "The shark swam away and I knew in most cases there was no re-attack," Dr Lagabrielle said. "So, once the bleeding stopped I knew he was going to survive." Once the pair completed the long swim back to shore Mr Arriéguy was rushed to hospital. The 45-year-old lost his arm, but he kept his life. The attack is one of dozens to have occurred on the Indian Ocean Island over the decades.

Surfer Killed by Shark off Reunion Island

In May 2019, a surfer was been killed in a shark attack off Reunion Island. 9 News reported: The man, aged 28, had his leg bitten off yesterday as he surfed in the Indian Ocean, reports BFM TV. Following a spate of shark attacks in recent years, authorities prohibited surfing and other aquatic activities from large parts of the island’s waters. The victim was reportedly surfing in a banned area. Three other surfers in the water with him returned safely to shore. They were wearing shark-repelling devices on their ankles but the unidentified victim was not, the Mirror reports. [Source: Richard Wood, 9 News, May 10, 2019]

After a search by divers and a helicopter, the victim was pulled from the sea but was pronounced dead. It was the 24th surf attack and the 11th fatal one since 2011. In January, a fisherman was fatally attacked as he checked nets close to shore.

The fatality came just hours after officials warned the seas off Reunion is attracting the aggressive bull sharks to its waters. Authorities urged beach goers to take the “greatest vigilance” as more people flock to the coast in the warmer weather, reports AFP.

Tiger Shark Attacks Surfer at Reunion Island

In September 2000, a surfer survived a sustained and frenzied attack by a three meter-long (12 feet) tiger shark in the sea off the Indian Ocean island of Reunion and said the beast came so close "I could have kissed it." According to press reports on Karim Maan, 27, needed about twenty stitches to a wound to his arm after the attack, which took place at a surfing spot known as the Pic du Diable, near the town of Saint Pierre. [Source: AFP, September 11, 2000]

AFP reported: Maan explained that he was about to paddle in at dusk when he and his board were suddenly "lifted out of the water" by the shark. The creature proceeded to launch a series of attacks on the surfer, who tried to defend himself with his surfboard. "The shark continued to attack and to hit me. I saw its mouth very close, I could have kissed it," he said. "When I came up for breath, I saw its head coming at me and I heard a crunch as it bit my board and my arm at the same time," he added. The bite was so powerful it took a chunk out of his surfboard. The shark then let go, but was soon back on the attack, a common technique with this species, according to the doctor who treated Maan.

Source same as above

The surfer then managed to deliver a blow to the shark's nose, which was enough to send it away. "I was saying to myself 'it will attack again, I'm finished, I'm finished'," Mann said. However, he was able to climb back on to his surfboard and catch a wave that took him safely to the shore. Despite his intimate encounter with the bad-tempered tiger shark, Mann said he has no intention of giving up surfing, which he described as his "destiny". But he added that he might not return to the Pic du Diable, at least "not yet."

French Bodyboarder and Shark Activist Killed by Shark

In April 2017, Adrien Dubosc, 30, was killed by a shark on Reunion island. According to local officials, he was in the water with two friends when a shark bit his right thigh and groin area. The Daily Mail reported: A shark lover who was devoted to warning people about the animals was mauled to death in the world's black spot for such attacks. Dubosc died just two months after one of his best friends died in almost identical circumstances. [Source: Daily Mail, April 30, 2017]

Dubosc was a member of Shark Watch Patrol, an organisation dedicated to cutting down on shark deaths on Reunion. Despite this, he loved the fish, and regularly posted Facebook pictures of ones he had seen, together with biological details about them. Just after 11am on a Saturday morning Dubosc entered the sea at Pointe au Sal in Saint-Leu with his bodyboard, off a beach where watersports are officially banned. A police spokesman said: "The young man was in the water with two friends, when a shark attacked him, biting his right thigh, and his groin area. "The victim was pulled out of the water, and emergency workers arrived very quickly. Despite cardiac massage, he died within half an hour of the attack."

Dubosc, who lived in Saint-Leu, on the west of the island, was an extremely experienced bodyboarder, and would enter the water at any opportunity. The beach where the incident took place was packed at the time, and members of Dubosc's family were among those who watched the horror unfold. Frederic Carre, a local sub-prefect, said members of a medical-psychological emergency unit attended the scene, and were treating many of the witnesses. Carre said there had been a huge amount of "anger and emotion" when people saw what had happened.

On February 21, 2017 Dubosc's close friend Alexandre Naussac, 26 and another trained shark spotter, died on a nearby beach that had also been officially closed to watersports. The attack happened in Saint-Andre, and saw Naussac being bitten in the femoral artery. The thigh wound caused blood to pour out of Naussance, as those he had been bodyboarding with also desperately tried to save him. A helicopter arrived with a team of medical workers, but "by the time he was pulled on to the beach he was dead", an emergency worker said at the time.

The latest death marks the 21st shark attack on the Indian Ocean island in just six years, with nine of the incidents proving fatal. Dubosc's death will intensify the shark crisis on Reunion, which The French authorities have insisted they are tackling the problem with nets and boat patrols, and by catching and killing about 100 sharks a year. In turn, conservationists have complained about such culls, saying that there are enough of the fish being killed by pollution.

Surfers Killed by Sharks in Reunion

In April 2015, a 13-year-old boy was killed by a shark on a beach western coast of Reunion. AFP reported: It was the island’s 16th shark attack since 2011, and the seventh fatal one. The boy was surfing in an off-limits section of sea off the west coast of the island when the shark struck. Specialised boats were deployed in the area to try to capture the shark. In February island authorities extended until next year a law prohibiting swimming and other water-based activities such as surfing and windsurfing except in special areas. The measure has resulted in a dramatic decline in tourism on the island. [Source: Agence France-Presse, April 12, 2015]

In July 2013, a 15-year-old girl was killed after a shark ripped her in two while she was swimming just five meters off shore at Reunion Island. The teenager's body was sliced in two at the torso, and then "‘a part of her body was taken away by the shark", said Gina Hoarau, the head of public safety on the island.

In May 2013, a 36-year-old French surfer was killed by a shark at Reunion while his wife sunned on the beach nearby. RFI reported: Stéphane Berhamel who lost his life after a shark fatally bit him in the arm and thigh. He was on his honeymoon when the drama took place. Berhamel had been surfing not far from the popular Brisants beach, when a shark charged at him twice. A nearby swimmer notified lifeguards after blood was noticed in the water. Rescuers tried to revive Berhamel, who had gone into cardiac and respiratory arrest from the attack, but were unable to save him. [Source: RFI, May 9, 2013]

Berhamel’s wife was on the beach when the attack took place and was being treated for shock, according to authorities. According to a fellow surfer, Berhamel was warned in the water to stay away from certain areas, but ignored advice. Robert Boulanger, the President of Reunion’s surfer’s league, told the AFP News Agency thatsurfers had been alerted to the threat of sharks“But perhaps there wasn’t enough information for the general public and tourists,” said Boulanger. “We will work on this.”

The couple, from Morteau in the east of France, were on their honeymoon at the time of the attack. Berhamel also leaves behind an 18 month-old child. This is the first deadly shark attack of the year on Reunion Island. Three people have been killed by sharks there in the last two years.

Why Are There So Many Shark Attacks in Réunion?

Scientists do not know why the shark attack numbers are so high in Réunion. George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, told the Washington Post that he suspects that human factors are playing a role. Island residents have cut back on shark fishing because of concerns over the toxins in shark meat; Burgess said an increase in global tourism means more people who are not familiar with the island are visiting and swimming there. "Now you've got a great rush of people in the water who don't know the area, and don't know the risks," he said. [Source: Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, August 6, 2013]

Raffaella Ciccarelli wrote in 9 News: Dr Lagabrielle has made it his mission to explain why the waters surrounding the island are so dangerous. His research shows the probability of being attacked by a shark at Réunion increased "by a factor of 23" over that almost 30 year period. "In nine out of 10 cases it is a bull shark," Dr Lagabrielle said. "The question, next is what can explain this increase? It's either an increase in the population of sharks or a change in their behaviour. These can be explained by other factors such as change in water temperature, fishing targeting shark populations. We are undertaking an investigation (to answer this)." [Source: Raffaella Ciccarelli, 9 News, May 3, 2021]

While Dr Lagabrielle's research into why shark attacks have increased is still ongoing, another expert believes the island's active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, could play a part. Marine ecologist Michael Heithaus told in 2020 bull sharks could be taking advantage of the fact sediment washes down from the volcano's slope. He said the cloudy waters make ideal hunting grounds for the "smart" predators.

Image Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons, International Shark Attack File

Text Sources: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guidesand various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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