American shark expert differs on Phuket barracuda blame

PHUKET: A shark expert American expat living in Phuket has examined images of the bite marks on the 8-year-old boy bitten at Kamala Beach yesterday, and believes the bites were inflicted by a small shark.

The boy, Naphat, suffered deep lacerations to his lower right leg. He was swimming in the water in front of Kamala Police Station when he was bitten.

Naphat was rushed first to Patong Hospital, then referred to Bangkok Hospital Phuket, said a report by the Phuket office of the Public Relations Department (PR Phuket).

Reporters today (May 2) consulted with resident shark expert David Martin, an underwater photographer and American shark expert who lives in Phuket, said the report.

Mr Martin said the bite wounds were more commensurate with those of a small bull shark or even a baby blue shark*, the report noted.

(* Later clarified to have said black fin shark)

Early reports marked that the bite was too small and the wrong shape to be from a shark, and instead postulated the bites were inflicted by a barracuda.

Mr Martin explained that the bite wounds indicated snatching or flicking by the animal when inflicting the bites, a trait he attributed more commonly to bull sharks.

“This is different from the bites of other marine creatures,” he said, according to the report.

Small bull sharks have been known to infrequently inhabit Phuket waters, and have been believed to have been the culprit in previous bite incidents, which are very rare in Phuket.

“An adult bull shark grows to three meters in length. While the bull shark is not a vicious shark or known to specifically harm humans, they sometimes mistake people as prey that can be eaten as food,” Mr Martin explained.

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“In nature, bull sharks feed on smaller aquatic animals such as squid, shrimp, sea urchins and sea turtles. Bull sharks can swim in coastal areas or in murky waters. Although they have poor sight, they have a radar at the tip of the nose that can recognises the movement of something in front of it very well,” he said.

Mr Martin noted how rare such bite incidents in Phuket have been. “Kamala Beach and other beaches in Phuket are safe from sharks or other dangerous marine animals,” he said.

Regardless, Kathu District Chief Siwat Vuangkul and other officials, namely from Kamala Subdistrict Administrative Organisation (OrBorTor), were at Kamala Beach to follow up on the incident with people at the beach and local residents.

Naphat was in water that was about one metre deep when he was bitten. It was also low tide at the time he was bitten, Mr Siwat said.

Local resident Abhisit Anan, who works at the beach, said that barracudas have been known to bite people at the beach before, noting an incident two years ago when Chinese tourists were bitten, said the PR Phuket report.

“Barracudas can be found along the coast. At Kamala beach you used to see them when you went diving just offshore,” Mr Abhisit said.

“They grow to about 13 kilograms in size. They will come to eat small fish that eat aquatic plants in this area. So something like this might happen again,” he warned.

Officers from Kamala OrBorTor said they will install signs warning beach-goers of the potential danger.

“The signs are to alert tourists swimming in the area to please be careful of the dangers of other marine life,” Mr Siwat said.

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