What can you do to avoid a shark attack?

Expert shares advice after Russian man was killed in Hurghada, Egypt

Shark expert Fernando Reis says out of 550 shark species, only three may represent any danger to humans. Reuters
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More than snakes, crocodiles or lions, it is sharks that perhaps incite the most primal fear among humans.

Hippos, elephants and even freshwater snails kill hundreds more people every year than sharks, BBC Wildlife Magazine reported last year.

But sharks inspire a particular dread in people who regularly enter the animal’s habitat for leisure.

Those fears surfaced again for many when a Russian man was killed by a shark in the Egyptian city of Hurghada on Thursday.

But shark experts have said swimmers and scuba divers can follow simple advice to avoid an attack.

Fernando Reis, 64, from Portuguese capital Lisbon, is co-founder of the global Sharks Educational Institute. He has led scuba dives and conducted shark-diving courses and lectures in Dubai, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi.

“It is something that can happen,” he said of Thursday's tragedy.

“Humankind has a huge lack of knowledge [about sharks]. We have a huge amount of awareness about the importance of sharks in the marine balanced ecosystems. But we don't know their habitat.

“There are 550 different shark species. Only three may represent, in some circumstances, some danger to human beings.

“Recently, not only last week, but in the last five, six years, we have been seeing a few incidents in the Red Sea with sharks.

How can we avoid shark attacks?

“So why did this happen?" Mr Reis said of the fatal attack in Hurghada. "This one in particular, it was really early in the morning and all the conditions were there.

“You cannot go [into the water] at certain times [in places known to have sharks]. If you are at the surface splashing early in the morning, or at sunset, or during the night, [they think] let's try a bite. Maybe that's the reason.

“I always say to have two or three people in the water. This incident wouldn't have happened if he was not alone. You cannot go alone, never alone.

“And he was on the surface of the sea. To a shark if you are on the surface, you are probably food.

"We are big animals. Some big sharks, they eat big animals – like the [great] white sharks or in this case the tiger shark, or the bull shark. These three species have teeth completely different from all the other species. They are basically like knives, they cut flesh and bone – and they have a very, very powerful jaw.

“But no one in good sense goes for a walk alone, by sunset or sunrise or during the night in an African savannah," he added. "If you go on a tourist trip to Kenya or South Africa or Mozambique, the manager will tell you please be aware of the wildlife.

“There are wild animals out there. There are lions, elephants, hippopotamus, lots of different species of animals that can harm you.”

'Stupid' films about sharks

With Hollywood continuing to churn out films that tap into the fear of sharks to make millions at the box office, Mr Reis said people should seek proper education to change our mindset about sharks.

“On TV every week we can watch lions hunting during the night in the African savannah. What do we have about sharks on the TV? Crazy movies, stupid movies, like Sharknado or even Jaws,” he said.

“We also have [TV programme] Shark Week. But that’s a kind of monster week, the shark is more or less understood [to be] a monster.

“We need sharks, we depend on the ocean. Our planet is a blue planet, more than 70 per cent of the surface is covered by saltwater.

“Sharks have evolved in saltwater for more than 450 million years — they are older than dinosaurs."

Mr Reis pointed out that as Earth is "a marine planet", it's important to know what is happening under the water. He said while we depend on marine ecosystems, "we don't know them. It just doesn't make sense".

He added: “The most important thing is that our governments should invest more in education. Every child should learn how to swim, every child should learn how to behave in front of a wild animal, they must know at what time they should not be there.

“We must switch our mindset. We must change our mindset regarding the ocean, the marine balance, especially regarding the ocean wardens, the sharks.

“We must learn from them. We depend on them. If sharks disappear, all the marine chain disappears.

“It's a safe ocean. We need sharks in the ocean. I'm more afraid of an ocean without sharks than with sharks.”

Updated: June 14, 2023, 4:49 AM