Three Shark Attacks Have Mexico Resort Area In Panic

As reported by Alexandra Olson

ZIHUATANEJO, Mexico (AP) — No one could even remember a shark attack along this resort-studded stretch of Mexican coast popular with surfers and Hollywood’s elite. Many of the large predators had been pulled from the ocean by fishermen. So when sharks attacked three surfers in less than a month, two fatally, it was unthinkable.

The latest attack came Saturday, when a shark chomped down on the arm of surfing enthusiast Bruce Grimes, an American expat who runs a surf shop in Zihuatanejo.

Grimes and a handful of other surfers were out on dark, choppy waters when he felt something lift his board. He managed about five strokes before teeth sank into his arm. “Shark!” he screamed, wresting his arm back. Grimes made it to shore, escaping with a few gashes.

“There wasn’t any time to panic,” he said. “I thought: ‘Don’t want to die. Don’t want to lose my arm.'”

Only later did the 49-year-old Florida native learn a local surfer had been killed by a shark at a neighboring beach the previous day. Less than a month before that, a visitor from San Francisco was killed while surfing another nearby beach.

Before that, shark attacks were unheard of here. University of Florida expert George Burgess was in the area Wednesday interviewing witnesses, going over autopsy reports and checking out beaches to find out why the sharks had suddenly become so aggressive.

Burgess’ International Shark Attack File records an average of only four fatal shark attacks around the world each year. This year, there has been at least one other recorded shark fatality outside Mexico — a 66-year-old triathlete killed at Solana Beach, Calif.

The attacks around Zihuatanejo have puzzled experts and, alarmingly for local businesses, the mayhem is keeping tourists away.

After the first fatality, panicked officials strung lines of baited hooks offshore and slaughtered dozens of sharks, drawing international criticism. Authorities planned to meet Thursday to seek Burgess’ advice.

Marine biologist Chris Lowe, who runs the shark lab at California State University, Long Beach, said there is little officials can do beyond trying to keep people out of the water and studying why sharks have suddenly turned so aggressive. Hunts don’t usually help, he said.

Lowe also said officials should keep the attacks in perspective.

“People have a much better chance of dying of food poisoning going to Mexico than being bitten by a shark,” he said. “It’s far more dangerous driving to the beach than it is getting in the water.”

The International Shark File has found that attacks have been increasing over the past century, mostly because of the growing popularity of water sports like surfing.

That’s part of the reason experts say shark hunting is futile: Even as shark populations are declining, the number people swimming in the ocean is increasing.

“Finding the killer shark is nearly impossible,” said Jose Leonardo Castillo, the chief shark investigator for Mexico’s National Fishing Institute.

Mexican experts are planning a catch-and-release study to determine the species of sharks that has been attacking. And maritime officials, stung by the backlash over the shark hunt, have switched to conducting sea and aerial patrols to watch for sharks near shore.

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