US shark experts head to Egypt

US shark experts head to Egypt

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Tourists sunbathe by the sea next to a red flag indicating swimming is prohibited in Sharm el-Sheikh (AP)

A team of American shark experts is heading to Egypt to help determine what is behind a Jaws-style series of attacks that have killed one tourist, injured four others and cleared Red Sea beaches of swimmers.

Shark attacks at Egypt’s Red Sea resorts, famed for their reef diving, are rare. The attacks on snorkellers and swimmers over the past week at Sharm el-Sheikh, on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, are believed to involve two oceanic whitetip sharks, which normally do not get close to beaches.

The attacks turned fatal on Sunday when a shark tore the arm off an elderly German swimmer, killing her almost immediately. Days earlier a shark badly mauled three Russians and a Ukrainian.

Authorities have closed the beaches to swimmers indefinitely and barred anyone from entering the water except for professional divers.

Environmentalists say overfishing and a declining ecosystem could be driving sharks closer to shore in search of food. There are also accusations that tourist boats are illegally dumping meat into the water to attract sharks for passengers wanting to photograph them.

A third theory says sharks have been drawn to the area by the crew of a ship transporting livestock that dumped dead animals overboard.

The three visiting US experts are George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, Marie Levine, head of the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and Ralph Collier, author of Shark Attacks Of The Twentieth Century.

They will give the final word on the causes and also on when it is safe for tourists to return to the water, says Egypt’s Chamber of Diving and Watersports.

The chamber’s chairman Hesham Gabr said that based on the patterns of bite marks on the victims’ bodies it appeared there were two sharks involved.

Before Sunday’s fatal attack, authorities believed they had caught and killed the two sharks that mauled the tourists. But Mr Gabr questioned the way the sharks were targeted and said he was against “random shark hunting”.

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