Shark Attacks in the Recife Area of Brazil

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Signs at Boa Viagem Beach in Recife Brazil

Brazil's northeast coast has beautiful beaches and warm waters. The coastal waters around Recife in in this region are known for aggressive sharks. Sharks attacks there have earned it the reputation of being one of the most dangerous places in the world to swim. [Source: BBC]

In Brazil there has been a total of 86 unprovoked shark attacks, with non-fatal and unprovoked attacks numbering 56 and fatal and unprovoked ones being 30. [Source: Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), compiled by the Shark Research Institute,, 2016]

2012 — 0 — 0 — 0
2013 — 1 — 1 — 0
2014 — 0 — 0 — 0
2015 — 1 — 0 — 1
2016 — 1 — 0 — 1
2017 — 1 — 0 — 1
2018 — 3 — 1 — 2
2019 — 0 — 0 — 0
2020 — 0 — 0 — 0
2021 — 3 — 1 — 2
TOTAL — 10 — 3 — 7
[Source: Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History]

The BBC reported: In 2004, there were seven reported attacks. Two of the victims died. "I was surfing 15m from the beach when the shark appeared under me," recalls 25-year-old Mario Cesar. "I tried to punch him, but he took my arm and pulled me into the water. Eventually, I wrenched myself free and a big wave pushed me in to shore." Mario lost his right arm in the attack, which happened in 2002. Another survivor is 18-year-old Walmir da Silva, who was attacked while swimming in water barely up to his waist. Today, he wears a prosthetic leg below the left knee, and is waiting for a prosthetic arm to be fitted. "The shark pulled me under with so much power that I really thought I was going to die," says Walmir. "And I was losing blood from my leg. But I hit his dorsal fin and kicked out - and in the end he released me." [Source: Steve Kingstone, BBC News, Brazil, December 27, 2004]

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 Around Recife

The Recife area of northeast Brazil, in the state of Pernambuco, is particularly known for shark attacks. Between 1992 and 2021, there were 62 shark attacks with 25 fatalities in Jaboatao dos Guararapes, which is a part of the Recife metro area. Recife gets its name from the coral reefs that run along the coast of the city.

Rob Sawers of the BBC wrote: In August 2012, the body of Tiago Jose de Oliveira da Silva, 18, was found in the sea just south of Recife, in north-eastern Brazil. An autopsy found he had been killed by sharks. His death was the 56th shark attack in Recife in 20 years. What is so shocking about Recife's attacks is that so many of them are fatal - 21 of the 56, a death rate of about 37 percent. This is much higher than the worldwide shark attack fatality rate, which is currently about 16 percent, according to Florida State Museum of Natural History .

Scientists believe most of these attacks are committed by two species - bull sharks and tiger sharks - but forensic evidence has only been able to confirm the species responsible in eight of these attacks. Bull sharks are considered the be one of the most dangerous shark species, with many proven attacks against man. In 2013, a tourist died after a shark attack in the Recife area. AAP reported: Bruna Gobbi, an 18-year-old resident of Sao Paulo, was rushed to the Restauracao hospital in Recife after Monday's attack. "She lost a lot of blood" and died of her injuries after her leg was amputated, said a hospital official who asked not to be named. "We knew there were risks of a shark attack but I thought this would occur in a deeper sector," the victim's cousin, Daniele Souza, told Globo television. [Source: AAP,, July 24, 2013]

Shark Attacks at Boa Viagem Beach

Boa Viagem is a neighborhood in Recife, Pernambuco in the wealthy southern part of the city. The neighborhood has one of the most visited beaches in northeastern Brazil, Boa Viagem beach. Boa Viagem, about six kilometers (four miles) from Recife, is the longest stretch of urbanized seafront in Brazil; its coastal reef calms the waves and helps keep the water at 25 °C (77 °F). Thousands regularly gather on its wide sandy beaches that stretch for eight kilometers (five miles). However, the beach is plagued by bull and tiger shark attacks since Suape port was built in the 1990s. Shark attack danger signs dot Boa Viagem as a warning to swimmers there.

Rob Sawers of the BBC wrote: Boa Viagem is so dangerous that lifeguards no longer train on the beach itself. "We used to swim 40 meters out into the water. Now we swim laps in a pool." Lifeguard Edmir Nicacio Lopes Junior was just steps away when a woman was attacked. "I was walking down the beach and saw her wading in about one metre (three feet) of water. In our training, we are told that at that depth people are not at risk. So I kept walking." [Source: Rob Sawers BBC, September 27, 2012]

Boa Viagem beach at Recife

“Seconds later, a bull shark attacked the woman, biting off her right buttock and half of her left buttock. Fortunately, the attack happened directly opposite a hospital so she was treated immediately and survived. The next day, another person was attacked on the same beach. They also survived.

In 1998 a surfer who ignored warning signs posted at Boa Viagem beach bled to death after a shark chewed off his forearm. Reuters reported: The surfer, Claudio Roberto Florencio de Freitas, 22, was rushed unconscious by six friends to a hospital where he later died from massive blood loss, said an official at the Hospital da Restauracao in Recife. The bone of his left arm was exposed and the forearm missing. The attack happened late Monday on the Praia da Boa Viagem beach, in northern Brazil. Pernambuco is one of Brazil's most notorious states for shark attacks, which have claimed the lives of nine surfers between 1992 and 1998.. [Source: Reuters, November 9, 1998]

On May 1, 1999, a bull shark attacked a surfer at Boa Viagem beach in the afternoon 100 meters from the beach. The surfer was surfing with two friends. The two and a half meters shark bit his right leg , and was beaten off by the injured man, Charles Barbosa Pires, 21 years old. Its turned back and bit again, cutting his left and right hands. The man was saved by three lifeguards, one of whom said what the attack was made by two sharks. Mr. Pires underwent surgery for his injuries. After the 1999 attack on Pires, the city banned surfing. The 23-year-old surfer's hands were bitten off by a bull shark on Boa Viagem. "I am lucky to be alive. If it had been a tiger shark, I would not be here to tell the story today." Mr Pires is still an avid surfer, but says he will never again enter the water on Boa Viagem.

Man Killed by Shark While Urinating in the Ocean at a Recife-Area Beach

In 2021, a shark attacked and killed a drunk man in at Piedade Beach, Jaboatao dos Guararapes — near Boa Vigem — who stepped into the ocean to relieve himself. Global News reported: The incident happened around 2 p.m. Saturday. Marcelo Rocha Santos, 51, had been drinking there with a friend when he felt the need to urinate, so he waded out into the water to do so. Ademir Sebastiao da Silva, who was also at the beach, says he went out with Santos to relieve himself at the same time. “As the beach has no bathroom, I went into the sea to pee,” he said. “I was beside him with the water up to our waists.” [Source: Josh K. Elliott Global News, July 15, 2021]

Another sign at Boa Viagem Beach

“That’s when the shark attacked, pulling Santos under in a bloody struggle that ended with the victim losing consciousness.“There was a lot of blood in the water,” said Edriano Gomes, who was at the beach with da Silva during the attack. Santos’ friends ultimately jumped in and pulled him back to shore. Graphic photos posted online show that Santos lost part of his arm and a chunk of his leg in the attack. He was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The ocean was cloudy and turbulent at the time of the attack, which would have made it hard for the victim to see the approaching shark. Da Silva said he’s still rattled after witnessing the attack up close. “It could have been me,” he told Brazil’s Globo News. “If I had been diving or lingered in the water, I could have been attacked.”

A lifeguard was reportedly on duty at the time but was not able to intervene. Despite signboards warning about shark attacks, the lifeguard on duty did not summon the two men out of the water as they were only up to their waists. “The species involved is a tiger shark,” Jonas Rodrigues, a researcher at the Federal University of Pernambuco, told Globo News.

Rodrigues says the bite marks indicate that the tiger shark was roughly 2.6 metres long. A dozen previous attacks have been reported at the beach where Santos was killed, according to state data.

Shark Kills Brazilian Swimmer Off City Beach

In March, 2001, a shark killed a 20-year-old Brazilian student in waters of Boa Viagem beach. The body of the student washed up on the beach two days after he went swimming. ``The front of the thorax and all internal organs were ripped out,'' Dr. Jorge Mota of the Institute of Legal Medicine said. ''The body was also missing a forearm, a part of the thigh and the face.'' Reuters reported: It was not immediately clear if the man was swimming beyond the coral reefs that run along the coast of the city. It was the 33rd recorded shark attack on Pernambuco's southern coast and the 11th death between 1992 and 2001. [Source: Reuters, March 8, 2001]

The victim was named Carlo Alberto Brasileiro. According to a Shark Files report: It was not known if the student was swimming beyond the reefs when he was bitten by a shark. His 23-year-old sister, Alexandra Virginia, said Carlos enjoyed swimming alone in deep water and was to expected back at 13h00. When he failed to return, she checked the police stations and hospitals but without success. The student’s body washed up on Boa Viagem Beach two days later in front of the Acaiaca Building. It had been severely mutilated by sharks and other marineorganisms. The Fire Department said it had not identified the type of shark involved in this incident. The Pernambuco state government warned bathers not to go beyond the reefs. [Source: Shark Files]

According to Global Shark Accident File: The corpse had no internal organs and parts of the leg and right arm were maimed. Because of the injuries the family of Brasileiro failed to recognize the body. “While swimming trunks, height and dental are alike, we are in doubt,” said the sister of the swimmer, Alexsandra Virginia, 23. Alexsandra believes that there is a chance the victim is her brother. "Carlos came to meet me at the beach at about 13h of the Sabbath, but we did not see him. I went home, waited for him and nothing. [Source: Global Shark Accident File JC, March 7, 2001]

For Fabio Hazin, coordinator of the Laboratory of Fisheries Oceanography UFRPE, the animal that attacked the species should be flat-head or tiger, which has been responsible for other occurrences in Pernambuco. The researcher noted, however, that such cases are uncommon in the month of March. Moreover, the moon was the crescent and the tide was dry. “The sharks usually attack the new and full moons, with high tide and in the months of July, August and September,”he explained. While the Fire Department reported 41 shark attacks since 1992, the UFRPE recorded until 1999, 32 incidents within the scientific standards. The researchers do not take into account the drowning followed by bites.

Two Teens Lose Limbs in Shark Attacks a Day Apart in Recife Area

In March 2023, two teens were involved in separate shark attacks a day apart in which one lost an arm and the other lost a leg. Both teens were in the same waters where a man nearly lost his leg in February. Tracking Sharks reported: The first case took place March 5 around 11:20 a.m. when a shark grabbed a 14-year-old boy’s the right leg. He was in the water off Piedade Beach, Jaboatão dos Guararapes. [Source: Kevin McMurray, Tracking Sharks, March 14, 2023]

Video taken at the scene shows the boy as he was carried out of the water and placed on the beach, revealing a large portion missing from his upper right front thigh. He was taken by helicopter by the Brazilian emergency medical service Samu before being transferred to another hospital in the capital. Unfortunately, the his leg was amputated, but reports indicate he is in stable condition.

On March 6, Kaylane Timóteo Freitas was in waist-deep water around 1 p.m. when a shark grabbed her left arm. The location, near the Vila Alda building, was approximately 500 meters (546 yards) from where the 14-year-old boy was attacked a day earlier. Disturbing video from the scene shows her standing in blood-colored water as she was helped back to the beach. Once on the shore she fell to the sand, and it is apparent her right arm was missing from just below the shoulder. She arrived at the hospital around 1:20 p.m. and was last listed in stable condition after undergoing an amputation.

This is the third shark attack in the area this year. André Luiz Gomes da Silva, 32, was attacked February 20 off Milagres. The surfer was enjoying the waves in a restricted area when a shark grabbed his left leg. He was able to make it back to the beach where good Samaritans assisted him and alerted authorities. Firefighters responded to the scene around 4:30 p.m. and transported him to the hospital. Surgeons treated the massive half-moon gash just below the man’s left knee and extending to his thigh, saving the man’s leg. André Luiz Gomes da Silva shark attack was near the place another swimmer lost her life to a shark.

Water activities in the area have been restricted since 2021 due to fatal shark attacks. However, that does not stop people from entering the water. Shark warning signs are posted, although many are defaced, warning people not to go in the water. Lifeguards complain that beachgoers do not obey the warnings. Video reportedly taken shortly after one of the recent attacks shows a man standing alone in waist deep water as lifeguards request, he come to shore. He does not comply and as the guards assist him out of the water a shark appears to be seen splashing in the waves.

City hall is planning to schedule a meeting to evaluate other measures for shark mitigation. The area has a deep channel that runs close to the coast and is a spot where sharks hunt. They can easily come from the depths to search for food and then head to the deep water quickly. Another issue raised by biologists are the construction of port complexes and sewage runoff in the region. Both can disrupt fish stocks and possibly create food shortages.

Why There Are So Many Shark Attacks Around Recife

According to Dr Rosangela Lessa of the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco (UFRPE), and president of the state's team trying to reduce shark attacks, the blame lies with recent environmental disturbances in the region. It is also because there are lots of beachgoers - and lots of aggressive sharks - sharing the water. [Source: Rob Sawers BBC, September 27, 2012]

There are almost two million people in Recife and surrounding areas, and there are many beaches conveniently located in and around the city. But, some 700 metres off the coast lies a deep trench running parallel to the beaches near the city. Sharks use this trench as a migratory route and emerge from it to hunt in the shallows.

It is Recife's Port Suape, though, that many see as the biggest cause of the recent attacks. Located 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Boa Viagem Beach, where most of the attacks have occurred, the port has been the cause of much disturbance for marine life along the coast and the nearby estuaries. Construction began in the late 1970s, but it was not until 1992 that it began to attract significant shipping traffic. Before 1992, Recife had no more shark attacks than any other beach in Brazil, but the change was immediate and dramatic. To build the port, estuaries were dredged and long docks built, protruding out into the ocean. This is especially a problem for bull sharks, who generally stay close to land and are able to tolerate fresh water (they are regularly encountered in rivers such as the Amazon). Much of their lifecycle is dependent on coastal estuaries and the building of Suape is thought to have disrupted breeding and hunting habits.

Shark Attacks and Port Suape

Port Suape has been a boon to Recife’s economy but a disaster as far as sharks and humans are concerned. According to the BBC: Porto Suape handles more than four million tonnes of cargo per year. To facilitate its initial construction, two freshwater estuaries - which had discharged into the Atlantic Ocean - were sealed off. "Female bull sharks used to enter those estuaries to give birth," says Hazin, "From when the port was built, we believe a number of females moved north to the next estuary - which discharges on to the stretch of beach where the attacks happened." [Source: Steve Kingstone, BBC News, Brazil, December 27, 2004]

Mario Osava wrote: The construction of the port began in 1977, but progressed slowly because of the difficulty in attracting companies to the industrial complex that forms part of the project. Sharks began attacking swimmers, and especially surfers on the beaches of Recife after the port began receiving larger numbers of ships between 1989 and 1991. Between June 1992 and September 2006, there were 47 shark attacks reported, resulting in 17 deaths, according to a study conducted by Fabio Hazin, director of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, with two fellow researchers. [Source: Mario Osava, Tierramérica, IPS, October 12, 2011]

The number of shark attacks is alarmingly high for a mere 20-kilometer stretch of coastline, considering that the worldwide average is less than 100 attacks a year. Shark attacks were formerly unheard of in Recife, which rules out such explanations as a larger number of surfers, who have been coming to the local beaches since the 1960s, or an underwater topography conducive to the entry of large fish species, which is also nothing new, argues Hazin.

Instead, the evidence uncovered in the study by Hazin and his colleagues points to the Suape port as a factor in this outbreak, since sharks tend to follow ships, increasing the risk of attacks near port areas. The number of cases in Recife rose sharply in months when the terminal received more than 30 vessels, the study observed. Another possible factor was the filling in of the mouths of the Ipojuca and Merepe Rivers in the Bay of Suape, to prepare for the construction of port facilities and various industries. This blocked access to the rivers for bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas), which seek out less saline waters to spawn.

As a consequence, the bull shark population was displaced to the mouth of the Jaboatão River, which is closer to Recife and the beaches most affected by attacks. This migration was also spurred by the decrease in plankton in Suape, another environmental impact of the port, which reduced the influx of fish and crustaceans in search of food, added Hazin. Added to this is the deepwater channel near the beaches of Boa Viagem and Piedade, where “almost 80 percent” of the incidents studied were concentrated, he said.

The Suape Port and Industrial Complex covers 13,500 hectares around the bay, but 59 percent of this area is devoted to environmental conservation, a fact that has inspired “admiration among Europeans,” said Roberto de Abreu e Lima of the Economic Development Secretariat (SDEC) of Pernambuco, which is responsible for the port’s management. Suape is a “natural port” with deep waters along the coast and in the bay, which meant that little intervention was required, except for a 300-meter trench opened in the reefs to protect the wharves, SDEC economic sectors manager Felipe Chaves told Tierramérica.

Pollution and Shark Attacks Around Recife

According to the BBC: For the migratory tiger shark, the port presents a different problem. Tiger sharks often travel long distances and often follow in the wake of ships, attracted by the rubbish thrown overboard. Port Suape's increasing ship traffic may be attracting these sharks into coastal waters, according to Dr Francisco Marcante Santana, a professor at UFRPE and president of a Recife-based Brazilian Society for Elasmobranchology Research, or SBEEL. "Sharks are actually drawn towards polluted water. They are expert hunters but they're not above scavenging through the sewage for a meal." [Source: Rob Sawers BBC, September 27, 2012]

Only 35 percent of Recife's sewage is treated, and that rate drops as low as 6 percent in some of the city's surrounding municipalities, according to the Instituto Trata Brasil, a water and sewage monitoring group. The rest flows directly into the rivers and estuaries around the city.

The Suape Port Industrial Complex denies it is at fault. Spokeswoman Danielle Lima says the environmental impact studies that implicate the port only use circumstantial evidence. "Not one study definitively proves the link between the port and the shark attacks," she says.

Mario Osava wrote: Moreover, pollution from the Jaboatão River, which carries animal blood and entrails from slaughterhouses, may have contributed to particularly attracting bull sharks, an especially aggressive species involved in the majority of the attacks. [Source: Mario Osava, Tierramérica, IPS, October 12, 2011]

Combating Shark Attacks in the Recife Area

According to the BBC: The Safe Beach Project has also proposed a solution to Recife's shark problem. It wants the local authorities to partition off a short section of beach using heavy-duty nets out to sea. Electromagnetic buoys would also deter - but not kill - the sharks. Similar schemes have been tried in South Africa and Australia, but the idea has met with opposition in Recife. "The problem with nets is that they wouldn't only stop sharks," says Hazin. "Other creatures like dolphins and turtles would also get tangled up." [Source: Steve Kingstone, BBC News, Brazil, December 27, 2004]

Lifeguards on Boa Viagem receive extra training to respond to shark attacks and are equipped with a device called the SharkShield. It emits an electric pulse through the water to shock the sharks' highly sensitive electrical receptors, which they use to find prey. Lifeguard Cabo Aquino, 38, says: "If a shark really wants to attack, this won't stop him. But if he's nearby and considering attacking, he won't want to come any closer." [Source: Rob Sawers BBC, September 27, 2012]

In 2004, the state of Pernambuco formed the Committee for Monitoring Sharks Incidents (Cemit), bringing together lifeguards, university researchers, and environmental NGOs to educate the public about shark attacks and threats to endangered shark species. Artificial reef Cemit conducts a catch-and-release program to remove the sharks from beaches. So far it has caught 81 sharks, tagged them with tracking devices, and released them far out to sea. Its GPS data on the sharks tagged shows that after being caught, all tiger sharks have migrated to other regions.

Tiger sharks are blamed for many attacks on humans - and ply coastal waters off Recife To get the sharks further out to sea, Cemit sank three boats on the far side of the ocean trench to create an artificial reef in 2006. This was to attract fish to congregate around the boats so sharks coming out of the trench to hunt would move away from the beach.

Cemit divers have found that the artificial reef is attracting fish and sharks. But local fisherman Birata Josue Rodrigues, 59, still only ever sees sharks closer to shore, on the coastal side of the ocean trench. Mr Rodriguez and his son Carlos Wilson, 19, push their brightly painted jangadeiro fishing boat off Boa Viagem at dawn every morning through these shark-infested waters, but say they do not fear the sharks. "Sharks only like surfers and tourists," they laugh. Small-scale fishing like theirs and industrial-scale shrimping are also thought to be attracting sharks into Recife's waters because of the waste thrown overboard.

Image Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Wikimedia Commons

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 Guides and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2023

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