HEPCA on attack after tiger shark fatality

Tiger shark (Steve Weinman)
Tiger shark (Steve Weinman)
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Deformities on the tiger shark that killed Russian swimmer Vladimir Popov in the Red Sea on 9 June meant that it was likely to be unable to manoeuvre properly in the water, according to a response to the incident issued by the Hurghada Environmental Protection & Conservation Association (HEPCA).

Combined with a scarcity of the shark’s natural diet caused by overfishing, this could have prompted it to seek waters in which it would be easier for it to find weak prey – such as the shallows off Dream Beach, says the organisation.

In its rapidly produced statement HEPCA has taken aim at a number of targets, including the media, social media, those people who took it on themselves to beat the shark to death, and regulatory authorities that it says need to take urgent action to prevent such incidents happening again.

HEPCA, a non-governmental organisation formed by scuba divers in 1992, declared its “strong condemnation” for media posting video of the incident. It said that expert opinion had not been sought, that unprofessional opinions had been expressed and that the privacy of those involved had not been respected.  

The fatal incident was covered on Divernet, although it chose not to show any of the images or video. It also cited conclusions from HEPCA’s 2022 report about two previous fatal incidents in Hurghada, thought to have involved one or more tiger sharks.

’Wrong human behaviour’

Revisiting some of its observations from that previous report, HEPCA has suggested that the sort of shark behaviour that caused Popov’s death in Hurghada was the result of “wrong human behaviour, such as overfishing, waste-disposal by dumping it into the sea, excessive use of natural resources and failure to manage them properly, in a sustainable environmental manner.

“We warn that such wrong practices that change the behaviour of sharks may turn them from being a tourist attraction into a tourist expulsion factor,” said HEPCA.

The association went on to state that Egypt’s reputation, its tourism and the environment had been damaged by the circulation of footage showing the tiger shark being battered to death by people on the beach after it had been removed from the water.

The shark had remained in the area for more than three hours before being caught in a net and towed ashore, but its killing had been a criminal offence, said HEPCA. 

The shark was later examined by experts from HEPCA, Northern Red Sea Islands IMMA and the National Institute of Marine Science & Fisheries. They concluded from dorsal fin and tail lacerations and deformities – presumably sustained before its mistreatment on the beach – that the animal would have been unable to manoeuvre normally in its natural environment, putting it at a disadvantage when trying to feed. 

Warned of the dangers

HEPCA says that in recent months it has been warning the authorities of the danger of such incidents occurring, especially at the present time of year, when fish including sharks are breeding.

“The recurrence of these incidents sounds an alarm and indicates the need to start immediately to change human behaviour and stop the wrong practices that occur daily on Red Sea coasts – especially poaching,” it says. 

HEPCA has called for unregulated commercial fishing to be stopped in the interests of tourism, with fishers to be adequately compensated by the Red Sea Governorate, and for recreational fishing to be significantly reduced “for a long period”.

It says that with natural fish stocks reduced to “a critical level”, the shortage of prey could be a contributory factor in the changing behaviour of sharks.

The organisation wants controls on disposal of organic waste from boats to be tightened up, especially at berths and anchorages near beaches, and is calling for action at national level. 

It is also pushing for the entire great fringing reef of Egypt to be declared a Marine Protected Area. Last November Divernet reported that during the UN CoP27 climate talks in Sharm el Sheikh the Egyptian government was said to have committed to extending official protection to the entire reef, although little has been heard about this undertaking since that time. 

Also on Divernet: Red Sea crews to be eco-trained, Tiger shark didn’t kill Red Sea diver


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