Experts dismiss bitten surfer's shark attack claim

Marine experts say 'shark' attack off Dubai a week ago was a barracuda, but the surfer involved says he has the scars.

Surfer Michael Geraghty at Umm Suqeim Beach in Dubai, where he was bitten by what he claims was a shark last week.
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DUBAI // Marine experts have dismissed claims of a shark attack off Dubai a week ago, but the surfer involved insists that "something" bit him. Michael Geraghty, 54, from Australia was taking advantage of the weekend's swell when he was pulled off his board. He says he has the scars to prove it. Reports this week claimed that the bite was the result of a shark attack. However, marine experts said that although certain shark species inhabited the UAE's waters, none was known to attack humans.

Shaun Lenehan, an experienced diver and marine biologist, said the only sharks he had seen were blacktip reef sharks. "They are a very timid shark and it's very hard to get close to them," he said. "There are tiger and bull [sharks] but they are very rare. "I have done hundreds of dives in Dubai's waters and I worked with people who have accumulatively done thousands of dives and it is very rare. Nobody has ever reported any tigers or bulls."

Photographs obtained from Mr Geraghty of his injuries did not shed any further light on the type of bite. "It's difficult to tell from the photos whether it was definitely a shark," Mr Lenehan said. "Usually, you can distinguish the repetitive pattern of the dentition breaking the skin along the line of the laceration but it all depends on the angle of the bite. The stitches and dressing obscure the line of the cut slightly so its hard to see."

He said Mr Geraghty would have been the best judge. "If he didn't get a look at it and can't say for sure that it was a shark, then it may have been a barracuda or another largish predator. "I have seen a number of barracuda feeding down at Umm Suqeim beach over the years. Regardless of what animal it was, it certainly looks painful." Ernst van der Poll, who has completed more than 8,500 dives in UAE waters, said a shark attack was highly unlikely.

"I only saw them [sharks] twice," he said. "They were lemon sharks. There is nothing in these waters, and I surf there myself. Unless they took photos, it could have been a barracuda." Mr van der Poll said a lemon shark would attack a human only if it was aggravated or cornered. "I have seen the lemon sharks about 15 miles offshore. Bull sharks primarily stick to river mouths. I dive here five or six days a week and I have never seen them."

Mohammed Hassan, the head of Dubai Municipality's marine department, also said shark attacks were unheard of off the UAE. "In Australia it is common, but here it is not normal," he said. "They think the board is a seal and they take a bite out of it but we don't have any man-eating sharks in our water. There are barracuda in Jumeirah but it is hard to believe." Despite the experts' scepticism, Mr Geraghty has a four-inch gash on his foot to prove that something bit him. Last Saturday, as Mr Geraghty was taking advantage of a small swell, he was pulled from his board in deep water.

"I looked around and there was blood coming from this wound on my foot. We couldn't identify it," he said. "I thought there was some debris or some construction material in the water besides the fact I got pulled off the board." Once a doctor cleaned the wound, a V-shaped bite was quite visible, Mr Geraghty said. "There were two major gashes going from my big toe all the way down to the ball of my foot. They go all the way down to my bone. But the jury is still out."

Yesterday, Dubai's surfing fraternity took advantage of a strong low pressure blowing in, which created one of the seasons' best swells. Scott Chambers, of Surf Dubai, said he had not been aware of any previous shark incidents. "There are lots of surfers out there who are obviously not worried about sharks," he said.