Over twenty miles of picturesque beaches and luxury hotels make the Egyptian coast an attractive and relaxing holiday destination for tourists from all over the world. But holidaymakers in one Red Sea coastal resort in Hurghada, Egypt, were violently disturbed this week by the blood-curdling screams of a 23-year-old shouting ‘Papa! Help me!’.
Russian tourist Vladimir Popov, 23, was circled and viciously dragged under the water and killed by a tiger shark as his horrified father watched the water turn red with blood. But how dangerous is a holiday to the Egyptian coast, and how many people have been attacked by sharks in the Red Sea?
The map below shows the Red Sea’s shark attack hotspots over the past 50 years. Florida Museum data shows sixteen non-fatal and fatal shark attacks have been recorded in the Red Sea since 1975.
There have been seven fatal attacks since 2004, and eight non-fatal attacks along the coast since 1974, according to the data. The majority of attacks were by oceanic whitetip sharks, which can grow up to 11 feet long and live for 25 years.
But in the last year, the tiger shark has attacked three people including Mr Popov, a 40-year-old Romanian woman and a 68-year-old German woman. Elisabeth Sauer, 68, was mauled to death by a tiger shark in July 2022 while swimming in the sea near Hurghada, Egypt. And a 40-year-old Romanian woman was also killed by a tiger shark just 650ft away from Mrs Sauer on the same day – with her badly disfigured remains found on a nearby reef.
The Egyptian authorities confirmed the shark had been handed over for research to find out the causes of its behaviour and identify whether the animal is related to one that ’caused several previous accidents’. Gavin Naylor, Director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, said that the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba attract sharks due to them being very deep and generally steep-sided.
He explained: ‘This brings pelagic animals (sharks) that typically live off-shore (like Oceanic white-tip and silky sharks) closer into the shore than they would otherwise be. There is also a lot of tourism in these areas- which means a lot of people in the water. Additionally the behaviour of many of these species in the region, for reasons that are not currently clear, seem more habituated than is the case for the same species in other parts of the world.’
Habituation happens once animals learn that there is food in the area and can be seen in dive tourism operations which employ chum to bring sharks closer in as well as in places where food waste is dumbed close to shore, Mr Naylor added. He said tiger sharks like the one who killed Mr Popov frequent warm waters, have been in the Red Sea for thousands of years.