Shark Attacks in the Red Sea

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Victim in the June 2023 Hurghada attack

According to the International Shark Attack File, Egypt has had only 18 shark attacks between 1828 to Feb. 17, 2016. But while shark sightings in this country are rare, the attacks involving sharks are memorable, as the Daily News Egypt reported. In 2009, a French woman was killed in a shark attack at the resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. In 2010, a German tourist was killed by a shark, and three Russian tourists were injured in other attacks. In 2015, a 53-year-old German was swimming at a resort in Marsa Alam when he was killed in a shark attack. "All of the attacks in the Red Sea in the last decade were carried out on swimmers and snorkelers, not divers," Mahmoud Hanafy, a marine biologist at Suez Canal University, told Mada Masr. "The shark, when it sees something moving on the surface, bites it to see if it is food or not." [Source: Men's Journal, December 5, 2019]

Egypt: 34 unprovoked shark attacks, with 25 non-fatal attacks and nine fatal attacks.
Yemen: seven unprovoked shark attacks, with one non-fatal attack and six fatal attacks.
Saudi Arabia: four unprovoked shark attacks, with three non-fatal attacks and one fatal attack.
Sudan: two unprovoked shark attacks, with two non-fatal attacks and zero fatal attacks.
Djibouti: one unprovoked shark attack, with zero non-fatal attacks and one fatal attack. [Source: Global Shark Attack File (GSAF), compiled by the Shark Research Institute,, 2016]

The Red Sea is a popular tourist destination, particularly among Russians and eastern Europeans. While sharks are common in the Red Sea, shark attack against people are rare. However, three people were killed in the Hurghada area: a Russian in June 2023 and an Austrian and Romanian in July 2022. In 2018, a Czech tourist was also killed by a shark in the Red Sea. A German was killed in 2015. And in 2010, five attacks in five days that were unusually close to the shore of Sharm el-Sheikh killed a German and injured four others. Egyptian authorities investigated the 2010 deaths and said that the illegal dumping of animal carcasses and other raw meat in the sea may have attracted predators and played a part in their pursuit of human prey. Rising temperatures in the region may also have caused the sharks to swim in shallower waters, increasing the risk of contact with humans. [Source: James Rothwell, The Telegraph, June 9, 2023]

According to Shark Files: Shark attacks are relatively rare in the Red Sea, but when they do occur, they’re often fatal, Gavin Naylor, director of the Florida Museum’s shark research program, said. This is due primarily to the unique topography of the region. The Red Sea began forming roughly 50 million years ago as the tectonic plates underlying Africa and Arabia began pulling apart, creating a steep gouge between them. “It’s a very unusual marine system because the seafloor drops so precipitously, as much as 1,000 feet in 100 meters in some places,” Marine biologist Gavin Naylor said. In regions like eastern North America, where the continental shelf slopes gradually, large pelagic sharks often keep a wide berth of the coast. In the Red Sea, they’re mere meters from the shore, Naylor explained. [Source: Jerald Pinson, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, February 6, 2023]

Two Women Killed by Sharks in Egypt's Red Sea

From Arab News

In 2022, two women were killed in shark attacks in Egypt's Red Sea, south of the city of Hurghada, the Egyptian Ministry of Environment said. Two sources told Reuters that the body of a Romanian tourist in her late forties was discovered hours after an attack that left a 68-year-old Austrian woman dead. Both attacks happened within 600 meters of each other, off the coast of Sahl Hasheesh, according to the sources. [Source: Reuters, July 3, 2022]

“The ministry said in its statement that a committee had been formed to examine the circumstances of the attacks and any scientific reasons behind them. It also mentioned that the Governor of the Red Sea Governorate, Major General Amr Hanafi, has issued an order to suspend all activity in the area surrounding the attacks.

The first victim was transferred to a local private hospital, a source at the Red Sea Health Affairs Directorate told Reuters. He added that there were attempts to resuscitate her, but she died from her injuries. A security source also added that the Austrian woman had been living in Egypt over the past five years with her Egyptian husband.

According to Shark Files: Two attacks in 2022 occurred less than a mile from each other in the Red Sea off Egypt’s coast were both fatal. The attacks may have been perpetrated by a single shark — initially misidentified as a mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) — but it’s currently unclear which species was responsible. The shape and coloration of the fins indicate it may have been a tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). [Source: Jerald Pinson, Shark Files, Florida Museum of Natural History, February 6, 2023]

Swimmer Loses Leg in Rare Attack by Mako Shark in Egypt

In December 2019, a swimmer in Egypt lost his leg is a rare attack by a mako shark. Men’s Journal reported: A group of friends rented a motorboat to cruise in the Gulf of Suez according to the Daily News Egypt. They were nearly four miles offshore when Omar Abdel Qader, 23, jumped in for a swim. A mako shark attacked him, injuring his leg so severely it required amputation. In a conflicting report, the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported that the swimmer was less than 200 yards offshore, according to Mada Masr. [Source: Men's Journal, December 5, 2019]

"Mako sharks are very shy, and have always inhabited deep offshore waters, far from the shoreline," Hanafy told Mada Masr. "Human is not on the menu for sharks." Hanafy suggested that overfishing and dumping food from boats can greatly increase the likelihood of a shark attack; scarcity of food for the sharks can too. "There is a huge competition between sharks and humans for the fish stock," Hanafy said. "With overfishing, it is expected that sharks will increase their feeding grounds and go to unusual places like inshore areas." In some instances, Hanafy added, some boat operators bend the rules against chumming to satisfy thrill-seeking tourists who are enamored with sharks.

The Associated Press reported that two officials investigating this attack said the swimmer jumped in after bait was thrown nearby, as the group combined swimming with fishing in the same spot. Egypt subsequently imposed a 15-day ban on fishing and offshore swimming near Ain Sokhna, a popular Red Sea tourist destination located 75 miles east of Cairo where the attack occurred, the Associated Press reported.

Whitetip Shark Attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt

In December 2010, The Guardian reported: “A 70-year-old German tourist died after being mauled by a shark off the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh — the latest in a series of shark attacks in the Red Sea over the past five days. Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS) sent an urgent message to its members in Sharm el-Sheikh, instructing them to clear the water. [Source: Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, December 5 2010]

The attack was thought to have been carried out by a oceanic white tip shark. Attacks by oceanic white tip sharks are extremely rare and shark attacks of any kind are very unusual in the Red Sea. According to security officials quoted by the Associated Press, the German woman's arm was severed in the attack and she died within minutes. The week before three Russians and a Ukrainian were badly injured. The Egyptian authorities had said they were confident that the capture and killing of two sharks had eliminated the threat to swimmers. A 48-hour ban on entering the water had been lifted yesterday but all watersports, except for diving sites, have been closed again following attack on the German.

Jochen Van Lysebettens, manager of the Red Sea Diving College at the resort, said the latest victim was a regular guest at the luxury Hyatt Regency hotel. He told Sky News: "The woman was just swimming to stay in shape. Suddenly there was a scream of help and a lot of violence in the water. The lifeguard got her on the reef and he noticed she was severely wounded." Van Lysebettens said 40 diving instructors had been out in the waters in recent days to check for sharks after the initial catch. "They found nothing," he said. "Based on that the authorities opened the dive sites again and opened the watersports activities again." He thought the same shark had been responsible for all the attacks. He suggested it may have been drawn to the coast by dead sheep left in the water. "I have no idea why this shark is behaving so aggressively," he continued. "This must have been triggered by something in the past. Unfortunately in this case he is now looking at snorkellers."

A British couple told the Guardian they were in a group of snorkellers that had to leave the water hurriedly after a large shark circled round them. Christina Stafel-Collins, from Broughton, north Lincolnshire, said: "It was definitely an oceanic whitetip. We saw it so close-up. My husband is six foot and it was loads larger than him” I am so upset this woman has died. They should have shut the beaches ."

Her husband, Terry Collins, who was in the army for 24 years, said the shark had acted aggressively. "It was about three metres long. I was about 10 metres behind everyone else. I saw it come out of the depths and it went towards our leader. It circled him and began circling the group. "It was deep grey and was that close I could see electric blue fish swimming in front of it. It was circling lazily but with intent," he said. The boats that brought them to the area were on the other side of a reef the group had been circling. Terry said when he raised his head he saw people on the board shouting warnings. The swimmers had to make their way to the reef and rested there before swimming one by one across about 100 metres of open water to the boats. "We tried to keep the splashing down."

Reasons for the Oceanic Whitetip Shark Attacks at Sharm el-Sheikh

Oceanic whitetip sharks rarely swim close to the shore. Experts blamed tourists for throwing food into the water to lure fish in order to get a better close-up view. "It is clear from our initial discussions with shark behavioural experts that this highly unusual spate of attacks by an oceanic whitetip shark was triggered by an activity, most probably illegal fishing or feeding in the area," Gabr said. Conservationists from the South Sinai National Park caught two sharks following the earlier attacks. The animals were dissected to examine the contents of their stomachs, although the results of the autopsy procedures were not released. Tourists who witnessed one of attacks, near Tiran beach, were shaken by the experience. Many said they would not return to the water even if the authorities gave the all-clear. "I was very close by," Uri, a tourist from Moscow, said. "I will be spending the rest of my holiday sitting on the beach."

Colleen Sharkey wrote in Shark Sagas: Most seasoned ichthyologists, never put much stock in the notion of the rogue shark until 2010 when five people were attacked and one of them killed in the Red Sea near Sharm el-Sheikh. Two oceanic whitetip sharks were hunted down and killed immediately — presumed guilty, convicted and put to death with no real evidence connecting them to the attacks. Shark expert George Burgess was called in to work with local scientists and authorities to try to get to the bottom of these highly unusual attacks. [Source: Colleen Sharkey, Shark Sagas, June 9, 2013]

Ultimately, after intense research, diver surveillance and the review of images, Burgess and the team were able to identify a shark that was involved in at least two of the attacks. Markings on an oceanic whitetip shark as well as evidence that it had been in some of the dive areas confirmed its role in the incidents. As Burgess is quick to point out, any number of factors could have played into the shark’s (or sharks’) bizarre behavior. One of the most likely culprits was the dumping of sheep carcasses into the Red Sea. About a month before the attacks, an Australian commercial boat that was transporting sheep for sacrifice as part of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha dumped the animals overboard that didn’t survive the trip. This free water buffet could very well have changed the sharks’ eating habits, notes Burgess, making them think that whatever was on the surface was an easily acquired meal. “Rogue sharks are certainly not common and we would be badly misrepresenting sharks if we said most attacks were the result of rogues,” Burgess says. Some shark attacks remain mysteries and others take years of poring over evidence to properly solve.

Tiger Shark Kills Swimmer in “Meat Grinder” Red Sea Attack

In June 2023, a Russian swimmer was attacked and eaten by a tiger shark at the Red Sea resort of Hurghada in an attack that his father, who witnessed the whole thing, described as looking like a “meat grinder”. The Telegraph reported: Video footage online showed the entirety of the attack, in which 23-year-old Vladimir Popov repeatedly called out for his “papa” as he attempted to swim away from the shark. At one point, he seemed to wrestle with the animal but was flipped upside down, his legs flailing in the air. Moments later, the shark dragged him under and he did not resurface. “What kind of help can you give? This meat grinder happened in 20 seconds, he was just dragged under the water,” Yury Popov, the young man’s father, told news outlet 112. “We went to the beach to relax. My son was attacked by a shark, it all happened in seconds.” [Source: James Rothwell, The Telegraph, June 9, 2023]

“The attack itself took place on the resort’s Dream Beach. The victim’s girlfriend is said to have been in the water at the time of the attack as well but managed to escape.“A small boat reached the spot of water where Vladimir was attacked just a few seconds after he went under, but by then it was too late. Videos from the scene later showed a shark being beaten on shore by fishermen. Egyptian officials say they have captured the tiger shark which attacked the swimmer and are conducting laboratory tests on the animal. The animal had displayed “abnormal behaviour” and water activities would be suspended in the area until Sunday as a precaution, they added.

Tourists on Dream Beach in Hurghada watched the man get eaten a just meters away from a crowded beach. The Daily Beast reported: Terrifying footage of the encounter shows hotel staffers screaming for swimmers to get out of the water as the shark’s fin can be seen approaching. Popov can then be seen struggling with the shark before it becomes clear to all those watching that it’s a losing battle. “It’s eating his remains now,” one witness who filmed the attack can be heard saying. [Source: Allison Quinn, The Daily Beast, June 8, 2023]

Witnesses said rescuers tried to save Popov but by the time they got there, the shark had already gotten him. A woman identified in Russian media reports as Popov’s girlfriend reportedly managed to swim away and escape. Footage showed her crying hysterically on the beach as bystanders tried to comfort her. Tourists visiting the resort have reportedly now been banned from entering the water, and those who witnessed the grisly incident were in a state of shock. “It happened in a second. Rescuers reacted very quickly. For some reason, I immediately felt that it was a shark. I immediately jumped up and started shouting: ‘Sharks, sharks! Save yourself!’ Nobody understood yet,” a witness told Russia’s REN-TV. “It’s a terrible thing, the remains of this guy are over there. I’m shaking. Right in front of my eyes, the shark ate that guy. I think I need a drink. I feel really bad,” another woman told the Baza Telegram channel.

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 June 2023

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