Nothing spoils a day at the seaside more than being eaten by a shark. It´s worse even than getting sunburn or having some little bastard jump up and down on your sand castle.

And it seemed last Sunday that this might be someone´s fate when a shark was spotted off the beach in Fuengirola. Everybody was ordered out of the water for fully five hours. Shark sightings off Mediterranean beaches are noteworthy events and happen only very rarely and so the Fuengirola shark sighting was a pretty big deal.

Naturally the local papers took up the story but it travelled further and was reported on in several of the UK daily papers and probably elsewhere.

The facts seem thin on the ground. Three people reported sighting the shark and called the emergency services. One reported seeing the dorsal fin of a shark estimated to be “three of four” metres. A Guardia civil patrol boat did some patrolling but the boys didn´t see anything and so after a while they put up the green flag to let everyone know it was safe to go back in the water. Even after the all clear was given, many people thought the better of it and remained on terra firma.

The EuroWeekly News was the only paper to look beyond the bare bones of this story and one of their reporters got talking to Elisenda Mateus Valls at the Marine Sciences Institute in Barcelona to find out about sharks in the Mediterranean and the risks of shark attack. She had the interesting things to say.

There are 47 or more species in the Med including great whites, great hammerheads, long and short finned makos, thresher, basking, black and white tips, blue and bronze whaler. Fifteen are considered dangerous or potentially dangerous and 16 grow to an adult size of 3 metres or more.

So there is, at least a theoretical chance that a shark attack could occur although the big sharks tend not to venture inshore. Having said that, back in 1986 a surfer was attacked by a great white at Tarifa and, thankfully, lived to tell the tale.

Worldwide, the shark come off much the worse in terms of interaction with humans and industrial scale fishing for the ingredients of shark fin soup has decimated shark populations in many areas. This is something I have petitioned against and would ask you to do the same if you ever get the chance. Ironically the fins of sharks are flavourless and have to be flavoured, I believe, with chicken stock or something similar.

Shark populations may be slow to recover from unsustainable fishing practices because many sharks are slow growing and they do not reproduce prolifically. This summer the Greenland Shark which lives in the cold waters of the north Atlantic was named the longest living vertebrate and individuals are thought live for up to 400 years.

The recent saga of the “Fuengirola” shark back to mind a comedy sketch I saw years ago. I thought it was funny at the time and it stuck in my mind. There´s a dialogue between the chief of police and one of his officers on a beach somewhere and it goes something like this:

Officer: There´s been another victim, Sir!

Chief: God, not another one! Have you identified the victim?

Officer: It was a young woman Sir. The remains make it difficult to confirm identity.

Chief: What DO we know about her?

Officer: She had dandruff Sir.

Chief: How do we know that?

Officer: We found her Head and Shoulders washed up on the shore

Boom Boom!

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This is a tintorera or blue shark which is relatively common in the Mediterranean. I pinched the photo from wikipedia and it was actually taken in California. Blue sharks are found off all of the world´s continents except the Antarctic.