BRITs have been warned to be vigilant on holiday this summer, following an increase in shark attacks in the Mediterranean.
Overfishing and a return in tourist numbers after two years of the Covid pandemic are allowing sharks at various holiday hotspots to invade waters ever closer to humans.
While fortunately rare, shark attacks can occur in the Mediterranean and some UK 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 sharks have been recorded in the Mediterranean, including the deadly great white shark.
Great whites in the Mediterranean can grow up to 6.6 m in length, according to specimens found so far.
Most scientists believe that human-shark encounters in the Mediterranean will become more frequent as the deeper waters in which they live become increasingly overfished.
However, shark numbers are likely to decline overall due to habitat destruction and industrial fishing fleets.
This basically means that sharks in general are likely to become rarer, but human-shark interactions may increase in frequency and danger.
Certain parts of the Mediterranean have long been known to be home to sharks.
Breeding sharks are known to live in the Strait of Sicily, due to the large tuna populations in the waters.
Sharks have been found in the Mediterranean, from Spain to Egypt, with dozens of attacks recorded over the past 20 years.
Since 2000, Egypt has seen the most attacks of any country in the region, with 20 recorded attacks, four of which were fatal.
Spain has seen the second highest number of shark attacks, with 12 recorded over the same period, although all victims were alive.
Outside of Egypt, three deadly shark attacks have been recorded in the Mediterranean, two in Italy and one in Cyprus since the turn of the millennium.
Speaking to The Sun Online, shark expert Alessandro De Maddalena said: “The increase in sightings is due to three factors: the increase in the human population, the fact that anyone can now photograph or film anything they see thanks to the spread of smartphones and other devices, and the advent of social media that allows such images to reach a global audience.”
We are starting to see some locations where sharks appear regularly, such as Israel
Expert Yannis Papastamatiou, an associate professor at Florida International University, asked about the alleged 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 the shark population is increasing!
“We should see these sightings continue for longer periods of time before we can say there are more sharks.”
Alessandro, adjunct professor of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of Milan-Bicocca, shark researcher and author of Mediterranean Great White Sharks: A Comprehensive Study continued: “Overfishing of sharks and their prey is why shark numbers have gradually and alarmingly declined over the past 50 years.”
Yannis added: “The Mediterranean has historically had overfished sharks and overall populations are quite low.
“However, we are starting to see some locations where sharks appear regularly, such as Israel.
“Overall, all the evidence still suggests very low shark numbers.”
The Mediterranean is the world’s most human-depleted sea, with nearly two-thirds of fish stocks overfished, according to a Report commissioned by the UN 2018.
Great whites in particular are known to target areas with high concentrations of seals and sea lions, but they can be more opportunistic.
Yannis continued: “The chances of being bitten by a shark are extremely low, especially in the Mediterranean, as shark populations are small.
“Of course the chance is never zero! It’s not a good idea to bleed into the water, but having bleeding fish — and especially struggling injured fish — will be more of a lure, like spearfishing.
“Other things you can do is avoid the water after heavy storms, don’t swim at dawn or dusk, and don’t swim near estuaries.
“Be attentive. Most of the waters on 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 numbers of sharks in the Mediterranean is notoriously tricky, with maps of shark sightings and attacks just one way to build a picture.
As Alessandro put it: “In general, sharks, like most wild animals, prefer to keep their distance from humans.
“Most divers who regularly dive in Mediterranean waters have never encountered a shark.
“Therefore, any shark encounter in the area should be seen as a positive event, not something to be feared.”