x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fishermen say they were attacked by huge shark but experts say it was hunted

Emirati sailor says three-metre-long shark jumped onto boat to attack crew but marine experts point to hook in its mouth as evidence it was fished.

The shark landed on the deck of a boat on Sunday: but did he jump or was he fished? Courtesy Fujairah Fishermen’s Association
The shark landed on the deck of a boat on Sunday: but did he jump or was he fished? Courtesy Fujairah Fishermen’s Association

FUJAIRAH // It’s clearly a shark, and it’s definitely dead.

But was it a fearsome great white, star of Jaws, determined to eat a fishing-boat crew for breakfast? Or was it a harmless mako, illegally hooked and hauled on board? The jury is out.

Sailor Hamza Al Sharaa says the shark, hungry and willing to do anything to eat, leapt three metres out of the water on to the deck of his boat in the early hours of Sunday and attacked him and his crew of five.

“It was 2am and we were 28 miles from shore,” said Mr Al Sharaa, 37. “One of our crew was fixing the fishing rope on the boat when the shark jumped out of the water behind him, trying to eat him. In seconds it was in the middle of the boat after it hit one of the sides.”

The crew killed the shark by whacking its nose with a stick.

However, David Robinson, a manager at The Aquarium in Burj Al Arab, says the shark was a shortfin mako shark that feeds only on fish. “It looked like it was fished, there was a hook in its mouth,” he said.

“The reason it jumped on the boat was not to attack people, but because it was stressed and pulled out of the depths.”

“The mako shark is a fish eater and wouldn’t jump out of the water and attack people, unless it had been hooked and pulled out of the water,” Mr Robinson said.

“Sharks are under a lot of threat and they are slowly disappearing because of illegal shark fishing.”

Khalifa Massoud, deputy head of Fujairah Fishermen Association, said the hook was placed on the shark after it had already died “to keep the dead shark still on the boat”.

“It’s a huge fish and no hook could drag it out of the water – the fishermen didn’t attempt to hunt or catch any sharks,” he said.

Mr Al Sharaa, a sailor for 10 years, said: “First, we sprayed it with fresh water and then we hit it on the nose to kill it.

“We were all in a state of shock. This is the first time we have witnessed such an incident.”

He said none of the crew was injured but the boat has had to be sent for repair.

Saeed Al Matlaai, 37, a sailor on another boat, said that he had seen a similar shark seven miles from the shore about three months ago.

“We were sailing and a big shark was beside our boat and was pushing us. The shark approached when he heard a sound or felt a movement, so we kept silent until he left.”

Mr Massoud said it was not the first time sharks had jumped on to boats. “We had two incidents last year with smaller sizes but this one is huge,” he said.

“Our ancestors used to talk about this kind of shark and they called it Al Deebah – a fish with wolf characteristics – it’s deceiving and can easily sense any movements.

“It is fierce and can jump up to four metres out of the water to hunt. We urge all the fishermen to be extra cautious and if any sailor sees the shark nearby, they should leave the place immediately and inform the association.”

Rima Jabado, a marine scientist who has researched many sharks in the UAE in the past four years, agreed with Mr Robinson that it was a mako, dispelling early assessments that it could have been a great white shark. She said it is often found on the east coast and the largest size ever recorded for the species was four metres.

“It’s very unlikely that this shark jumped out of the water to attack a person,” she said.

“We have mako sharks in the region; it’s common in the UAE and Oman, especially on the east coast, but it hasn’t been recorded in the Arabian Gulf.

“The fishermen call it Al Deebah and it doesn’t attack people unless its threatened.”

Mr Massoud said the association would have the shark preserved and then display it in the Fujairah Maritime Museum.

rhaza@thenational.ae