Last month media headlines, both digital and print screamed out with headlines such as “Shark Attack: Norwegian Man Mauled at Thai Beach” and “VIDEO: It was a shark! 40 to 50 sharks spotted in waters off Hua Hin” to imply that local beach goers should be in fear of their life. This was one very unlucky shark bite, not a shark attack.
The headlines and Facebook postings were prompted by serious foot injuries to a Norwegian man swimming at a local beach. After mixed reports about the cause of the injury, a consensus was reached that a shark had indeed bitten the man. This was greeted with some relief; after all, reports of the injury being caused by sharp rocks or coral are hardly newsworthy.
Those who backed the shark bite theory then moved into a gloating mode with one headline stating “Shark Update: The Nation Thailand got their story wrong”. The early diagnosis was described as some sort of conspiracy between doctors, officials and the Tourism Authority to avoid damage to tourism.
Next came a delegation of officials visited the victim including the deputy governor, officers from disaster mitigation, the military, police, public health and coastal resources, the Hua Hin district chief and the mayor. The hospitalised, though smiling victim, thanked everyone especially the hospital for their care. “When I recover I’ll be back in the sea,” was his reported comment adding: “No shark is going to stop me!” Prachuap Khiri Khan governor Pallop Sinhaseni then imposed a beach closure and swimming ban in the area saying that the sea at Hat Sai Noi beach, Ban Khao Tao, would be the first beach in Hua Hin to be cordoned off with a safety net to prevent sharks from swimming into the shallow water close to the beach and attacking swimmers. He added that buoys would also be erected in the area.
Preventive measure described by the Municipality
1. Warning signs in Thai, English &Chinese to prohibit people entering the ocean at some beaches.
2. A surveillance boat patrolling along the coast to guard on Sai Noi Beach – Khao Tao beach – Takiab Beach – Hua Hin Beach.
3. Arrange for a large black coloured safety net at the Sai Noi Beach.
4. The Department of Marine Aquarium Research has investigated the number of sharks in the area.
5. A security guard to monitor and supervise the beach and is ready to assist visitors.
Fear of sharks or ‘Galeophobia’ conjures up images of the Great White shark depicted in Jaws, the popular blockbuster movie. After movies of this genre, the media is the most likely cause of the fear of sharks. Sharks are often portrayed as vicious, dangerous creatures however the reality is quite different; especially in Thailand. On average there are only six fatalities that are attributable to unprovoked shark attacks worldwide, each year. By contrast about 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year by fisheries. Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat of the faculty of fisheries at Bangkok’s Kaset University says don’t worry about sharks; there are far worse things to concern you. And he didn’t even mention the road toll or dogs.
“The chance of being bitten by a shark is one in a hundred million to one in two hundred million,” said Dr Thon. “ Of the more than 400 species of shark in the world, fourteen of them are known to be in Thai waters, including black tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, leopard sharks, whale sharks and bull sharks. Shark expert David Martin, who has more than 25 years of experience filming sharks for BBC and the National Geographic says: “Only a few species have the ability (size, habitat and behaviour) to bite a human by mistake,” Mr Martin noted saying that “all shark bite incidents are mistakes.” “The beaches of Thailand are very, very, very safe from any shark attack. There are millions of people swimming in Thai waters every month.”
Although statistics are inconsistent; the following numbers from www.sharkattackdata.com give an indication of where Thailand is placed in shark bite incidents. The figures below are for unprovoked bites between 1900 and 2016; more than one hundred years of data. There are currently about 70 -100 shark accidents annually resulting in about 5 to 6 deaths worldwide.
The message is that Thailand beaches are amongst the least likely places for an unpleasant encounter between a human and a shark. If any tourist is deterred from visiting Hua Hin for a beachside holiday it is much more likely to be because of road safety than because of this isolated event. For a relaxing and enjoyable beach experience, they will be hard pressed to find a safer alternative anywhere in the world.
Thailand Beaches What Are the Real Dangers?
While the Kingdom beaches don’t have enough shark attacks to worry about, we have other lethal things to be concerned about. Because jet skis, speed boats, banana floats and all manner of other water borne mayhem pose dangers to swimmers, many of Thailand’s most popular beaches have introduced Swimming Zones. It is never advisable to swim out-side of these areas.
A rip current also known as rip tides is a strong stream of water that quickly flows away from shore. Swimmers who are caught in rip currents can get sucked away from safety at speeds of nearly ten feet per second—far too fast to try swimming back to the beach. These dangerous currents are most common when it’s windy. There are several ways you can identify the risk for rip currents before you get in the water.
Signs in the sand
The first, obviously, is to look for beach flags or weather forecasts and when they tell you not to go, take it onboard. People drown trying to save other people from rip currents, so don’t risk someone else’s life.
What to look for
One of the best visual identifiers of a rip current is to look out for gaps between the waves. The calmer gap between waves may look safer but a small patch of calm water in an otherwise choppy sea is often a rip current.
If it happens to you Firstly it is important to know that rip currents don’t pull you under the water; instead, they pull you away from shore very quickly. If you’re ever caught in one, never try to swim against the current, even the best swimmers can’t swim against a rip current. If you’re a fairly good swimmer, you have to swim parallel to the beach so you can get out of the current. Once you escape the clutches of the outbound water, you can start swimming back towards shore.
The Box Jelly (aka Sea Wasp or Chironex Fleckeri) are one of the most toxic creatures on Earth. In Thailand it is mostly a problem from July – October and mainly around Koh Samui and Ko Pha-ngan.
Marine biologists’ advice is to: Keep looking all around when in the water and try to swim with a partner. A sting can immobilise a person,
making it difficult to swim back to shore alone. Beware of seemingly dead jellyfish on the beach. If they were recently beached, they can still sting. Take the injured from the sea and keep them still in order to reduce the spread of the venom.
Pouring household vinegar over wounds/tentacles for up to 30 seconds is recommended. Wise beach goers include a bottle of vinegar along with their supplies of sunscreen as a standard measure. Many beaches in Thailand have “vinegar stations” for the treatment of jellyfish stings, ask a local and the chances are supplies will be available nearby. If vinegar is not available rinse with SEA water, not fresh water.
Do not wash or scrub the affected area with water or suntan creams, as this will merely aggravate the sting. Use sand to cover the sting area and dry out any remaining tentacles. Do seek medical care if experiencing any ongoing symptoms.