Shark attack in Tobago – 10 beaches closed, THA offers $10k reward

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Craft vendor Blacks, left, sits at Turtle Beach, Tobago with a friend on Friday, after witnessing a shark attack on Peter Smith, 64, of England earlier that day. PHOTO BY COREY CONNELLY –

APPROXIMATELY ten beaches along Tobago’s western coast – including the popular Pigeon Point and Store Bay – were closed temporarily on Friday after a British national was attacked by a bull shark while bathing at Turtle Beach.

Up to news time, Peter Smith, 64, of Berthamsted, England, was receiving medical attention at the Scarborough General Hospital.

His left hand, from the elbow down, was badly damaged in the attack. Smith also sustained serious injuries to his left thigh and stomach. The incident occurred around 9.15 am.

Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith BYisrael said via WhatsApp, “So far, it seems like all of his appendages have been saved. We will provide a comprehensive status report tomorrow (today).”

Smith was a guest at the Starfish Hotel, a haven for tourists.

“Unfortunately, a visitor to the island was attacked by a shark earlier this morning in the vicinity of the Starfish Hotel,” THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said in a post on his Facebook page.

He said the shark was about eight to ten feet in length and two feet in width. The attack occurred ten metres from the shore.

Augustine said the Coast Guard was monitoring the area.

The THA is also offering a $10,000 cash reward for the fishing crew that captures the shark.

When Newsday arrived at Turtle beach around 1.30pm, all was calm. Many guests were socialising quietly in the hotel’s open dining area while others were in the swimming pool.

No one was bathing in the sea.

“It is unfortunate what happened today. I must admit I was a bit shaken up. But I will get over,” said a Canadian national, who did not want to be named.

The woman said she usually visited Tobago every year with her husband for vacation in April.

“It is the first time since I am coming here that I have experienced this. It is shocking. But I love Tobago and I will be back.”

Well-known craft vendor, Blacks, was at his usual spot along the beach when the attack occurred.

He told Newsday he was walking towards a shop when he saw two women going into the water and another running out of it.

“That hour in the morning the sun does be hot so I say they going to the beach. Meh eye stay with them and when I do so, I see a man going down in the water. So I say he cramping.’

“But then I hear a woman say, ‘Shark,’ and when the water go back down was the whole shark on the sand. It had to wiggle up to go back in the water.”

Blacks said the few people who were around tried desperately to assist.

“A White man who know a little medical thing tie up he hand and foot, band him up and within all that time they call the ambulance.”

Blacks said the shark also attacked another male bather. He got scratches on his stomach.

He said a project taking place on a portion of the beach may have caused the shark to come close to the shore.

“This is the first time I hear about this thing happening in this country. But we have a problem in Tobago. This morning (April 26), they excavate a piece of land all where the turtle was nesting and the water run out into the sea. So the freshness of the egg call the shark. That is the reaction from that. That is the most logical thing I see.”

By afternoon, there were several reported sightings of the shark at Buccoo, No Man’s Land and Grafton. This led to the temporary closure of the Buccoo Reef Marine Park.

In a statement, the Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, The Environment and Sustainable Development said the authorites have decided to close the marine park until further notice.

“The closure is effective immediately and applies to all recreational activities, including snorkelling, diving, glass-bottom boat tours and any other water-based activities within the park boundaries,” it said.

“The decision to close the marine park has been made out of an abundance of caution and to ensure the safety of all visitors and staff. The temporary closure will allow emergency responders, including the TT Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries to conduct a thorough assessment of the situation and neutralise the shark threat, if possible.”

The division advised all beachgoers, fisherfolk and mariners to exercise extreme caution when operating in the coastal areas surrounding Plymouth, Courland Bay, Black Rock, Mt Irvine, Buccoo, Pigeon Point, store Bay and all areas in between.

All Tobago Fisherfolk Association vice-president Junior Quashie said the “shark attack” was unprecedented.

“I have never heard of this happening in Tobago. It is very, very shocking because we never expected that. I am 62 years and I never see that yet,” he told Newsday.

Quashie, who is also president of the Castara Fisherfolk Association, claimed sharks behaved similar to humans.

“So I believe something may have elicited that reaction for it to come into these waters. People have seen sharks but they have never attacked anybody. Sharks usually run from you. So this is very strange.”

He said the Turtle beach and all of the other areas where the shark was spotted should be closed off for a while.

Progressive Democratic Patriots political leader Watson Duke, meanwhile, questioned the Coast Guard’s ability to properly monitor the beach.

“Two months ago, with the oil spill, look how long they took before they could ascertain the name of the boat. They took practically two weeks to ascertain the name of that vessel which was right there in the water and posed no threat to human life,” he said in a video on his Facebook page.

“How could they have identified the shark as a bull shark. Did the bull shark come up, jump out of the water and they measured it and they saw it or did they capture it?

“The truth is that they should stop fooling Tobagonians. This is a moving fish. You cannot ascertain whether it’s a bull shark or any other type of shark because sharks have the way of resembling.

“To ascertain if it’s bull shark or not in our waters you will have to capture that shark and then ascertain if it’s a bull shark. We need them to tell us how did they know it is a bull shark.”

He said the Coast Guard was doing a poor job of guarding the island’s waters because they are not properly equipped.

“What equipment are they using?”

Duke called on National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds to be “more vigilant with those who are tasked with monitoring the coastlines of Tobago.

“This is a message that should send a chill down every Tobagonian’s spine.”

He said the THA’s fisheries division must also analyse this development.