Sunday, December 5, 2010

Shark Attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Interview with Red Sea Diving College

Another tragic shark attack in the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh, this time fatal, prompted us to interview a local dive shop in the region via SKYPE today.

The mainstream media's coverage has been typical, covering these ongoing attacks with no real background or substance.

Obviously something has changed in the region and with the sharks off Sharm el-Sheikh.

We chose Red Sea Diving College, a 20 year dive industry veteran, and for the past 4 years winner of the "Best Dive Center Award".

We interviewed dive center manager Jochen Van Lysebettens who has been diving Sharm el-Sheikh for the past 5 years to get a better idea of what is happening on the ground level.

Ocean and beachfront based tourism in Egypt accounts for $10 billion dollars of the Egyptian economy. The stakes for these recent shark attacks cannot be understated or underestimated.

Worldwide, shark attacks resonate though the entire shark diving industry, four attacks in one region and in one week are "unprecedented".

Jochen was forthcoming and frank. In his opinion "something must have triggered these attacks". He is also a pro-shark and pro-industry advocate with a deep understanding of conservation and the impact these unfortunate attacks have on the perception of sharks globally.

Interview with Jochen Van Lysebettens

Shark Diver: So, there's a lot of media focus on the shark species responsible for these attacks with Oceanic Whitetips (Carcharhinus longimanus) being the prime culprit here. What's your take, is this the species responsible?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: A diver took a some pictures of Oceanic Whitetips in the area of the first shark attack minutes before it happened, so I am comfortable that is was an Oceanic responsible for the first attacks. There has been no positive identification on the fatal attack yesterday.

Shark Diver: How rare is this for Oceanics to be behaving in this manner in and around Sharm el-Sheikh?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: Very, very rare. Oceanics never attack divers, they are curious in the water, but we just do not see this kind of behaviour, we also don't bait the sharks.

Shark Diver: So what is happening in Sharm el-Sheikh, what's the word on the street, what are the local dive shops talking about?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: There are rumors, Chinese whispers, of sheep floating in the water.

Shark Diver: Sheep in the water? How does a sheep get in the water?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: One instructor from another dive shop says he saw a dead sheep floating in the water a few days before the first attack, could have been transported and fallen into the water. Is it chumming or not, I do not know. But, as I said these are rumors only.

Shark Diver: What about the targeted shark killings by the Egyptian government? Was that necessary? What has been the local response?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: We are against it, all the dive shops are against it. Publicity killings. Public relations. When the shark killings started by another government agency we, along with other dive shops, contacted The Chamber of Diving and Watersports and they put a stop to it right away.

Shark Diver: They killed two sharks looking for evidence of the attacks, what was your alternate plan?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: The CDWS gathered together 40 dive instructors from all the dive shops and conducted a complete dive survey of the attack sites, looking for anything that might indicate a trigger for these attacks. We spent time in the water observing the sharks and looking at everything.

Shark Diver: Did they find anything?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: N0 they didn't, but we did stop the publicity shark killings, we are totally against any shark killings in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Shark Diver: After yesterdays fatal shark attack on a German swimmer, what's the next step?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: Tomorrow we will conduct another complete dive survey, this time with 40+ dive instructors in the water. Something triggered these sharks.

Shark Diver: Is that is what your gut is telling you?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: Yes, I am convinced something is triggering these sharks, the next step is to have a marine biologist come in and have a look at the area, maybe he can get some answers for us.

Shark Diver: In your opinion how has the mainstream media handled these tragic events?

Jochen Van Lysebettens:
The coverage has been good and bad. It's important for the media to include a marine biologist or someone to defend the sharks. People do not have to be afraid of sharks.

Shark Diver: I know you have a lot of work ahead, what's your takeaway quote for now?

Jochen Van Lysebettens: Humans enter into the sharks territory, we want to keep shark encounters natural and safe.

Our impression from this interview was that the dive shops in Sharm el-Sheikh are fully invested in finding out why their sharks are behaving in this manner and are very pro-shark. As time moves forward we will get a better understanding of what, if anything, triggered the sharks. In the meantime dive operations are defending these animals from the kind of knee jerk government response that would have them fished out of the water.

Update Email:


RE:Dead Animals

TO me it is amazing after several reports and testimoney of dive guides, that hardly anything has been mentioned about the dead livestock dumped overboard by a transport ship, which has occurred several times in the past month. The hotel of the diving center where I work in Sharm el Sheikh found dead sheep on the washed up on the beach about 2 weeks ago, and dive guides reported seeing dead sheep in the water in the Strait of Tiran, which is near to the location of the attacks. Although the information about the dead livestock needs to be confirmed, it to me makes the most sense about the behavior of the sharks. Having dead livestock dumped in the water over the course of a 1 month period or more would be equivalent to feeding the sharks. The types of food that people sneak into the water, such as boiled eggs and bread is not attracting sharks, but dead livestock definitely would do the job.