Hoping to protect the local tourism industry over July 4, the beach resort's mayor initially downplays the danger of shark attacks - but is forced to bring in a marine biologist and a shark hunter when things turn really ugly. That was the story line in Jaws, Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster movie, and a similar scenario is currently being played out in real life at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
It began 10 days ago when the normally pristine tropical waters turned a murky red, after sharks mauled three Russians and a Ukrainian over a two-day period. With the world-renowned snorkel and dive center heading into the holiday high season, local governor Mohammed Shosha closed off the beaches for 48 hours, during which time the authorities killed two sharks. He then declared the all clear and reopened the beaches. But within 24 hours, in keeping with the Jaws story line, it became brutally clear that Shosha had been wrong: a German woman standing chest-deep in the water was killed by another shark. (Read "Humans and Sharks: Why Can't We Be Friends?")
"We did some efforts last week but I think we failed," Salem Saleh, director of the town's Tourism Authority told TIME on Monday. He acknowledged that the sharks responsible for the killings are probably still at large. The resort, which Egyptian authorities say draws some 4 million tourists every year, has become the site of an international biological murder mystery.
Over six days, five swimmers were attacked by sharks. That compares to just six attacks over the previous decade in Egypt, according to the Global Shark Attack File, a scientific archive that documents shark attacks worldwide. And at least six of those 11 incidents are believed to have involved the solitary oceanic whitetip - a shark species that doesn't usually rank among the top killers. More startling still is that the clear, coral-rimmed waters off Sharm el-Sheikh aren't exactly shark central. "The last sharks I saw were maybe four or five months ago," says Sherrif Khairat, a local dive instructor, who leads two or three dives a day. A shark sighting is considered "lucky," he says, because the animals are so rare.
And then the story gets downright creepy: scientists and government authorities declared Wednesday night, after a day of preliminary investigations, that at least two of the five attacks had been carried out by a single shark - a lone "serial attacker," says shark expert George Burgess, one of three American scientists flown in to find answers. "This is a really unusual event - not just because they occurred so close to each other in such a geographic space, but because of the fact that we can actually say with certainty that one individual shark was involved in two of them without fail," he says. "That has not been documented before."
SHOOT: I've often thought that people swimming in the sea don't only make easy meat for sharks [it's not contest to catch a human if you're a shark] but also a fairly plentiful food source compared to seals etc. And if your food supply is less than ideal, aren't people a perfect substitute?
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