Beachgoers in the UAE have nothing to worry about and can enjoy their time in the water without worrying about potential shark dangers. Sightings of sharks are infrequent, and they are typically not found near popular beach locations.
The UAE's coastal areas have a low presence of sharks, according to Paul Hamilton, a seasoned marine biologist and shark expert who serves as the general manager at the National Aquarium in Abu Dhabi. He has close to thirty years of experience working with marine life. Throughout his career, he has encountered numerous orcas while swimming in deep waters.
The beaches in the UAE offer endless opportunities for swimming, and professionals in the region aim to address any unwarranted concerns while emphasising the crucial role sharks play in maintaining the food chain and ecological equilibrium of our oceans.
"Currently in the UAE, there's no threat to require a special safety mechanism. Elsewhere in the world, if you were to look at some of the coasts of Australia where they have frequent incidents, they use drones and other technologies to monitor swimming spaces. You only need to look at the history of the Arabian Gulf, and there's nothing that one could find to suggest that there is any negative interaction between marine life and beachgoers. So, we would essentially be reacting to nothing.
"The presence of these animals does not indicate a risk. The fact that we have sharks in the Arabian Gulf is an amazing thing. If we didn't have them here, we'd be in serious trouble. The sharks play a role in the ecosystem of the Arabian Gulf. The good news is the Arabian Gulf does have a healthy ecosystem. The presence of orca coming into the Gulf is absolutely fascinating."
These creatures do not choose to seek humans
Explaining how people should change the way they think about sharks, Hamilton said, "Where I come from, I see orcas all the time. I've dived, swam and surfed, and I've been around orcas a lot. We've never had an incident with an orca. It's a very intelligent creature. It does not choose to seek us out, so they are completely off the radar as far as risk goes."
He underlined the only way a negative incident could happen with an orca is when humans threaten them. “I've had orcas go past me many times. Don’t approach it. If you don't close the gap on the animal, nothing will ever happen, and they'll just run past you.”
Responding to a recent incident when a Russian man was killed after a shark attacked him off the coast of Egypt's Red Sea resort city of Hurghada, Hamilton explained, "I interact with sharks all the time. I mean, they've been in my life for over 26 years and from my perspective that's completely out of character for a shark (to attack unless provoked).
"However, the ocean is a natural environment, full of sea creatures, and these things are not impossible. But the Arabian Gulf is an entirely different scenario. It looks nothing like the Red Sea. I am not saying the Red Sea is not safe, but what I mean is it's a completely different setup. The Arabian Gulf has a high-nutrient environment. That's why the water is not crystal clear because there are a lot of nutrients. Usually, when there are a lot of nutrients, there is a lot more biodiversity and a lot more marine life around as well with a lot of larger marine life."
No negative incidents in UAE
He added, "From a shark's perspective, there are probably many more opportunities to feed in the Arabian Gulf than in the Red Sea. Besides, they are found in the deeper water, and that's why we never see them on our beaches because there's nothing really that would interest them."
While social media has been rife with concerned messages from beachgoers after the tragic incident in the Red Sea, beachgoers are also seen renewing conversations about how these creatures were spotted in Abu Dhabi waters recently and in the waters around Kite Beach last year.
Assuaging these unnecessary fears, Hamilton explained, "The sighting on Kite Beach was a whale shark. Whale sharks are completely harmless; it doesn't even have teeth to bite with. It's a filter feeder, in which case it roams the ocean with its mouth open, collecting krill and other things to eat. That shark was highly confused. You could tell by its behaviour that it was distressed and did not want to be on the beach. As for the beaches around the UAE, one only needs to look at the history. This is not an area where we have negative incidents with marine life, and people need to remember that."
Orcas primarily feed on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and smaller whales. They have specialised hunting techniques and prey preferences. Hamilton explained the likelihood of orcas seeking out interactions with humans is minimal, so their is no real reason to worry.
"If you swim on the public beaches, you're already in a safe environment. You would rather spend your time thinking about swimming. You don't need to think about this other than water safety. Regarding the risks in the ocean, I let my children swim in deep water. They jump off boats and do all sorts of things, but I would never put them in a car without a seatbelt. So, I would hate to see anyone change behaviour as a result of this."
The expert reiterated appreciating these magnificent creatures from a distance is the best way to ensure both your safety and their well-being.
"If it was a cow and a calf, mother and a baby and if you were to approach them in that kind of scenario, they may have a maternal response. But that's about it. When it comes to food, we are way off the list completely off the list. Not even we're not even close to the list. So that would never cross the mind of an Orca. It's going to be more about the protection of the family. If you spot an Orca in the wild, you should first thank your lucky stars because you're among the unique few who got to see them. Let them pass by, and don't approach them with your boat, don't swim to them or anything of that nature. Just let them continue with what they're doing," he added.
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