Central Vietnam waters plagued by shark-like attacks

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Authorities in the central coastal town of Quy Nhon are offering a reward of VND10 million (US$541) for capture of an unidentified fish locals blame for attacking ten people since last July.

The three latest victims of what experts suspect to be a lone shark were reported to Binh Dinh Province authorities on Saturday.

Nguyen Minh Tuan, a lecturer at Quy Nhon University, said he was swimming 100 meters off the Quy Nhon coast around 6:45 a.m. when a fish bit his left arm two times before swimming off.

The largest bite was 20 centimeters-plus in diameter.

Tuan said he only saw the fish’s back, which he described as grey and nearly one meter long. He said the animal’s skin was rough and he guessed it weighed 20-30 kilograms.

Mang Duc Hanh, an instructor at Quy Nhon University’s Center of Experiments and Practice, was attacked at around 5 p.m. the same day some 10 meters from shore.

Hanh also received two bites that broke arteries and nerves at his right wrist. The teacher was transferred to Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Ray Hospital Monday morning after his injuries were examined at Binh Dinh General Hospital.

SHARKS: VICTIMS NOT VILLAINS

  • Humans kill 100 million sharks each year.

  • On average, only one human dies a year from a shark attack. By comparison, thousands of people die from lightning strikes each year, while over 3,000 people drown.

  • It is estimated that a person's chance of getting attacked by a shark is 1 in 11.5 million, and a person's chance of getting killed by a shark is 1 in 264.1 million.

  • The highest number of shark-to-human attacks ever recorded in a single year was 79, 16 of them fatal, in 2000. In 2005 and 2006 this number decreased to 61 and 62 respectively, while the number of fatalities dropped to only four per year. Of these attacks, the majority occurred in the United States (53 in 2000, 40 in 2005 and 39 in 2006). The New York Times reported in July 2008 that there had been only one fatal attack in the previous year.

(Source: The International Shark Attack File)

Types of attacks

Scientists have defined 4 types of shark attacks:

  • Provoked attack - the human touches the shark

  • Unprovoked attack

  • Hit-and-run attack - usually non-fatal, the shark bites and then leaves

  • Sneak attack - deep water attack, can be fatal

  • Bite-and-bump attack - the shark bumps before biting

“The fish bit my arm and pulled me underwater,” Hanh told Thanh Nien. “I had to try to kick its body so it would let go of my arm.

“The fish’s skin was a bit smooth and I think it weighed around 35- 40 kilograms. I’m absolutely sure it was a shark,” he said.

Hanh said he had bumped into a very big fish while swimming on another occasion a couple of months ago.

“When I told people there was a shark here, they didn’t believe me,” the teacher said.

Another local woman was also attacked by a fish in the same waters later that day, suffering only minor injuries. Local investigators suspect the same animal was involved in all three attacks and possibly seven others going as far back as early last summer.

The first fish-attack victim reported in Quy Nhon waters recently was Nguyen Quang Huynh, 57, who was attacked on July 18 while swimming with his friends.

The fish bit his right leg when he was around 150 meters off the coast, Huynh said.

Local fisherman Bui Ngoc Trung said the fish must have been a shark, adding that he had often spotted sharks and dolphins fighting near Nhon Chau Island off Quy Nhon in the 1980s.

Trung said he and several local fishermen had discussed plans to catch the fish.

In the meantime, Thai Ngoc Binh, chairman of Quy Nhon People’s Committee, said authorities would work to end the attacks.

He said they would ensure that the incidents did not “influence local people’s daily lives and tourism in the area.”

Binh Dinh Province agencies on Monday asked the Institute of Oceanography in central Nha Trang Town to jointly identify the fish.

The hunt is on

The province on Wednesday enlisted several experienced fishermen to catch the creature.

Nguyen Huu Hao, head of Binh Dinh Seafood Development and Protection Department, said two fishing boats in Quy Nhon would carry officials and experienced sailors to search for the fish in dozens of square kilometers of water.

Hao said the province aimed to catch the fish within five days.

Among hired fishermen is Tran Van Chay, a 49-year-old sailor from Quy Nhon who said he caught four sharks between 25 and more than 100 kilograms each in 2008.

Chay said the shark fins earned him nearly VND2 million (US$108).

His neighbor Pham Ngoc Dung, 36, will also join the hunt.

The Quy Nhon authorities on Wednesday also sent a note to the provincial government asking for further research to identify the species of the fish and possibly its numbers. They also wanted to know the reason for the attacks, if any.

Binh Dinh People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen Van Thien worked with experts from Vietnam Institute of Oceanography (VNIO) as they studied the area of the attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Vo Si Tuan, deputy head of the institute, said it was hard to identify the specific species based only on the injuries, but he guessed it was a type of shark.

“Maybe the fish mistook the arms and legs of swimmers for its prey and has now formed the habit of biting people.”

Tuan said stinking waste from boats anchored too near the beach might have attracted the fish.

He suggested moving the boats further from the beach and said establishing rescue stations in the area would be a good idea.

He said international  oceanography organizations would be interested to know if there were sharks in these waters.

Reported by Dinh Phu

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