Read an Excerpt
Killers in the Water
The New Supershark Terrorising the Wolrd's Oceans
By Sue Blackhall
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2012 Sue Blackhall
All rights reserved.
THE RED SEA SERIAL KILLER
'I BEGAN TO REALISE I WAS BEING EATEN ALIVE ...'
Egypt's tourist hot spot the Red Sea rightly deserved its name at the end of 2010 for the crystal-clear waters, a haven for divers because of the prolific sea life, were indeed turning red – with the blood of those maimed and killed by a shark.
But this was no one-off attack. It was if the beast was lying in wait for its prey; its taste for blood sharpened, its natural instincts enflamed to such a degree that human flesh and bone were literally easy meat.
Death and devastation were the only words to describe the events that occurred at the holiday resort of Sharm El Sheikh during the serial-killer shark's reign. The attacks left one woman dead and four other people horrifically injured – and memories equally scarring. So desperate were the authorities to bring an end to the nightmare that chaos and confusion abounded – with the predator proving as slippery as its stealthy movements below the water. Its deadly attacks were killing off the beach tourism that contributes a massive percentage towards the £7.8bn ($12bn) or so reaped by Egypt's travel industry every year.
The shark seized its first victim around 2.40pm on Tuesday, 30 November 2010 at Tiran Beach. Russian woman Olga Martsinko, 48, lost an arm and was horrifically mauled as she snorkelled with her daughter (Elena, 21) in shallow waters close to the beach with the darkly ironical name of Shark's Bay. The first time Olga realised she was not alone in the water was when her outstretched hand touched a solid bulk. Warnings of 'Shark! Shark!' were screamed in Russian by fellow holidaymakers. An Oceanic Whitetip – the species described by famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau as 'the most dangerous of all sharks' – was on the attack. Olga later gave a graphic account of her horrific ordeal.
'At first I thought it was a dolphin, and then this black fin; I saw it right in front of me, this black fin. When it caught me by the arm I felt three rows of teeth. I felt a sharp pain as it came up, sank its teeth into my arm and began to wag me around. I knew there were predators in the sea but I never expected to meet a monster face to face. Like a spark, a clear thought flashed through my mind that it was a shark. It went under me and bit my buttock and tore it off; tore one of my buttocks right off. It tried to pull me down with it into the sea and I saw the huge jaws and sharp fin beside me. The shark let me go for a second and I swam away. But it came back for more, biting me again and again from behind. If I had not had my flippers on, it would have taken off both my legs. I began to realise that I was being eaten alive; that I might not be able to reach the pontoon. I immediately realised I could die, right then.'
By the time Olga made it to the pontoon to be dragged to safety by shocked tourists, she had lost a chunk of her right thigh and buttock; her hand and arm were also missing. The waters were red with her blood and still more poured from her appalling injuries.
Olga's daughter gave her own emotional account: 'We were only 30 feet (9m) away from the jetty and could easily see the other people on the beach. My mother suddenly disappeared under the water and I saw the shark swirling her down. When she came up again, the shark let go and she shouted "Spasite, akula!" ("Help me, shark!") If she had not swum fast with her flippers, she would have lost her legs as it chased her to the jetty.'
Olga was flown to Cairo's Nasser Institute Hospital, where the surgeon on duty, Dr. Mohamed Dahi, was shocked at the severity of her injuries – 'I walked into the emergency room and when I saw the victim, I found her arm was amputated up to the elbow. I saw the wound at the back of her. It was about 40cm (16in) by 50cm (20in).'
Just minutes after the attack on Olga there was a second one. At 2.55pm, another Russian woman, Lyudmila Stolyarova, was swimming close to the shore and the pontoon, and well within the buoy area. She felt something brush against her and assumed it was a diver coming to the surface of the sea. But it was a shark: 'It swam between me and the sea shore, so you see I had nowhere to go,' said Lyudmila. 'It started to swim in circles around me, in circles, and right then it started – started to attack me. It bit my arm off. It bit it off! I lifted my arm up in the air and started screaming "Help, shark!" Only when they started hauling me onto a boat did I realise my leg was bitten off.'
Meanwhile, her husband Vladimir, 72, had been forced to look on helplessly. 'I looked up and there – oh no! People were carrying my wife on a sun bed and the ambulance was waiting. It was such a horror. What I saw there when she lifted her arm, I won't describe all the horrors, the torn wounds.' The special holiday break the couple had been enjoying to celebrate Lyudmila's 70th birthday ended in a nightmare, with Vladimir's pleas to his wife not to go into the water because he felt uneasy proving justified. Diving instructor Hassan Salem, who had been on the dive, told how he was circled by the shark before it attacked the victims: 'I was able to scare the shark away by blowing bubbles in its face, but then saw it swim to a woman and bite her legs,' he said.
Lyudmila, too, was a victim of an Oceanic Whitetip and was also rushed to the Cairo hospital. Again, Dr. Dahi was confronted with the devastation caused by a shark on the human body: 'She had an amputated arm and an amputated leg. At our hospital we have experienced injuries caused by sharks. They were mainly caused by small sharks – not like this. This time it looks to be a large shark, I feel there is a problem in the sea.'
The next day, Wednesday, 1 December at 10.55am, Ukrainian snorkeller Viktor Koliy, 46, was attacked within minutes of jumping from the pontoon in Shark's Bay. But it was this attack that made the authorities realise that not one, but two species of shark were preying on humans. This time the attacker was a Mako shark. Yet, like the Oceanic Whitetip, it was far from its deep-sea home and had strayed into shallow waters. Koliy's arm was torn and he was pulled from the water, the haemorrhaging from his injuries turning the sea red again.
Just five minutes later, 54-year-old Russian marine captain Yevgeniy Trishkin became the next victim to be savaged in a shark's jaws; not those of the Mako, but an Oceanic Whitetip. His left arm was torn off from below the elbow and his other hand mauled as he swam near Naama Bay on the third day of his holiday. Like the other victims, Trishkin had been swimming in the 'safe' area marked for swimming. Children had been playing in the water and there were no warning signs about the threat of sharks.
Afterwards Trishkin recalled: 'At the end of the pontoon there was a sharp depth increase and the colour of the sea gets a much darker blue, almost black. I swam into this and by the time I saw the shark, it was too late. It came from the deep and was the same black colour as the sea; it bit and started chewing my left arm. I hit it with my right arm while it continued to eat the left away. I hit its nose several times and for a second it opened up its jaws, but only to bite my other hand. It was a huge creature. The people on the jetty heard my cries and came to rescue me just as I was losing consciousness. They dragged me out of the water.'
His ordeal was witnessed first hand by British holidaymakers Jim and Joanna Farr, who had been snorkelling over the coral reef. Before swimming away in terror, they quickly took photographs of the attack, which identified the Oceanic Whitetip shark as the one responsible for previous attacks because it had the same chunk missing from its dorsal fin. Jim, 58, had actually been bumped by the shark before it made its way to its victim. He remembered: 'We were in the water, just swimming along quite casually when we came across an area which was a diving pontoon. Below us was the coral reef and three divers or four divers down there; you could see all the bubbles, but it was as clear as anything. It was wonderful, fish galore. Two guys jumped off the pontoon just in front of us and they swam past me. As they swam past, I felt this bang on my back – I thought they had jumped off the pontoon on top of me. But I looked up and could see the pontoon was about ten feet away from me.'
Jim and his wife Joanna, 42, were dragged to safety in a boat. Joanna takes up the story: 'The snorkel guide took his snorkel out and shouted "Shark, shark! Get out the water now! We were about twenty or thirty metres from the boat and we literally just had to swim for it, knowing there was a shark in the water. There was screaming and shouting; people just went wild. Everyone was in shock. You could see blood pouring through the pontoon, staining the water red. The guy next to him had his head in his hands because he had just witnessed it all. People were screaming and they were still pulling people out of the water. Some were running along the platform to the safety of the shore and people on the beach had run back in terror, standing 10m (33ft) from the shoreline to get as far from the water as they could. There was total panic. Our guide told us he had seen a 3.5m- (11ft) long shark in the water and pointed to the Oceanic Whitetip in my fish guide. They took us away from the scene as quickly as possible and tried to convince us it was probably someone who had cut themselves on the coral but we knew it was a shark and nobody wanted to get back in the water.'
Jim adds: 'I could see the guy being pulled up onto the pontoon. There was blood everywhere, blood squirting everywhere – it was like a war scene.' The couple literally had to swim for their lives. 'It was only when we got back [that] we heard the shark had attacked several swimmers and realised what a close shave we had had,' said Joanna. Among the photographs they took were some that showed blood pouring off the pontoon as Trishkin was pulled to safety.
Local diving instructor Marcus Maurer helped with the rescue. 'There was a lot of blood. I saw the shark stay there for a while and we started the rescue situation. A lot of people had been carrying the man up, so we gave him oxygen support and we brought him directly to hospital. Usually we do not see sharks. We have lots of people during the year snorkelling, swimming and diving at this place. You do not see sharks because they are shy animals.'
Mohamed Rashad, a barman at the nearby al-Bahr beach restaurant was one of those who could only look on in horror as those in the water attempted to flee to safety. 'The sea went red!' he said. British holidaymaker Nina Dydzinski, 46, from Wigan, Lancashire was relaxing on the beach when she heard the shouts – 'I had just come in from the water, where I'd been snorkelling close to the beach. I heard a man shouting. Everyone panicked.' Her husband, Jarostaw, 49, was lucky to escape. He was in the water when the hysterical cries rang through the air, but managed to scramble to safety. 'Everyone was just trying to climb onto the jetty,' he said.
No wonder tour operators reported a significant drop in the number of Russian tourists making their way to Egypt. 'There is no doubt that the news coverage of the shark attacks in Sharm El Sheikh has scared tourists away,' admitted Irina Sivenko of Moscow's TanTour tour agency, before adding that while most tourists were refusing to go to Sharm El Sheikh, others had actually contacted the company to see if package holidays there were now cheaper.
Despite determined efforts to stress the rarity of shark attacks in the Egyptian waters, this was no consolation for holidaymakers or those endeavouring to bring an end to it all. 'We are monitoring the situation very closely and working together with all authorities to ensure the safety of all members and visitors in the Red Sea,' said Hesham Gabr, chairman of Egypt's Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS), 'Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.'
No one could have imagined that worse was yet to come.
Desperate not to lose vital tourist trade – up to five million holidaymakers every year – the authorities knew they must hunt down the killer. But was it one main predator or more? Some had witnessed the Oceanic Whitetip in action; others reported seeing the Mako shark. The CDWS stated that it was 'working continuously with all the relevant authorities and shark experts to try to resolve this situation in the most appropriate and safe way for all concerned.' Furthermore, it was calling on the help of experts to 'form an advisory team on the best course of action' following the Naama Bay incident. In other words, it was time to bring in the heavy mob. Three shark experts from America were flown in to Sharm El Sheikh – Dr. George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and curator of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History; Marie Levine, head of the Shark Research Institute at Princeton, and Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee.
'When you have these many shark attacks in such a short period of time, there must have been something to incite it,' pronounced Dr. Burgess. 'It does not conform to normal shark behaviour in the least bit.' Collier said: 'I have been working in the field of shark interaction since 1963 and this is the first time I have ever seen injuries this severe and this localised as far as the area of the body that was bitten is concerned. We always hear that sharks like human flesh, but of course that is not true. Sharks don't like humans – it's as simple as that.' Back in the US, a fourth expert – shark behaviourist Erich Ritter – was on hand to advise from his research centre.
'My job was to figure out why,' he said. 'Every wound tells a story. Sharks' teeth are like fingerprints. They are identifiable to a specific species based on the shape and the function of the tooth. Mako sharks have sharp, pointed teeth which slash through their prey, whereas Oceanic Whitetips have serrated teeth which leave a straight cut in their victims. What this told me was that most wounds were inflicted by an Oceanic Whitetip, but one person was actually bitten by a Mako shark.' All of which surprised Ritter. 'Humans are not the normal prey of sharks – we are terrestrial animals, we don't live in the ocean. Sharks feed on things they see and live with every day in the marine environment. We are not on the menu. If they are showing up in shallow waters, then there must be a very powerful trigger.'
It was a view shared by diving instructor Marcus Maurer, who said that although the powerful Oceanic Whitetip was indigenous to the Red Sea, thousands of divers had encountered them without any problems: 'I have now had more than 3,000 dives and I have never had a problem with them. This is a really unusual event. I think the chance of dying by an aeroplane accident is much bigger than getting involved in a shark attack. The instructors and divers who come here are actually looking for sharks because we love them. And that is really, really, an excellent experience for everybody.'
Yet another shark expert – Samuel Gruber, head of Miami's world-famous Bimini Biological Field Station – described the attacks as 'unprecedented'. He said: 'A shark in one day bit more than one person. In all my years reading about sharks and writing about them, you never hear about sharks biting more than one person, then for it to happen the next day is almost like a Jaws' scenario. Finding the shark is pretty much a crapshoot – it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack.'
Gruber said such frenzied feeding is normally reserved for shipwreck survivors. The most infamous took place during World War II when the Nova Scotia – a steamship carrying around 1,000 people – was sunk near South Africa by a German submarine. With only 192 survivors, many deaths were attributed to the Whitetip. Packs of sharks moved in for the kill and those on rafts could only look on in horror as their fellow passengers, desperately thrashing about in the water, were eaten alive. Sergeant Lorenzo Bucci recalled: 'A lone swimmer would appear, then suddenly throw his arms in the air, scream and disappear. Soon after, a reddish blob would colour the water.' Later, around 120 corpses washed up on Durban's beaches. And on 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed, with many of the 800 sailors on board succumbing to shark attacks, as well as exposure. In fact, the Oceanic Whitetip is responsible for more fatal attacks on humans than any other species combined. There were five such recorded attacks in 2009.
Meanwhile, back at the Rea Sea and events of 2011, some expressed cynicism about the intervention of high-profile experts. One dive-centre owner observed: 'Why did they need to import all these specialists merely to come up with the same explanations that we all had from day one?'
Excerpted from Killers in the Water by Sue Blackhall. Copyright © 2012 Sue Blackhall. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.