RED SEA SHARKS – FAQ

On this page I hope to answer some of the commonly asked questions about sharks as well as provide some links to the most interesting and relevant Youtube vidoes.

HOW DANGEROUS ARE THEY ?

Hundreds of thousands of tourists come to Marsa Alam every year, many of them diving or snorkelling in areas where sharks are common, but as far as I’m aware there have only ever been two fatal attacks.

The first of these occurred when a French woman was killed by a shark while diving at a remote site off the Marsa Alam coastline in the summer of 2009. However it seems possible that she might have aggravated the shark or offered it food which would have changed the animal’s behaviour.  

Elsewhere off Egypt’s Red Sea coast attacks have also been rare.  A man was killed whilst snorkelling off Sharm El Sheikh in 2004 and there was a brief but extremely unusual series of attacks on swimmers at the same resort late in 2010.

On 30 November,  a 48 year old woman had her foot and arm bitten by an oceanic white tip shark while snorkelling at Coral Bay.  15 minutes later, a 70 year old woman snorkelling nearby had her foot and right forearm severed. The next morning two men were attacked and badly injured off Ras Nasrani. And finally on 5 December, a 70 year old woman was killed by an oceanic whitetip also while snorkelling in the Sharm El Sheikh area.

There was intensive media attention following the series of attacks. Some Egyptians even chose to blame them on an Israeli plot to destroy the country’s tourist industry – something for which there is absolutely no factual basis.  More serious analysts speculated that a more likely cause could have been the dumping of dead sheep into the sea by cargo ships or shark feeding by divers.

Despite this extremely unusual episode, as of June 2021, we only know of four fatalities off the Egyptian coast as a consequence of shark attacks during the last ten years.  Of the 368 species of shark worldwide only 20 represent any danger to humans.  And statistically shark attacks are very rare. You are more likely to be killed by falling out of bed or by a toaster. Annually over one million people are killed in car accidents every year, but worldwide fatalities from shark attacks average just five a year. The risk of being struck by lightning is ten times greater. 

Elphinstone sharks, incredible sea life & more sharks
Feb 2018 – 3.40 mins – 163+ likes – 39,000+ views 
Why did the Red Sea shark attacks happen in 2010 ?
Feb 2019 – 43.22 mins – 1.9K+ likes – 555,000+ views
Why sharks aren’t usually dangerous.
Jun 2016 – 1.11 mins – 1.8K+ likes – 71,000+ views.

RECENT SHARK ATTACKS OFF EGYPT’S COAST

Despite recent media reports that may suggest the contrary, Shark attacks remain extremely rare, especially for those swimming near the beach in day time. Attacks around offshore reefs are also very unusual, but marginally more likely. When reading about these incidents, please bear in mind that millions of tourists travel to Egypt every year, with at least half of them enjoying the beaches and a swim.

On 3 August 2018, a 41 year old Czech tourist was killed after a shark attacked him some 20 kilometres or 12 miles north of the town of Marsa Alam. City council chairman, General Atef Wagdy, said the man died “as a result of an attack by a shark” and explained that anyone swimming on the surface in deep waters, beyond the coral, was vulnerable to attack.

In October 2020, two tourists, a mother and her twelve year old son, as well as a tour guide were injured by a shark while they were diving in the Ras Mohammed National Park off Sharm El Sheikh. The boy lost an arm, the tour guide a leg and the mother relatively minor injuries after an oceanic whitetip attacked them. The area was closed to divers shortly afterwards.

On 2 December a German diver received two bite wounds to her left shoulder, which required stitching, while holidaying in the Marsa Alam region. Again an oceanic whitetip was responsible, and the attack occurred off Elphinstone Reef which lies some 12 km east of Marsa Abu Dabbab. It seems her relatively thick wet suit as well as immediate assistance given by her dive guide may have protected her from a more severe injury.

An oceanic whitetip shark at Elphinstone Reef in 2016 -
Photo by Alexander Vasenin - CC BY-SA 4.0 - via Wikimedia.
An oceanic whitetip at Elphinstone Reef in 2016 –
Photo by Alexander Vasenin – CC BY-SA 4.0 – via Wikimedia.

HOW CAN I MINIMIZE THE RISK OF ATTACK ?

  • Try to avoid diving at dawn or dusk when sharks are at their most active.
  • Try to keep in a group as sharks are more likely to attack an individual diver.
  • Avoid murky poor visibility sea water where a shark is most likely to mistake you for its normal prey.
  • If you see a shark stay calm, don’t make sudden movements and keep an eye on it.
  • If you are too scared then swim slowly and calmly towards the dive boat or shoreline. 
Sharks at Daedalus & Elphinstone Reefs – Sep 2015 – 2.36 mins – 138+ likes – 24,000+ views

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF SHARK SPECIES IN THE RED SEA ?

Well “common” is an exaggeration as many Red Sea shark populations are in decline and endangered but if you are lucky enough to see a shark, the relatively more numerous Red Sea species include oceanic whitetips, scalloped hammerheads, silky sharks, silvertip sharks, tiger sharks, whale sharks, whitetip reef sharks, zebra sharks and grey reef sharks. 

From the table below you can see that even the most populous shark species in the Red Sea are considered to be at serious risk.  A status of near threatened means the species is likely to become endangered in the near future.  A status of vulnerable means a very high risk of endangerment in the near future while endangered means a species is at a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Shark typelengthStatusHabitat
Grey Reef2.0 mnear threatenednear coral reefs
Oceanic Whitetip3.5 mvulnerabledeep water
Scalloped Hammerhead3.5 mendangereddeep water
Silky Shark3.3 mnear threateneddeep water
Silvertip3.0 mnear threatenedislands & reefs
Tiger Shark5.5 mnear threatenednear coral reefs
Whale Shark12.0mvulnerablereefs & deep water
Whitetip Reef2.0 mnear threatenedcrevices or caves
Zebra Shark2.5 mvulnerablesandy areas near reefs.
An oceanic whitetip (one of the potentially more dangerous sharks) at Elphinstone Reef.
Photo: Thomas Ehrensperger – CC BY-SA 3.0 – uploaded by OldakQuill to Wikimedia Commons
An oceanic whitetip shark at Elphinstone Reef.
Photo: Thomas Ehrensperger – CC BY-SA 3.0 – uploaded by OldakQuill to Wikimedia Commons
A whale shark at Elphinstone Reef – Oct 2019 – 49 secs – 1+ likes – 230+ views.

HOW FAST CAN A SHARK SWIM ?

The Mako shark is the quickest and can reach speeds of up to 45 mph (72 kph).

WHICH ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS SPECIES ?

Only ten species present any significant danger to humans and the most dangerous in the Red Sea are probably the mako, the tiger and the oceanic whitetip. 

HOW LONG DO THEY LIVE ?

Most live to between twenty and thirty years though the giant whale sharks, which can be found off Marsa Alam, can live up to 100 years.  

HOW INTELLIGENT ARE SHARKS ?

They have a similar brain to body mass as many mammals and birds and frequently exhibits signs of social, playful and highly inquisitive behaviour. Some species even appear to work as a team when hunting.

I WANT TO GO DIVING NEAR MARSA ALAM.

WHO SHOULD I CONTACT ?

Email steven@marsaalam.com or contact him via WhatsApp on +201284332337. His company, which specializes in organising Red Sea as well as overland excursions, is rated #1 of 84 for boat and water tours by Tripadvisor (as of the time of writing – 5 July 2021.)

An oceanic – a close encounter at Elphinstone.
Oct 2019 – 2.37 mins – 13+ likes – 980+ views.
Interesting webinar on the oceanic whitetips of the Red Sea.
May 2020 – 1 hr 37 mins – 36+ likes – 1,660+ views.