BRITS have been warned to be vigilant on holiday this summer, after an increase in shark attacks in the Mediterranean.
Overfishing and a return in tourist numbers after two years of the Covid pandemic could see sharks entering waters ever closer to humans in several holiday hotspots.
Although mercifully rare, shark attacks can happen in the Mediterranean and some Brit holiday hotspots
It comes after the world’s fastest shark, a 15-foot beast, was spotted off the coast of Spain.
To date, 51 species of shark have been recorded in the Mediterranean Sea, including the deadly great white shark.
Great whites in the Med can grow to up to 6.6m long, according to specimens found so far.
Most scientists believe that human-shark encounters in the Med will become more common as the deeper waters where they live are increasingly overfished.
However, shark numbers are likely to fall overall due to the destruction of their habitats and industrial fishing fleets.
In effect, this means sharks are likely to become rarer overall, but human-shark interactions will potentially increase in frequency and danger.
Certain areas of the Med have long been known to be home to sharks.
Breeding sharks are known to inhabit the Strait of Sicily, due to the large tuna populations in the waters.
Sharks have been found across the Med, from Spain to Egypt, with dozens of attacks recorded in the past 20 years.
Since 2000, Egypt has seen the most attacks of any country in the region, with 20 recorded, four of them fatal.
Spain has seen the next highest number of shark attacks with 12 recorded in the same period, although all of the victims lived.
Outside of Egypt, three fatal shark attacks have been recorded in the Med since the turn of the millennium, two in Italy and one in Cyprus.
Speaking to The Sun Online, shark expert Alessandro De Maddalena said: “The increase in sightings is due to three factors, the increase in human population, the fact that anyone today can photograph or film anything they see at any time thanks to the spread of smartphones and other devices, and the advent of social media through which such images reach a global audience.”
We are starting to see some locations where sharks are appearing regularly, such as Israel
Expert Yannis Papastamatiou, an associate professor at Florida International University, asked about the supposed increase in shark sightings in the Mediterranean, told The Sun Online: “I think it’s too early to say.
“It’s not common to see sharks close to shore, but seeing three animals doesn’t mean there is an increase in the shark population!
“We would need to see these sightings continue over longer time periods before we could say there are more sharks.”
Alessandro, Adjunct Professor of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of Milano-Bicocca, shark researcher and author of Mediterranean Great White Sharks: A Comprehensive Study went on: “Overfishing of sharks and their prey is the reason why over the past 50 years there has been a progressive and alarming decrease in the number of sharks.”
Yannis added: “The Mediterranean has historically overfished sharks, and in general, population numbers are pretty low.
“However, we are starting to see some locations where sharks are appearing regularly, such as Israel.
“Overall, all evidence still suggests very low shark numbers.”
The Mediterranean is the world’s most human-depleted sea, with almost two-thirds of its fish stocks overfished, according to a 2018 UN-commissioned report.
Great whites in particular are known to target areas with high concentrations of seals and sea lions, but they can be more opportunistic to.
Yannis went on: “The chance of being bitten by a shark is extremely low and especially in the Mediterranean as shark population sizes are low.
“Of course, it’s never a zero chance! It’s not a good idea to be bleeding in the water, but having bleeding fish – and particularly struggling wounded fish – is going to be more of an attractant, such as spearfishing.
“Other things you can do is avoid the waters after heavy storms, avoid swimming at dawn or dusk, and avoid swimming close to river mouths.
“Be observant. Most of the waters in the popular beaches are very clear so if there is an approaching shark, someone will see it.
“When you swim, swim with at least one other person – that’s a good idea for general safety.”
Plotting precise shark numbers in the Med is notoriously tricky, with maps of shark sightings and attacks just one way of building up a picture.
As Alessandro put it: “Generally sharks, like most wild animals, prefer to keep their distance from humans.
“Most divers who regularly dive in Mediterranean waters have never encountered a single shark.
“Therefore each encounter with a shark in the area should be considered a positive event, not something to be feared.”