31 sharks species in UAE waters, but odds of attack negligible

GREAT WHITE SHARK: The fact this beast has some three thousand teeth should give you a clue as to his fearsomeness. While they usually feed on fish, seals and other sea animals, should a surfer find him/herself in the wrong place at the wrong time they might be mistaken for dinner. (GETTY/GALLO)

In South Africa last week, Mick Fanning was waiting for the perfect wave when a shark suddenly approached him from behind.

Under the eyes of a terrified audience, he punched and kicked the shark, a defence mechanism that saved his life.

With the whole scene on record, the twist to the Open World Surf League event at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa resembled a typical scene from the thriller movie Jaws.

What is the probability of such a scenario playing out here in the UAE?

After all, as Rima Jabado, Fisheries Expert at the Ministry of Environment and Water points out, there are 31 sharks species that have been identified in UAE waters, and among these are deep water as well as coastal sharks.

Should UAE beachgoers be cautious before dipping their toes in the tempting cool sea? The short answer is: No.

According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), a database run by a university in Florida that records the number of provoked as well as unprovoked shark attacks in the world, only two shark attacks have been recorded in the UAE in history.

This record is a lot less worrying than the 242 recorded cases in South Africa, where human-shark encounter is a common.

The UAE coast is not known for shark attacks, say the experts.

“There are sharks that come onshore, it is their natural habitat after all,” says Ministry of Environment and Water’s Jabado.

According to divers in the UAE, most sharks they come across are harmless.

“In general, sharks are very shy. When they see a human in the water, they are probably just curious, because they see a big noisy fish they do not know,” says Bonita Carr, an experienced diver in Dubai.

“I love sharks. Their presence is a sign that a healthy ecosystem is in place.

“We see a lot of whale sharks, which are amazing creatures that feed on plankton. I have seen a Hammerhead, which is a little more dangerous for humans, in Musandam. But even this shark is mostly harmless,” she narrated, adding that she has never been harmed or faced a dangerous situation.

The danger is more prominent when people are not aware of the possible presence of sharks in certain waters, and insist on sharing these waters with the sea mammals.

Around the world, 130 incidents of alleged shark-human interaction were recorded by ISAF in 2014. In 72 of these incidents, it concerned unprovoked shark attacks on humans, or incidents where an attack on a live human by a shark occurred in its natural habitat without human provocation of the shark.

The number was lower than the 75 recorded in 2013 and represents the lowest global total since 68 in 2009.

In general, however, the number of worldwide unprovoked shark attacks has grown at a steady pace since 1900, with each decade having more attacks than the previous, ISAF pointed out.

“The number of shark-human interactions occurring in a given year is directly correlated with the amount of time humans spend in the sea. As world population continues its upsurge and interest in aquatic recreation concurrently rises, we realistically should expect increases in the number of shark attacks and other aquatic recreation-related injuries.”

The UAE does not form an exception to this logic, and although incidents are rare, they cannot be statistically ruled out.

Last week, an alleged shark was spotted off the coast of Ajman, where a tourist filmed the shark swimming in low waters from his apartment. The report could not be confirmed.

In 2011, two Hammerheads were spotted in the popular Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) waters, and swimmers were instructed to get out of the water.

“A shark could go onshore for many reasons," said Jabado.

“But it is difficult to predict when a shark would attack a human."

That being said, she believes that humans should not be surprised by the presence of the sea habitants, and their potential danger.

“If you go on safari and jump out of the car in front of a lion, you would not expect the lion not to attack either.”

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