Tuesday 25 June 2019

‘Freak incident’ - Expert reassures public over threat of shark attacks after man bitten off Cork coast

Bite: Robert Malcolmson with Jonny Penny
Bite: Robert Malcolmson with Jonny Penny
RNLI Photo: Facebook

David Fleming

A marine expert has sought to reassure the public that the danger of shark attacks in Irish waters is minimal after a man was bitten by a Blue Shark while fishing off the coast of Cork.

Angler Robert Malcolmson suffered serious injuries on Saturday when a shark he had landed turned on the line and bit his lower arm. 

Mr Malcolmson received a four-inch gash to his arm and was rushed to hospital having been brought to shore by an RNLI lifeboat.

His wounds were cleaned, stitched and bandaged and he resumed his fishing trip the next day. 

Dr Maurice Clarke, a specialist in marine ecosystems and sharks at the Marine Institute in Galway, has sought to reassure the public that this was a “freak incident” but those fishing must remember that they are still dealing with a wild, unpredictable animal. 

“(Blue Sharks) are quite frequent in Irish waters, it’s a freak incident really and it illustrates what can happen when you’re working with a wild animal,” Dr Clarke told Independent.ie. 

Blue Sharks are a regular visitor to Irish waters, especially in the summertime when water temperatures are just right, above 15C, for the sharks. 

“It’s nothing new, they’ve always been coming to Ireland in the summer months. I would put people’s mind at rest by saying they’re an oceanic shark, they don’t come in shore, there hasn’t been any reports of an attack - although strictly speaking this wasn’t an attack in the sense that the shark had been caught by anglers.

Dr Clarke says that sharks have far more to fear from humans than we have from them. 

Last week, an Irish Navy ship, the LE William Butler Yates, detained a Spanish registered vessel found to have more than a tonne of shark fins onboard, Dr Clarke says this is equivalent to at least 1,000 sharks. 

Blue Sharks are prized for their fins, especially in China where they are used to make shark-fin soup. 

“The Blue Shark has very big fins, it’s not very valuable to eat as it’s full of ammonia but the fins are highly valued in China for the shark-fin soup which is a delicacy out there. What happens is they take the shark onboard, cut the fins off and throw the, often live shark, back into the sea. That’s terrible in its own right and very wasteful.”

“What’s interesting about this, and first of all we’d like to wish Mr Malcolmson a speedy recovery, is that it illustrates that the Blue Shark is under much greater pressure from humans - as the detaining of the ship in Castletownbere shows.

There is also no danger posed to humans by “the true man-eating sharks of legend” - like the Bull Shark and the Tiger Shark - because they are “just are not in our waters at all, so nothing to worry about there.”

There is also no fear of a Great White Shark patrolling our seas, though it is theoretically possible because it can live in cold waters, because “it has been more or less totally exterminated (in European waters) by man.”

Sharks are currently fighting a battle for survival on many fronts. Over fishing, plastic waste and climate change pose a very real threat to the animals and when it comes to man vs shark: “The score card is very much skewed towards man,” Dr Clarke said. 

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