DUBAI // A woman who has been studying sharks in the Arabian Gulf for two years says she is not surprised to hear reports a hammerhead was spotted off a JBR beach yesterday, but adds it is unlikely the sharks would have harmed swimmers if not disturbed.
Police and lifeguards on Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) Open Beach called swimmers out of the water on Saturday following reports that two hammerhead sharks had been seen in the water.
"Police made an announcement asking us to get out of the water," said Stephan Thomas, a JBR resident, who was at the beach. "I didn't see anyone attacked."
"It is a little surprising to hear of sharks in warm, shallow waters," he said, adding that people were back in the water ten minutes after the warnings.
One JBR resident said more patrols were needed. "The shark sightings need to be taken more seriously," said Heidi, who did not want to give her last name.
"We need lifeguards especially for people who can't swim," she said, adding that in her home country, Australia, there were helicopters constantly combing the sea for sharks.
But Rima Jabado, who has been studying sharks here for two years as part of her doctorate at United Arab Emirates University, said: "Shark attacks [in the UAE] are either poorly documented or have not occurred frequently at all."
So far, Ms Jabado said she has recorded 28 different shark species in the waters of the Arabian Gulf.
"I've been interviewing fishermen across the UAE about their interactions with sharks," she said. "I also go on boats and catch sharks, tag them, and release them."
Ms Jabado has also recorded two species of hammerheads in the Arabian Gulf and said the species "definitely occurs in the region". "But hammerheads rarely attack people," she said.
The International Shark Attack File is a database run by a university in Florida that records information about shark attacks around the world. The statistics show the Great White Shark, the Tiger Shark, and the Bull Shark are the most likely to be involved in shark attacks. Sightings of the Tiger and Bull Shark have both been recorded in the Arabian Sea.
"This is their environment, this is where they live; it's not strange to spot sharks here," said Mohammed Abdul Rahman, Dubai Municipality's head of marine environment and wildlife section.
"I ask people to always exercise caution when swimming in the sea. They need to be vigilant and be careful. All sea creatures are unpredictable - especially sharks - and the sea is their domain, so you need to take care."
Carl De Villiers, owner of Surf Shop Dubai, said he was surfing at around 3pm when loud speaker announcements were made warning beachgoers to leave the water.
Lifeguards from some hotels' private beaches also helped authorities clear the water.
"We were asked to leave the water twice," said Mr De Villiers. "Several different people had said they had sighted a group of sharks on the palm side of JBR. But it could have also been sightings of cobia, which looks like a shark. It can easily be a case of mistaken identity," he said.
Ms Jabado said it was difficult to weigh in without having seen anything.
"Without pictures it's difficult to confirm what was seen [at JBR] - especially since we don't have enough information about these species, their habitats or even migration routes for the UAE," said Ms Jabado. "Unless someone has pictures, I guess we will never know."
To contribute to better research, readers can report shark sightings at the beach or while diving by e-mailing pictures to email@example.com.
- Additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam