February 3, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Approach a Shark Giving Birth

The blogosphere is currently agape with sensationalist writing - shark attack in the waters around Cancun! A woman has been bitten! Flee the sea! Reading these, and the newspaper stories that inspired them, would have anyone convinced that the Caribbean Sea is now grey with hordes of smirking sharks staring down tourists in the hope of a snack. It's patently time to inject a little truth into the reporting.

Bull Shark
Bull Shark - one of the suspects (Photo: Brian J Skerry)

I'll admit that, when I first heard about this, I was skeptical. Despite the headlines, this just doesn't happen here. In fact, we have already covered the highly improbable scenario of a fatal shark attack, in the waters off Cancun: Sharks in the Mexican Caribbean. So was this incident making liars out of us? Not really, no.

The official verdict on the circumstances has yet to emerge, as it's been too soon. However, we can piece together the likely events from eye-witness reports and the telling of the victim herself. Nicole Moore is currently recovering well in Cancun's Hospiten. Despite rumours to the contrary, all of her limbs are intact and likely to be functional in the future. She is perfectly able to explain the situation herself.

Even her father, talking to the National Post, stated that, "Some of the reports have been grossly exaggerated." While the director of the hospital, Dr. Italo Sampablo, has commented, "We've not had this kind of incident here previously."

Cancun Caribe Park Royal
Cancun's Caribe Park Royal

Nicole is a 38 year old nurse, and a mother of two, who traveled to Cancun with a party of ten fellow Canadians. They all hail from Orangeville, Ontario, and came here to celebrate the 50th birthday of their fitness instructor. Her husband and two daughters stayed home. On Monday, Nicole was amongst a crowd of people playing volley-ball on the beach. It was an activity organized by Cancun Caribe Park Royal hotel, where she was staying. As the sun crept up towards noon, coupled with the exertion of the exercise, she decided to go into the sea to cool off.

As to what happened next, the Mexican authorities are waiting on their report until they can establish that it was definitely a shark and not a barracuda. However, eye-witnesses state that it was definitely a shark. The fact that none of them can identify which species of shark would suggest that no-one present was an expert in the field. However, specialist knowledge was not required to see what was happening: the shark was giving birth!

Bull Shark

Tourists clambered around to take photographs or simply to get a good look at the wondrous event. After all, you rarely get to see something like this outside of the Discovery Channel! Nicole was one of them. Also attracted by the sudden furore were lifeguards, who quickly assessed the situation and blew heavily on their whistles to clear the water. Jetskis were mobilized to get between the shark and the tourists. However, before they could reach them, the shark snapped.

Unfortunately, Nicole was closest to her jaws at the time. She suffered injuries to her arm and thigh, but never lost consciousness. She is a nurse. She instructed those around her on how best to stem the blood and apply First Aid, until the paramedics could reach her. Ten minutes later, she was in the hands of professionals and en route to hospital. She has undergone surgery, but is now awake, chatting with friends and looking forward to going home. It's believed that she will be able to return to Canada in a week.

Meanwhile, the shark, having delivered her warning, disappeared into the open ocean. Presumably to find somewhere more peaceful to deliver her young. Four lifeguards, on jetskis, searched the area immediately afterwards and were unable to locate her. As a precaution, the Cancun Caribe Park Royal beach was red-flagged for the rest of Monday through to yesterday. It is unknown whether it will remain so today. There have been no more sightings anywhere along the Yucatan coastline. Some people are defying the ban and going into the waters anyway.

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