Inside world’s deadliest ‘shark highway’ off paradise island as experts scramble to solve mystery behind record maulings

A PARADISE island with shark-infested waters has left experts baffled as they scramble to solve the mystery behind a record rate of attacks.

Sharks prowling the waters off La Réunion have led to swimming and surfing bans in some areas over fears of attacks.

AFPSurf patrols in the area where attacks occur[/caption]

AFP or licensorsCountless shark attacks have happened off the coast of Reunion[/caption]

The island’s attacks seem to have lulled for now

Some 30 people have been killed and 56 have been attacked while swimming off the island since 1913.

The island is found on a so-called “shark highway” in the Indian Ocean between Australia and South Africa.

It has the highest rate of fatal shark attacks in the world with three deaths per one million people – more than three times that of South Africa and vastly more than the US and Australia.

Exactly why so many sharks lurk in the waters off the island remains one of the world’s enduring marine mysteries – and scientists have been left baffled and divided.

Bull sharks – large and powerful creatures which can live in both salt and fresh water – are believed to be behind 90 per cent of the deadly bites.

Some theories suggest La Réunion’s volcano Piton de la Fournaise could be helping to draw in the sharks – while others believe culling the beasts is not helping.

The island’s government has made it legal to kill a certain number of sharks each year – in a bid to stop the mayhem.

But experts raised concerns about French authorities’ handling of the situation.

Eric Clua doesn’t believe La Réunion actually has more sharks than other areas – but the culls are creating a bigger problem for the marine ecosystem.

He told The Sun: “I think we dealt with the problem in the very wrong way.

“People say the more sharks, the more bites. But actually, it doesn’t work that way.

“Because human beings are not a natural prey for sharks.”

He added: “Instead of culling sharks blindly, we should be looking for the problem individuals – and we could do that. But instead, we are blindly killing animals.

“Just imagine you have a serial killer in London that kills a human being every six months.

“So you just send the army in the street and you say, OK, look, just kill human beings, and then we will solve the problem.

“It doesn’t work that way.”

Clua’s theory that individual sharks may be responsible does have some backing – though it remains controversial in his field.

Marine ecologist Michael Heithaus believes bull sharks could be taking advantage of the volcanic sediment washing down the slopes into the water.

He believes the cloudy water makes ideal hunting ground for the “smart” predators.

La Réunion marine biologist Nathalie Verlinden agrees that geography creates a murky underwater environment that sharks prefer to hunt in.

She told The New York Times the ocean floor falls off steeply around the island, meaning the coast is a very short swim from deeper waters where sharks lurk.

Since the shark cull was put in place in late 2019, there have been no fatal attacks – but surfing and swimming remain at lower numbers than previous years.

But some of the most recent suspected attacks include Brit man Richard Martyn Turner, 44, whose severed hand was found inside of a tiger shark in November 2019.

What is a bull shark?

BULL sharks are believed to be responsible for nine out of ten attacks in the waters around Réunion Island.

The fish are regarded as one of the most dangerous sharks in the world due to their aggressive temperament and ability to swim in salt and fresh water.

Length– 7 to 13feet

Weight – 200 to 600lbs

Average lifespan – 16 years

Range – 700miles

Territory – North & South America, Africa, Australia & South East Asia

Teeth – 350

Bite force – 5,914 newtons

Kim Mahbouli, 28, a French tourist, was attacked and killed by a shark while surfing in an area in which swimming was banned in May 2019.

And fisherman Floris Huet died after a shark ripped off his left leg while he was with friends in January 2019.

Scientists have been trying to work out what has been driving the bloodbath.

Professor Erwann Lagabrielle has made it his mission to figure out why the waters around Réunion are so dangerous, reports 9News.

His research shows the probability of being attacked by a shark at Réunion increased “by a factor of 23” since the 1980s.

He wanted to figure out the island’s deadly riddle after witnessing his friend being attacked by a two-metre bull shark in 2015.

“It was like a horror movie,” he said.

While the pals were swimming at Saint-Leu, Dr Lagabrielle saw his friend Rodolphe Arriéguy get attacked just 20 metres from him.

“The water was white foam and then the white turned to pink and the pink turned to red,” he said.

“I swam to my friend and that was the most freighting thing — I was swimming against my own instinct.”

Dr Lagabrielle found his pal had been bitten on the arm and he made a makeshift tourniquest from his surfboard leash.

Managing to stop the bleeding, he then dragged him back to shore.

His friend, 45, survived the attack – but lost his arm.

“The question, next is what can explain this increase?” Dr Lagabrielle said as he continues his studies into the spike in shark attacks.

“It’s either an increase in the population of sharks or a change in their behaviour.

“These can be explained by other factors such as change in water temperature, fishing targeting shark populations.”

Most surf spots on the island now have patrols, and some beaches have set up shark-proof fencing to ward off the deadly predators.

Many surfers have turned to unique tactics to avoid losing a limb – or their life – in areas where surfing is still prohibited, but the waves are amazing.

Electric shark deterrents are small devices which release tiny electric pulses which push sharks away, due to an odd sense the fish have.

Sharks have a sensor called ampullae of Lorenzini, which pick up electrical signals of struggling prey – and surfers and swimmers.

Surfers wear electrical anklets and putting deterrents on their boards to brave the waters, but others take the risk and go without.

French tourist Kim Mahbouli was killed by a shark when surfing in a banned area in 2019

AlamyBull sharks are just one of the beasts responsible for attacks on Reunion[/caption]

Professor Eric Clua has revealed his thoughts on the reasons behind the sharks at Reunion

AFPWarning signs remain posted in most areas of the island[/caption]

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