A SHARK which killed two women over the weekend in Egypt could have been the same animal, an expert has warned.
It comes amid fears overfishing and “shark feeding” experiences for tourists are driving the predators to the shores.
Several beaches were shut on Egypt‘s Red Sea coast after two women – one Austrian and one Romanian – were killed in separate shark attacks within 600 metres of each other.
A 68-year-old woman from the Tyrol region of Austria – who was on holiday in Egypt, died on Friday after losing an arm and a leg in an attack while swimming in the sea.
Elizabeth Sauer had told her husband she was just going back into the water “for a moment” just before the fatal incident.
Egyptian authorities have said that a Mako shark was responsible for her death.
On Sunday, a Romanian woman was found dead on Sunday after she was attacked as well.
Both incidents took place off the coast of Sahl Hasheesh near the city of Hurghada, approximately 60 miles southwest of the popular resort of Sharm El Sheikh.
Shark attacks are incredibly rare in the Red Sea, with no more than a handful every couple of years.
However, in 2010, five people were attacked in the space of as many days in Sharm El Sheikh, with a 71-year-old German woman dying from her injuries.
Speaking to The Sun Online, Dr Lucy Hawkes from the University of Exeter warned that it is possible both of the fatal attacks of the weekend were carried out by the same shark.
Dr Hawkes, a Senior Lecturer in Physiological Ecology who has travelled to the Red Sea to tag sharks for conservation purposes, said that human actions are decimating the shark population while driving them further and further in search of food.
She warned of the danger of “shark provisioning sites” where humans go to feed sharks meat, sometimes by hand.
“This doesn’t help,” she said. “You are putting more food into the water around people, and you are helping sharks learn not to be too afraid around humans.”
She added that catching sharks accidentally when fishing can also increase the risk of attacks, and warned about the dangers of marine wildlife tourism.
“It is difficult not to want to see these amazing animals up close,” she said. “But it is not a helpful thing to do.”
You are putting more food into the water around people, and you are helping sharks learn not to be too afraid around humans
Dr Lucy Hawkes
Sam Purkis, chair of the Department of Marine Geosciences at the University of Miami, also told The Sun Online it was “possible” that the same shark had been involved in both attacks over the weekend, although he said he believed it was “unlikely” that one shark would repeat its behaviour in this way.
Instead, he said, there may have been another event which caused multiple sharks to surface at the same time.
He points to the dumping of animal carcases in the Red Sea by passing cargo ships.
“That leads sharks to the surface to scavenge, bringing them into contact with swimmers,” he explained.
The Red Sea is also unusual by being extremely deep close to the shore.
“This means bigger animals come in close to shore, as compared to shallower waters such as the Arabian Gulf,” he went on.
“Most sharks are pelagic – open-water – and humans would never normally overlap with them, but the Red Sea is different.”
However, shark attacks remain incredibly rare, and Dr Hawkes points out that the chance of such an incident is becoming less likely due to their decreasing numbers.
“We’ve decimated them,” she said. “There has been a 70 per cent decrease in shark numbers since 1970. In that time, fishing has increased 20 per cent.”
She went on: “I was in the Red Sea in 2020 to tag sharks for conservation purposes. We spent seven weeks searching, and in that time, only found four.
“Humans are bad for sharks, they want fatty creatures like seals and tuna. We are like a bony chicken wing with no sauce on in comparison.
“It is unusual for a shark to come up to a human. I’ve been in the ocean surrounded by chunks of meat and blood and the shark still didn’t want to come up to me.
“Most of the time, when a shark attacks a human, it is a case of mistaken identity.”
Sam Purkis agrees, adding: “So many people swim in the Red Sea, it is a popular tourist destination, and yet we have still seen only a handful of shark attacks there in the past decade.
“You can use nets to fence off beaches, but these can entangle creatures such as dolphins and whales.”
He added: “The Red Sea is severely overfished, and the shark’s natural prey is rare, so this can drive them to the surface.”
Dr Hawkes called for “common sense” in response to the tragic deaths over the weekends.
She described killing sharks to thin out the population as a “dumb idea”, and added: “Wildlife is incredible and amazing, but sometimes that means it is frightening.”