Marine expert: Shark attacks not common, they don’t hunt humans

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A bull shark. – Image from National Wildlife Federation

SHARK attacks are not common. In fact, there are usually under 100 attacks per year, globally.

But this sea creature is now in the spotlight in TT, and not because of the local delight of fried bake and shark.

On April 26, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine announced a British tourist had been attacked by a shark at Courland Bay and was in critical condition at hospital. Initial reports said the 64-year-old man’s left arm and left thigh were severed and he was bitten on the abdomen. Augustine said it was a bull shark, and the attack happened just ten metres from the shore.

Beaches at Plymouth, Courland Bay, Black Rock, Mt Irvine, Buccoo, Pigeon Point, Store Bay, as well as coastal areas between those were subsequently closed, and reef tours suspended.

Prior to this, the most recent shark attack happened along the North Coast in Trinidad in February. Despite being bitten, the fisherman shot the shark with a spear gun and returned to shore.

Speaking to Newsday on April 26, lecturer in marine sciences at the University of TT (UTT) Dr Reia Guppy said there are approximately 33 shark species in TT.

Other shark species found here include hammerheads, smooth hounds, nurse sharks, among others.

However, Guppy added that it was more than likely that an assumption was initially made by authorities when it comes to the species of the shark.

“I haven’t seen photos of the bite nor their teeth or any images or characteristics. So I can’t say for sure it’s a bull shark.

“But bull sharks are one of the species we have that are known to be aggressive.”

National Geographic, on its website, says bull sharks swim in warm, shallow waters and are also known to swim into freshwater rivers.

It adds, “Humans are not part of a bull shark’s normal prey…Their diet consists mainly of fish; they also sometimes eat dolphins and sea turtles. Bull sharks even eat other sharks.”

Dr Reia Guppy –

Guppy said to accurately determine a species of shark following an attack, “Many times sharks’ teeth may have fallen out and you may actually be able to get samples of the shark’s teeth, you could look at doing genetic testing on the saliva from other bites…”

She said sharks are curious animals and opportunistic feeders.

“(Humans) can look like potential food sources that they would normally go for, especially with their eyesight which is not great. They tend to hunt more by smell and scent in the water than they do by eyesight. So when they see people in the water, they don’t necessarily know what that organism may be.”

The THA had also said it was on the hunt for the shark to “neutralise” it, and offered a $10,000 bounty for any fisherman or fisherwoman who captures it. The notice announcing this has since been recalled.

Guppy had said she understands hunting down the animal is a regular human response, as authorities would be seeking the interest of human life and attempting to prevent recurrences.

But she urged for caution to be undertaken in this process.

“We have always had sharks in Tobago. You see them all the time, but they tend to be more non-aggressive.

“It shouldn’t be a hunt for all sharks after this. The shark who did this could be far gone and they could end up killing many innocent sharks.”

She added that the situation is very unfortunate.