Are there sharks in the Med?

AFTER a local marine biologist proclaimed “there are no sharks in the Mediterranean” in the wake of the unconfirmed sighting in Fuengirola at the weekend, EWN was determined to investigate.

We spoke with Elisenda Mateus Valls, a shark expert and biologist at the Institut de Ciencies del Mar (Marine Sciences Instiutute) in Barcelona.

She is adamant there are plenty of the marine predators inhabiting local waters, although you’re extremely unlikely to see one.

“Contrary to popular belief, there are at least 47 species of shark inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea,” said Valls. 

“These include some of the most iconic predators, including the great white, the great hammerhead, long and short fin makos, thresher, basking, black and whitetips, blue and bronze whaler sharks.

“Fifteen are considered dangerous or potentially dangerous, and 16 measure three metres or more in length as adults, but encounters between humans and sharks in the region are extremely rare.”

Only around 60 cases of interactions between humans and sharks in the Mediterranean have been recorded since 1899, while the last major attack in Spain happened in March 1986 in Tarifa, just outside the Mediterranean.

In that case a white shark attacked a surfer, causing non-fatal injuries, and statistics show that the risk of being attacked by a shark in the Med itself is extremely small.

That is not to say that there are not monster sharks out there: in September 1998, a very large white shark measuring approximately 5.5 metres in length was caught on video from a sport fishing boat 35km off the Adriatic coastline in Italy.

“White sharks are definitely resident here in the Mediterranean,” says Valls, “but their population is thought to be declining due to overfishing of tuna and other pelagic fishes which the sharks feed on.

“Realistically, there is almost no chance at all that you will be bitten while swimming in the sea.”

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