Piranha Fright As Biting Fish Appear on Alicante Coastline

An oblada fish

Victims of the biting fish reported seeing a black dot. Credit: Diego Delso/Wikipedia

Cases of people being bitten by fish which draw blood are being reported on Poniente beach in Benidorm, frightening swimmers who thought they were Piranhas.

They look for moles, warts and small wounds on the skin, especially in older people, whose skin tends to be thinner.

The ‘obladas’ are targeting swimmers on the Alicante coastline, to the point that more than 15 people a day are visiting the first aid stations for help.

The oblada melanura is the scientific name of this aggressive fish species, and they are more typically seen around the island of Tabarca, where tourists feed them in the port.

However, this year they are getting much closer to the coastline.

The attacked bathers agreed on a characteristic that easily identifies them: they all spoke of a black spot on their tail.

“This is a fish used to being fed. There may be a high population density and they do not flee from people, hence they peck at the wounds”.

“As they are wounds and warts, they can cause pain”, explained a researcher from the Department of Marine Sciences, who also advises not bathing in the sea with shiny jewellery, because they can also lead to attacks from species such as pomfrets, golfer fish or bluefish.

When looking for the reason for these attacks, experts agree that the Mediterranean Sea is much warmer, which alters the behaviour of marine life.

The water temperature is between 29 and 30 degrees, according to data from the Climatology Laboratory of the University of Alicante.

With the sea much warmer, the metabolism of fish increases, which need more food, Professor Alfonso Ramos, researcher at the Department of Marine Sciences and Applied Biology told Informacion.

The Institute of Coastal Ecology has been aware of this new phenomenon for several years, as it was reported to the Alicante rescue and first aid service in mid-August 2017.

Gabriel Soler, scientific director, then highlighted that the increase in sea temperature affects marine species, “some are more tolerant and others have less capacity to adapt, but all are affected in their distribution and behaviour”.

Jorge Olcina, director of the Climatology Laboratory, recalled that in the last decade the Mediterranean has also suffered the invasion of numerous species of fish and algae typical of warmer seas – such as the Red Sea – that alter the ecosystem.

“It is proven that the Mediterranean has become a warmer sea according to reports from the European Commission and the United Nations Blue Plan,” he said.

The European Environment Agency also warns that sea warming causes changes in the plankton that feed fish. The Institute of Coastal Ecology also indicated that these fish can get closer to the beach due to the trend of attracting them with food, in order to film them with underwater cameras.

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Written by

Jo Pugh

Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.